Which Electric Vehicle OEMs Are Positioned For Market Dominance?


The market for plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) is growing more competitive, as a variety of auto manufacturers are increasingly offering plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. The early-adopter market is being driven largely by lower operating costs and the desire for zero-emissions driving.

However, these two key drivers are not proving to be as effective as expected, and the market is still struggling to expand toward a more mass-market audience. Higher upfront costs, higher-mileage gasoline-powered vehicles, and slow battery price decreases are dampening growth in the EV sector.

The operating costs of vehicles and environmental aspects may play a less important role in this market than other vehicle attributes, such as performance, cargo capacity and low purchase prices. The result is a market that, while continuing to grow with early adopters, is still relying on government purchase incentives and government emissions restrictions.

Our firm anticipates that although growth in the plug-in EV market will be robust, it will fall short of expectations set by OEMs and politicians in 2010 and 2011. Globally, the market for plug-in EVs will grow from 137,950 vehicles in 2012 to 1.75 million in 2020. The U.S. is expected to remain the largest market through the forecast period, with annual sales reaching 400,073 vehicles by 2020.

We recently evaluated the key players in the plug-in EV sector against a number of factors, such as go-to-market strategy; production strategy; technology; product performance, quality and reliability; and pricing. The companies rated against the criteria were then segmented as Leaders, Contenders, Challengers or Followers.

In the Leaders grouping, Chevrolet and Renault took the lead due to their respective product portfolios, product strategy, and vision of the plug-in EV market. These Leaders are likely to come as a surprise to some because they do not currently hold sales leads. However, we find that Chevrolet and Renault are well-poised for growth in the coming years. Both hold strong positions in the market that will enable them to respond effectively to future changes.

In the Contenders grouping, Ford Motor Co., Toyota and Nissan are vying to move into Leader positions. Toyota and Nissan (the current sales leader in battery EVs) are limited by their narrow product portfolios. Anticipated to become the plug-in EV sales leader in the U.S., Ford is positioned for growth, with a broad portfolio of plug-in EVs and flexible manufacturing. However, Ford has not fully executed its well-laid plans (the C-MAX Energi and Fusion/Mondeo Energi plug-in-hybrid EVs have not yet launched), and its reliance on Azure Dynamics for the battery EV Transit Connect has proven ill fated.

Tesla is a Contender with a number of challenges, such as limited funding and a challenging path to market, but also with a strong product and big future vehicle plans.

The Challengers grouping includes Smart, BMW, Mitsubishi, CODA Automotive and Honda, and Fisker Automotive is on the cusp of joining the category. The Followers grouping consists mainly of manufacturers that have not yet launched a product, such as Audi and Volkswagen. But these OEMs will have product available in the next year and are currently working on laying out strong strategic direction for their EVs.

Dave Hurst is senior research analyst and John Gartner is research director for Pike Research, a part of Navigant Consulting Inc.'s Energy Practice. This report is derived from the comprehensive report titled “Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Assessment of Strategy and Execution for 16 Leading Electric Vehicle Brands.” For more information, send an email to sales@pikeresearch.com.

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