"We feel the only way to do this and make it economically viable ... is by electrifying the architecture and building the cars on the same assembly line," said Erich Merkle, U.S. sales analyst for Ford. "That really is, we think, critical to the strategy as we move into this brave new world."
Tesla Motors took the opposite approach from Ford. As a new car company, Tesla focused on creating an entirely new architecture around its electric drive system with the Model S launched in June.
Will a better product create a mass market?
Starting with the Roadster, Tesla proved battery electric vehicles could attract high-end consumers. Its newest model looks to build on this consumer sentiment but add a dose of practicality. The Model S sedan has a 320-mile range on its top-end 85 kilowatt-hour battery and features eight air bags, a panoramic sunroof and a 17-inch touch-screen control system.
But despite rave reviews for the Model S and the much-anticipated Model X all-electric SUV set to hit the market in 2014, the company is struggling to stay cash flow positive as it looks to bridge levels of scale. After the release of the Model X, as long as the company survives, Tesla plans to sell a smaller, cheaper all-electric car designed to compete as a mass-market luxury vehicle.
The external challenges of policy, charging infrastructure and pricing are real, but making more exciting cars will go a long way toward creating a mass market for electric vehicles, said Tesla's O'Connell.
"What we're doing with our Model S is totally different from what any of the manufacturers have done with their electric vehicles. They've basically taken a chassis and body system and many parts from an existing gasoline-powered vehicle and turned it into an electric vehicle," he said. "That begs a comparison."
Electric motors have great torque, which creates a strong, smooth acceleration, and tend to feature top-of-the-line electronics, including navigation, entertainment and communication systems to enable more convenient charging. The next stage for automakers should be to take the electric drivetrain as a given, and imagine a vehicle around it that optimizes everything an electric drivetrain does, O'Connell said.
"I think that making more exciting product might really change people's mindset," he said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500