A lot of these predictions could prove to be wrong, but I’m hoping by then this column will be wrapping fish and nobody will remember. So here goes — six thoughts for 2013:
1. Splitting the difference. Consumers will follow the lead of Jay Leno and buy more plug-in hybrids than battery electrics. The field is getting more crowded with the Ford C-MAX Energi (on sale now) and Fusion Energi (on sale in January). The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is coming in 2014. Meanwhile, the Chevy Volt is doing fairly well, probably around 22,000 or 23,000 sold for the year. And the Toyota Prius Plug-In is moving around 1,800 units per month. Until all battery electrics have the kind of range offered by the Tesla Model S (around 265 miles with the 85-kilowatt-hour battery) the PHEV wins, which piles regular-car range on top of 15 to 60 miles of zero-emission battery travel.
2. CD players will disappear. A few cars, including the Chevrolet Spark, have already deep-sixed the CD player, and many others will follow suit. It’s the eight-track player of tomorrow — my kids already don’t own CDs. It’s going to get easier and easier to connect your phone to play music, and it will recharge wirelessly, too.
3. Bargains on batteries. The Obama administration will try to sweeten the deal for electric cars. The most obvious way for them to do this is to turn the current $7,500 federal income tax credit into a rebate (of as much as $10,000) paid at the point of purchase. Not everybody can use an income tax credit, and nobody wants to wait for one, so this would be a big deal. I’m not predicting it will become law — just that it will be advocated a bit more strenuously than it is now.
4. The cheap EVs are coming. In 2013, we’ll finally see a few battery electrics under $20,000 (after the federal credit and other incentives). The deal will be even better if the incentives rachet up (see above), but it will happen anyway through market forces. It’s important, because they’re priced out of the market for many would-be customers now. Nissan will show a bargain version of the Leaf at the Detroit Show (which I’ll attend in a couple of weeks), Smart will have its Electric Drive out, starting at $25,000 before the credit. Dealers will be selling off Mitsubishi I-MiEVs for a bottom line of $19,995. Battery costs are coming down — McKinsey & Company says by as much as two thirds by 2020 — and that will be reflected in falling prices.
5. More cars will run on natural gas and propane. How could this not happen? These fuels are running around $2 a gallon (or gallon equivalent) and fleets can pay back their investment in a shrinking number of years. What’s most needed now is public filling stations. Propane, a liquid fuel, has the advantage here because a station can be set up for something like $15,000, but natural gas has more friends in high places, including T. Boone Pickens. We’ll see what happens.
6. Micro-hybrids will be everywhere. You know the start-stop systems on hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, which shut them down at stoplights? That tech will be on everybody’s car, not just hybrids. It’s a no-brainer that will save 5 percent or more on fuel, and it doesn’t need much fancy equipment — just a bigger battery. A few hundred dollars will do it. Micro-hybrids are already ubiquitous in Europe (buy a BMW and you’ll likely get it), and we’re next.
A few other random thoughts: V-8 engines will become an endangered species, and full-sized SUVs will become a regional product (read: Texas); Tesla Motors will make a profit, but not a steady one; Coda and Fisker will fail (I could be wrong about either one); practical self-driving cars will be demonstrated (though not commercialized yet); and someone will introduce either a battery or a plug-in hybrid minivan.
MNN tease illustration of green car: Shutterstock