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Vehicle electrification policy study: Task 1 — Technology status

Transforming the passenger and light-duty vehicle fleet into one more heavily reliant on electric vehicles will demand collaboration among government, industry, other stakeholders, and the public—no simple venture to manage at any time. To help chart a course, in 2010 the International Council on Clean Transportation undertook a study of public policies aimed at advancing vehicle electrification.

The Vehicle Electrification Policy Study focuses on the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which since 2001 has required major automakers to market increasing numbers of BEVs or FCEVs in California. But it places the California program in a global context, so the analysis and findings will be of use in other jurisdictions as well.

This document reports ICCT analysis and findings regarding Task 1, Technology Status. The purpose of this report is to review the current status of BEV and FCEV technology, and to use the results of that review to provide insight into the scale of future requirements under the California ZEV program. This report thus provides a policy-relevant updated compilation of recent work.

This study in large part is directed toward providing information that will feed into the consideration of modifications to the ZEV program. The ZEV regulation was adopted in 1990 and has undergone significant periodic modifications since that time, most recently in 2008. In its current form, the program calls for increasing placement of ZEVs by manufacturers over successive 3-year phases. Although the regulation requires the placement of ZEVs, it is not a mandate for particular technologies but rather a technologically neutral performance standard under which a portion of the fleet must meet a tailpipe emission standard of 0 g/mi.

At this stage in the development of the ZEV program and vehicle electrification programs worldwide, several broad trends are evident:

  • The California ZEV program is no longer the only governmental driver of progress in passenger vehicle electrification. Many other jurisdictions are pushing vehicle electrification and have active programs under way. Vehicle manufacturers are aggressively pursuing a variety of advanced technologies to secure their competitive positions in the global marketplace. Traditional tailpipe vehicle regulatory programs are no longer the only policies that push for reductions in motor vehicle emissions.
  • Policies to encourage vehicle electrification must be mindful of quite different near-term and long-term challenges. In the near term, the goal is commercialization and future job creation, which will be accomplished through successful deployment of the first waves of vehicles and during the ramping up to larger production volumes. In the long term, the focus is on emission reductions and energy security. To have a measurable impact, there must be large numbers of vehicles, and zero tailpipe emission vehicles need to be cost competitive with other technologies.
  • Although the global level of support for vehicle electrification is encouraging, major obstacles must be overcome before any pure electric drive vehicle can compete with continually improving conventional power trains and achieve deployment volumes sufficient to make an environmental difference.
  • The two main contenders for vehicle electrification—BEVs and FCEVs—are in different stages of development and will have different deployment trajectories.

Battery, fuel cell, and vehicle manufacturers are working vigorously to improve performance on a variety of fronts. For BEVs, the primary technical challenges involve safety, reliability/manufacturability, durability, and cost. For FCEVs, the focus is on durability and cost, as well as providing hydrogen fuel in a cost-effective manner. Although all of these technology issues are important, this report focuses on cost.

Recent cost estimates for FCEVs show the cost dropping over time from several hundred thousand dollars now to roughly $75,000 in 2015 and $50,000 or less in 2020. For batteries, most analysts project the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for BEV batteries to drop from $650 – $1,000 today to $400 – $700 in 2015 and $300 – $500 in 2020, with some projections for 2020 going as low as $150 per kWh.