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Japan holds tech, sales lead in electromobility

Posted: 07 Mar 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Japan? electromobility? electric vehicle?

Japan has been leading the electromobility race, and indeed, the Geneva International Motor Show demonstrated the European carmakers' lukewarm commitment to electric driving, pushing instead the conventional combustion engine technology to the limits.

The "Electromobility Index" evaluates the electromobility competitiveness of the top seven automotive economies namely China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. Compiled by Roland Berger and the Aachen-based Research Society for Automotive Issues, the index reveals the clear leadership of Japan, both in terms of technology and electric vehicle sales.

There are multiple reasons for Japan's leadership, and for Europe's and, to some extent, the USA's backlog in the electromobility race.

In Japan, electric vehicles are up to 40 per cent cheaper than in Europe. The charging infrastructure is far more developed in Japan whereas in Europe the lack of such an infrastructure still acts as a major roadblock to acceptance. As a consequence of the better price-performance ratio, 80 per cent of Japan's electric vehicles are used privately where they seriously compete with conventional vehicles. Battery manufacturers in Japan (and in South Korea) master the entire battery production value chain, resulting in a competitive advantage for these countries.

In Germany, the price-performance ratio in battery manufacturing has slightly worsened over the past quarters. For this reason, South Korea currently holds a leading position in battery technology and manufacturing. The reason why Germany fell back in the competition is that it focuses on the high-end part of the marketsomething Germany currently has in common with the US. France lacks dynamics in the e-car model range, the study findsand in Italy as well as China the progress is stagnating.

In terms of industrialisation, Japan is leading the field together with the U.S., both nations host the world's most important production locations for electric vehicles. In this competition, Japan benefits from its strong position in battery production. The researchers believe that until 2016 Japan will keep its dominating market share of some 60 per cent, followed by South Korea with 16 per cent. Germany will stand for a humble market share of just 4 per cent in the battery market.

By 2016, the U.S. will crank out 460 thousand electric vehicles, followed by Japan with 385 thousand units. Germany and France are neck-and-neck with 250 thousand and 260 thousand e-cars.

When it comes to market size and acceptance, the U.S. remains the lead market with 96 thousand vehicles sold in 2013. However, this is just a relatively small share of the total market. Under this aspect, France holds the top position: The share of e-cars in the total market is 0.83 per cent, very moderate but still higher than the 0.62 per cent of the US and the 0.59 per cent of Japan. In Germany, electric vehicles have a very small market share of 0.25 per cent or just 7400 units sold.

There is however a big caveat in the calculations. If Tesla manages to launch its Gigafactory and achieves the production output announced, this would massively impact the global battery value chain. Tesla propagates a manufacturing capacity of 2 billion type 18650 round cells annually, representing an energy content of 6.5GW/h. As a comparison: In 2012 the global lithium ion battery production amounted to 40GW/h. The type 18650 battery is wrapped instead folded and stacked, which enables a much more cost-effective production compared to the batteries typically used for e-cars. With its high production output in its Giga factory, Tesla could achieve economies of scale. This could lead to 40 to 45 per cent lower production costs and up to 12 per cent lower material costs.

Overall, the cost advantage of this cell type could rise to $40 to $45 per kW/h, triggering a fast price decline and, as a consequence hereof, to a consolidation process in the industry. There is however a caveat in the caveat: The high buying power of just one market participant would make it less attractive to develop better cell chemistry, resulting in lower innovation thrust, the experts warn. It also remains to see if other vehicle manufacturers will switch to type 18560 cells, because thus they would become dependent on a competitor.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
??EE Times Europe

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