Electric Vehicles – Growing Presence on European Roads

With the cost of fuel skyrocketing around the world, and more consumers becoming conscious of the negative impact cars have on the environment, car manufacturers focus their production efforts on new full-electric vehicles as well as new hybrid models. Ford Motor Company has had development plans in the works for environmentally friendly vehicles to be increasingly prevalent on the roads for years-particularly in North America. As one of the many initiatives Ford is currently taking in the quest to provide the public with more fuel-efficient alternatives for vehicles, the company is promising to introduce five full-electric and hybrid vehicle models in Europe by the year 2013. This plan is part of Ford’s global electric vehicles plan. Electric and hybrid vehicles will greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as well as reduce fossil fuel consumption.

While protecting the environment should be at the forefront of what people look for in purchasing a new vehicle, the hybrid car movement is still rather new, and the full-electric vehicle is still somewhat of an abstract concept to many consumers. According to a survey done by consumer reports, price, range and overall performance are generally top considerations for most consumers in the market when buying a new vehicle. Another consideration for people who would possibly consider buying an electric vehicle, is the accessibility of electric charging stations-people are more likely to buy, if they know it would be easy to “charge up” the vehicle conveniently. Ford, however, has a vision to bring a wide range of top performing fuel-efficient, “green” vehicles to millions.

John Fleming, Chairman and CEO, Ford of Europe and Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing and Labour Affairs, stated in a press release, “These new advanced technology models are key to Ford’s commitment to delivering a portfolio of alternative power train vehicles globally and to European customers in the next few years,”

The first full-electric car to be launched as part of Ford’s agenda is the Transit Connect Electric. This vehicle is a compact van, commonly used for workers that need to carry excessive cargo. The idea is that electric charging stations will be housed at the workplace for employees to charge-up before going on their route of daily work tasks. This full-electric vehicle was featured at the New York Auto Show in 2010. It is said to have a 40 KW, 300-volt Siemens electric motor, and a lithium-ion battery to power the vehicle for an estimated 120,000 miles total. With an 80-mile range, the Transit Connect Electric vehicle is said to be a “smooth, quiet ride” by a test driver. When connected to a 240-volt outlet, the vehicle would take six to eight hours to be fully charged.

The next car in Ford’s electric vehicle line up for its global electric vehicles plan will be the Ford Focus Electric, coming out in 2012. This vehicle will be powered 100 percent by lithium-ion batteries. The result of an all-battery powered vehicle is zero emissions. The range reaches 100 miles, and with a 220-volt outlet, takes six to eight hours to reach a full charge. The car will also have a handy interface which tells the driver specific details about the battery charge and range. The Focus is a compact electric vehicle with a modern exterior.

“Ford is committed to help lead the way to find creative solutions and ensure that electrified vehicles can deliver benefits to our customers, the environment and our business around the globe in a sustainable way,” stated Nancy Gioia, Ford Director of Global Electrification.

Ford will then launch two versions of the C-MAX-a hybrid-electric version and a plug-in hybrid-electric version-in 2013. The C-MAX will be the first hybrid-electric vehicle model launched in Europe, and the first model to utilize Ford’s new 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. The traditional gas-fuelled C-MAX is a seven-seat vehicle that was launched in North America for the 2011 model year. A smaller version will be developed for the hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric versions releasing in Europe. The Ford plant in Valencia, Spain will be building the vehicles, which will be for the European market only. Fleming said, “The Hybrid-Electric and Plug-In Hybrid-Electric derivatives of the all-new Ford C-MAX are great news for the Valencia plant and region, for Spain, and for Ford customers across Europe.”

The last remaining hybrid-electric vehicle due to launch by 2013 is still yet to be determined. However, the launch of all five hybrid and electric vehicles have caused much hype since Ford originally announced its plan.

Advanced Vehicle Technologies and Insurance Costs

With the advent of increasingly expensive new vehicle technologies, collision repair shops are asking what kind of repairs might be considered good enough. For insurance companies, the question is when a vehicle should be written off because of cost consideration. With the advent of Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT), some vehicles that are still roadworthy may instead become writeoffs because of their high AVT content. Examples of AVT include using of high strength steels in vehicle structures, aluminum chassis, carbon fibre cells and body parts, advanced welding and bonding techniques, electric vehicles and hybrids and electronic safety features and driver aids.

The impetus for using AVTs is pretty simple – reduce fuel consumption and increase combustion efficiency, which in turn reduces exhaust emissions. To this end, manufacturers have sought to improve vehicle efficiency by using materials substitution, downsizing existing vehicle designs, systems or components as well as using new structural, systems or component designs. They have also adopted alternate materials in conjunction with these new designs. Other manufacturers have also improved efficiency of engine accessories by converting some systems like the water pumps and power steering systems to electricity-driven designs. All these add up to additional costs for the consumer, the collision repair shop and the car insurance company. This is when the question of what car insurance companies should pay for in terms of repair crops up. As the repair costs add up across the board, it will only be natural for insurance companies to increase premiums. While increased insurance premiums may not affect owners of expensive luxury or sports cars too much, imagine the impact this will have on lower-income car owners who struggle to make monthly payments. Bolstering this statement is the fact that technologies that only BMW or Mercedes employed half a decade ago have now found their way in entry-level cars like the Ford Focus. As an insurance industry expert has put it, “Advances in technology drive costs. We’re talking about the increasing complexity, the equipment required to make the collision repair and the training that’s necessary to make the repair successfully and correctly.”

This can change how commuters use their cars, such as reducing car use or giving up on certain kinds of trips altogether. With less use of cars, even collision repair shops will feel the pinch when less accidents result on average. One only has to look into collision repair data in mild winters to see what we’re talking about.