Business models News
WASHINGTON-Everybody wants an auto battery breakthrough that will lead to longer driving range and lower prices than what's found with oil-powered autos. But while scientists are busy at work on the technology, there are a number of clever business ideas to make transportation cleaner and cheaper.
To a large degree, the toughest part of making electric vehicles take hold is sorting out new business models, according to speakers at last week's annual conference of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Here are examples of how existing technology is already being used and of the approaches being explored to redefine the auto industry.
Sell electric vehicles like consumer electronics
To buy a car, most of us do a little research online and then walk into a dealership. With the introduction of new electric drive technology, that may not be enough anymore. As automakers come to market with electric cars, they're expanding their partners beyond the dealership lot.
Following similar arrangements made by General Motors and Nissan, Ford and Mitsubishi have signed on Best Buy's Geek Squad to aid in home charging station installation for their electric vehicles due this fall. The Geek Squad won't be doing the electrical installation of chargers, but they can do an initial evaluation and provide customer support.
Best Buy's bread and butter is selling consumer electronics, but moving into alternative tech transportation (and home energy management) is a strategic move for the retailer, said Chad Bell, the senior director for the personal mobility business solutions group. Just as they need help sorting out consumer electronics, people have a growing set of transportation options, such as electric bikes, motorcycles, or cars.
"We can provide the consumer information on how cool these products are because they are connected devices. They're a lot bigger than a cell phone, but it has a lot more to it than just the driving experience, " Bell said during a panel last week.
The mobile phone as car assistant
In-car technology is a big trend in the auto industry, whether it's streaming Internet radio or voice commands. But technology plays a key role in the rollout of electric vehicles.
EV drivers will likely do the bulk of their charging at home, but if you're looking for a public charging station, you want to know where the closest one is and whether it's available. Charging station makers, including Ecotality and Coulomb Technologies, have built networked charge points that let you locate and reserve spots from your phone. One start-up called PlugShare has even built an app that lets homeowners share their plugs with drivers.
Apps, either on a phone or PC, are integral to home charging as well. You can schedule car charging to take advantage of off-peak rates or check the charge status from your mobile phone. GM's OnStar division sends Volt owners e-mails with tips on how to be more fuel-efficient.
Having a communication link between the utility and home charger opens up more possibilities, such as letting consumers choose to charge their car with wind or solar power. "We have the technology to solve this problem today and we've demonstrated it, " Tony Posawatz, the vehicle line manager for the Chevy Volt, said last week at the EDTA conference.