An estimated 70 EV and PHEV models are to be launched across various markets over the coming 24 months. These will include some big names, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and the already-available Mitsubishi i, together with some not-so-well-known brands, including Li-ion, Bright and – unknown perhaps in Western markets – BYD.

Development costs for these alternative-powertrain models range from the low six figures, up to the estimated $1 billion invested by GM to bring the Volt to market. While a considerable portion of these funds were used to develop the individual powertrain solutions, the remainder has been largely dedicated to the extensive adaptation or ground-up development of tailored chassis solutions.

Buyers of these electric vehicles are likely to be shocked – no pun intended – by the plummeting residual values of their vehicles. For obvious reasons no actual figures are available, but it is estimated that by the time an EV reaches its third birthday it will have lost 90% of the original purchase price due to the battery pack being considered beyond its prime. Yet when it comes to models driven either partially or wholly by onboard batteries, the question is why devote so much cash to realizing the chassis of a vehicle destined to become a disposable white good?

With the likely unwillingness of private owners to invest in expensive replacement battery packs, producers of EVs and PHEVs should acknowledge that these vehicles will have shorter working lives than their ICE equivalents. In turn, this would allow development of vehicle top hats and undercarriages to match an anticipated vehicle lifespan, rather than the open-ended lifecycle model currently in place. At the same time, end-of-life solutions could be incorporated to facilitate ease of material recycling and reuse.

Remove the powertrain and an EV is far easier to breakdown than an equivalent petrol/diesel model, while various uses exist for batteries no longer considered suitable for use in vehicles – energy storage, for example. Should this fixed-lifecycle alternative ever be realized, it could ultimately mean a new building being added to the typical fourstage production line; in addition to press, weld, paint and assembly, future plants could also feature an onsite recycling centre, setup to deliver recyclates directly back to the start of the production process.

On another note, all of us at AMS would like to extend our collective sympathy to those affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster. Like everyone around the world, we have been following the news reports and are shocked by the scenes of devastation.

Of course, these events have had a knock-on effect of closing local car plants, while part supply shortages have affected facilities too numerous to mention. We wish everyone in Japan and our automotive colleagues around the world a full and speedy recovery.