This started out as a comment on the front page, but I felt it warranted a full post.

I’ll start out with the comment I was replying to:

As I said, there’s a few things going on here.

Investment models, economies of scale, outsourcing, compliance cars, and infrastructure

Most automakers have no specific desire to make an EV, and their shareholders are very conservative, not wanting their money to be spent on huge gambles on new technology. So, when they do make an EV, it’s usually to satisfy mandates, not demand. In fact, as their shareholders will punish them for making the gambles necessary to make a truly good EV, they don’t want demand. (Which also means that they fight the mandates tooth and nail.)

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If something isn’t your core competency, you’ll outsource it, so that you can serve the market, without having to invest in developing it yourself. For example, many automakers have outsourced automatic transmissions to GM, ZF, or Aisin. Toyota’s outsourced diesel car engines to BMW. This is a perfectly reasonable action, but if it involves major components, you’re handing your profit over to your supplier, rather than keeping it for yourself (or being able to reduce prices).

For most automakers, EVs are not their core competency, and are extremely low volume. So, the manufacturers outsource these things to various suppliers. In many cases, the whole damn electric conversion (and it so often is a conversion) is outsourced. The e-Golf and Fiat 500e are basically a Bosch powertrain, with someone else’s batteries. The Chevy Bolt is basically all LG components.

Tesla, OTOH, has tried to insource all of the EV components they can, and at large scale. This means that their cost is significantly lower than what the suppliers are charging the other automakers. And, because they’re not a traditional automaker with traditional investors that want to see steady 5% profit growth or whatever year-on-year, they can afford to blow ridiculous amounts of money on innovation.a

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And, infrastructure is another investment that no automaker except Tesla has seriously wanted to make, and it’s necessary to make EVs real replacements for ICE cars, too.

Development time

It takes about five years or so from conception to release to make a car, give or take a year or so. Note that that guideline applies to both conventional cars and to new technology cars.

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As an example, the original NHW10 Prius only took four years, because Toyota basically diverted every resource they could to accelerating its production. That’s even with the Prius project having started as a packaging concept, and a hybrid system wasn’t decided on or even started on until two years in. However, the released cars were basically beta quality, and it took another three years for them to make an extensive mechanical refresh that could hold up to American and European driving conditions.

Another example is the US-market 2012 Honda Civic - it was panned quite heavily, but Honda couldn’t do anything except an emergency refresh, and then accelerate the next-generation Civic to 2016.

So, if an automaker genuinely wants to change course, it takes about five years from the moment they decide to turn the ship around, to the point that you can actually buy a good EV, if they want to make one.

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There’s two important dates, here, to keep in mind.

September 18, 2015.

March 31, 2016.

The first date is when the German and French manufacturers started shitting themselves. Granted, I think Renault was already on the right track (the Renault-Nissan Alliance being a rare example of a traditional manufacturer that gets it, to the point of Nissan having a battery joint venture (that they backed out of because they picked the wrong partner, but the point is that they felt they needed one)), but everyone else was “diesel all the things”, and on September 18, 2015, diesel became a non-viable long term solution.

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The second date is when everyone else started shitting themselves. The decades of traditional automakers saying that there’s no real demand for electric vehicles was proven to be a lie that day, with people lining up to put $1000 down on a car they hadn’t seen, and Tesla announced the hundreds of thousands of reservations.

Add a minimum of four years to those dates, and that tells you when you’ll see the first serious EVs from the major automakers.

The charging, generation, and hydrogen situation in Japan

Japan has some... unique issues that make EVs harder.

If you can plug in at home, often you only have a 100 volt, 8 amp circuit available to the car - if you draw the 6 amps that’s safe, that means 600 watt charging. Meanwhile in America, even a regular outlet can hold 1440 watts safely, and in Europe, a regular outlet can hold 3000 watts safely - all of these are kinda slow, and many people add higher current (and for the US and Japan, higher voltage) circuits, but the Japanese basic outlet is ridiculously slow. (That said, in Japan, it’s also common to add the higher voltage and current circuit for a so-called “plug-out” system, even for vehicles that wouldn’t otherwise plug in - in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami and the power outages that resulted, there was a huge demand for using BEVs, hybrids, and FCEVs as emergency generators.)

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But, with Japanese density, many can’t plug in at home, meaning there’s more reliance on DC fast charging, which can beat up batteries, especially at higher power. (25 kW DC fast charging is everywhere, though.) This is why even plug-in hybrids have CHAdeMO there.

Then, you’ve got the problems of generation. Nuclear’s great, until it isn’t, as evidenced by the Fukushima disaster. Solar’s great (especially for workplace EV charging loads), but Japan doesn’t have much land area. Wind is great, but Japan’s mountainous, and putting wind turbines on your mountains destroys the view. (Offshore wind is actually promising, though.)

So, the official stance of the Japanese government is, import hydrogen generated from fossil fuels, and put that in cars. It solves the charging issue, because hydrogen tanks are fast to fill (but requiring incredibly expensive stations), it solves the NIMBY issues of nuclear, solar, and wind, and it eliminates domestic tailpipe emissions.

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It’s incredibly stupid in the face of global warming, though, and it doesn’t actually help them achieve energy independence. In any case, Toyota and Honda have gone very, very far down that road - decades of hydrogen fuel cell being “just around the corner” as a viable technology - and it’s taking quite a long time to turn that ship around, as EVs are now beating up on their range, their cost, and even catching up on charge time.