Monday, May 09, 2016

EVs more convenient that ICEs in Lower Manhattan

NYTimes reported a while back that the last gas station on the east side of Lower Manhattan has closed, while one remains standing on the west side. In all Manhattan (pop. 1.6 million) there are 50 gas stations, 30 fewer than were there eight years ago. While owning or even operating any vehicle in Lower Manhattan is crazily inconvenient, it seems clearly more inconvenient to have a gas engine car there than an EV.

I'm sticking with a prediction I made in 2013 that as EVs start taking up measurable market share from ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles, the infrastructure that makes gas engines so easy to drive is going to have its own problems. I'm randomly guessing the pain starts when EVs take 3% or more of the market - sales are at or exceeding this level in some markets, although it'll be a few more years for the percentage of vehicle miles traveled to have similarly changed to EV-powered.

I doubt EVs have cut much into gas station sales in Manhattan up till now, and it's other changes that have made gas stations uncompetitive in Manhattan. Still, anyone thinking of investing in gas stations there would have to consider what will happen to that market over the next few years and longer, and EVs will become an increasingly important force to depress sales.

From the same NYTimes article, the total number of gas stations in the country has dropped by more than half in the last decade. Manhattan is obviously unique but it can also be predictive. Total gas consumption has dropped relative to 1997 and is projected to not to increase, but the value of land for uses other than gas stations has increased. They will either need to charge more for gas or switch properties from gas stations to other uses, like what's happened nationwide and especially in urban areas.

There are two versions of the idea that EVs will affect ICE infrastructure. The first is relative convenience. As EV charging infrastructure spreads and EV range increases, the relative convenience of EV versus ICE will start moving in favor of the former while gas stations begin to disappear, and fewer car shops and technicians will do ICE maintenance. The second version is that ICE will have its own version of infrastructure anxiety, like the range anxiety that some people feel today for EVs and the annoyance an ICE driver now feels in Lower Manhattan.

It might take a while for this second version to affect buying behavior, but relative convenience can change quickly and can by itself start affecting the market, as more people find it easier to charge their EVs at home and work than to drive ICE cars to fewer numbers of gas stations. Even if it's just a matter of a gas station on one corner instead of two corners of an intersection, that adds another 30 seconds for a car to get to the gas station and fill up. The relative convenience moves slightly towards EVs. In some places the ICE inconvenience will be much greater than that.

EV sales were 3.1% of all California vehicle sales in 2015, and in some Bay Area cities exceeded 5%. Again I don't think they're the primary factor closing gas stations now and won't be for a few years to come, although I do think they affect current, long-term investment decisions. They will reduce actual gas sales and ICE maintenance sales some years down the line, and that will have a ratcheting effect.


JohnMashey said...

One of the numerous local Teslas has license BYE ICE, and I asked the owner if that twas a lament for Greenland, but he said no.

PG said...

This is my plan. I live 2 kilometres from a suburban rail station in Sydney. We park and ride.

My wife and I currently lease a Volvo diesel station wagon and I own a diesel VW Tiguan.

The moment the Tesla 3 and charging sites become established in Sydney we will ditch the Volvo. What we need though is an EV bubble car that does the short-range stuff like dog parks and shopping trips leaving the Tesla 3 and its latter iterations to do the park and rides and the bigger travels.

We are counting down the days. There must be thousands of people in suburbs like mine making the same calculation. Elon please provide a cheaper short-range bubble car with room for a Greyhound ASAP.


JohnMashey said...

Well, not Tesla, but Google has room for dog. That was an earlier one.

Newer one is this.
We have one at the Computer History Museum, pretty comfy, and I started seeing them on the roads around here last Summer.

Canman said...

Well Brian, I have a counter prediction. I do think cars will be moving to all electric drive, but I think most of them that do will have modest size batteries or super capacitors and charge them with hydrocarbon fuels. Judith Curry had this guest post by Robert Ellison on electric cars:

It has a section on what is called a "Free Piston Linear Generator Range Extender". This is a new two stroke engine design with an integrated magnetic generator. It is very simple and compact. It can also be electronically adjusted to run on a variety of fuels. But this is not the only possibility. A small gas turbine might offer higher Carnot efficiency. They actually make them for radio controlled model airplanes.

My prediction is that when all electric drive cars reach say 20% of sales in the US, most will have some form of hydrocarbon generation. I also expect that when it comes down to choosing between charging the car and paying more for the energy in hydrocarbon form, most all electric drive car owners will opt for the convenience of the latter.

Phil Hays said...

In Japan, hybrid cars are already 20% of the market.

Electric cars include weak hybrids, full hybrids, plug in hybrids and full electric cars.

Weak hybrids have a upgraded starter/battery/generator so that the engine will stop rather than idle as long as the engine has been warmed up, the battery is full enough and so on. These provide a significant reduction in hydrocarbon use and air pollution at fairly low cost of around $200 per car. As the fiscal payback time is short, less than a year, these might be nearly universal for new cars in a decade. There is no reason not to do this, especially if the driver can override if there is a reason to.

Full hybrids have the ability to regenerate while breaking, and drive short distances at lower power fully electric, but have no way to recharge the usually small battery from the mains.

Plug in hybrids add some way to recharge a larger battery from the mains. If the battery is large enough, the engine rarely starts.

A full electric is simpler and more reliable than plug in hybrid. As long as the battery size is large enough so you almost always recharge at home, is the most convenient.

The technology trend in batteries is for more energy stored per dollar and per kg of battery.

It seems like an winning bet that weak hybrids will exceed 20% of the US market soon. Full hybrids might never exceed 10% of the market. They only make sense with expensive batteries. Plug in hybrids have the advantage of being both an electric and a gasoline car, and the disadvantage of being both an electric and a gasoline car. As battery technology gets better, and gasoline gets less expensive (even without carbon taxes or other greenhouse gas restrictions), full electrics will eventually dominate the market.

Ken said...

Plug in sales have hit 30% in Norway. Perhaps this is the place to look for data on gas station loss.

Russell Seitz said...

My recent downtown experience sugests some credit is due Uber as a further disincentive for keeping a car in Manhattan

Brian said...

Ken - I agree about Norway, particularly Oslo. I tried to look up gas station info there and wasn't particularly successful. The number of Exxon stations in Oslo had declined modestly but that doesn't tell you much. Maybe I or someone else will have better luck.

Russell - I recently injured my heel and couldn't drive, and Lyft was very helpful for me here in the Bay Area, as well as public transit. No question there are other factors encouraging people to drive less. I think driverless cars could start having a big impact in as soon as 10 years although probably later, and when it does that will far outweigh the effect of personally-owned EV vehicles.