Ed Kjaer on the cars of the future

Expat Ed Kjaer returned to New Zealand this week for a showing at New Zealand's first electric vehicle symposia in Auckland and Wellington. As Southern California Edison’s director of plug-in vehicle readiness programme, he's learned a thing or two about electric cars and has some informed opinions about where the industry's headed.

ed kjaer electric cars idealogHow did you wind up working in California for Southern California Edison? 

I was working in advertising in New Zealand (Nissan and Sanyo accounts) and was due to go and run a regional office in Thailand.  The job fell through and I decided to go to the US (I have dual nationality).

I arrived June 22, 1985 not knowing anyone nor with any contacts. I made five phone calls to five head hunters, had my first interview on Wednesday and was hired to work on the launch of Acura for American Honda.  Three years later, I was headhunted to Mazda as their marketing manager (eight years) and then hired away to Edison.

What have you learned in your many years in the auto industry?

EVs are hard ... they represent a total new way of thinking from the way you drive them and fuel them to the way you market them.  But in the end, this IS the technology for the next 100 years. Every day it's less about "why" and more and more about "why not". This is also about a "movement" led by early adopters and fast followers. This very active community wants to share their experiences and help encourage others to join.  Social media is critical to getting the word out to the next generation of EV drivers.  

What's the biggest obstacle to increasing electric vehicle uptake? What will it take to really boost electric vehicle adoption?

Today the number one issue in the States is not lack of demand, it's lack of awareness.  Folks just don't know EVs exist or that they are "better" (performance, driving experience, fuel economy) than gasoline cars.  I'd have to say one of the biggest challenges in New Zealand is building the stakeholder communities (autos, utilities, integrators, fleet operators, infrastructure providers, universities, government and customers). This is what APEV and the EV symposium they are sponsoring is all about. Having met with a number of stakeholders this week here in New Zealand, I see a lot of the same issues, challenges, and attitudes (both positive and negative) that we saw in the US a decade ago, when we were just starting out.

But I also see an openness and an emerging realisation that this is also about energy security, climate, air quality, jobs and the economy. Having said all this, these cars are just not going to penetrate the market until the price comes down here in New Zealand. We are already seeing this in the States and I'm confident that competitive forces here will help make these cars more affordable in the years to come.

How do you see electric vehicle technology evolving in coming years?

We are already seeing batteries get better and cheaper.  I think as this market develops we will see lots of customer choice including battery EVs, gasoline hybrids, plug in hybrids, extended range EVs, plug in hybrid fuel cell EVs and even fuel cell EVs in the future.  And even more importantly, we will see all this technology in sports cars, passenger cars, minivans, trucks, SUVs ... basically any vehicle you can imagine...that's the beauty of electrification of our transportation future!

What electric vehicle currently available  has most impressed you and why?

Frankly I'm impressed with them all.  Today in SCE's service territory, we have about 8000 EV customers – we are about 14 percent of national sales! I have driven over 200,000 k on the venerable Toyota RAV4 EV and I have over 15,000 k in a Volt with a lifetime fuel economy of 1.3L per 100 k.  In terms of "favourites" I'd have to say the Volt, the Tesla ModelS, the BMW products coming, the Ford Fusion and C-Max, the Nissan Leaf, the Honda and Toyota products ... I think you get the point ... it's all good!

What are the benefits of battery vs hydrogen electric vehicles?

Basically the cars are the same (both pure electrics). Coming from an electric utility, I might be a bit biased but I'd have to say battery EV today mainly because the infrastructure (electric grid) is there and the cars (battery EVs) are coming to market.  In the future we may see fuel cell EVs but they still have challenges with hydrogen storage on board and hydrogen infrastructure.  Frankly speaking we have EVs coming and the grid is already here ... let's plug them together!

How does New Zealand adoption of EVs compare internationally? What about our infrastructure?

Basically there's very little adoption in New Zealand today. But then, it's only just beginning!  This won't happen overnight – it takes work and commitment.  What I am seeing however is the beginnings of a market development. That's why it's so important that organisations like APEV help convene all the stakeholders (industry, government and customers working together) to realise this future for New Zealand, her citizens and her economy.

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