The challenge for electric vehicle adoption is that traditional, gas-guzzling cars are becoming far more efficient, usually at a significantly lower price point.
That will only continue, especially as carmakers and startups (and the government) invest in leveraging the data coming off of a car to help people drive more efficiently.
The U.S. Department of Energy, however, has an effort underway to make the electric car as affordable as a gas-powered car within a decade. As part of the EV Everywhere grand challenge, the Obama administration announced the winners for the Apps for Vehicles Challenge earlier this week.
The judges’ prize went to Dash, which turns any car into a "smart car" by providing diagnostics and alerts for drivers to maximize their engine performance, minimize carbon emissions and save money. The popular choice prize went to MyCarma, which helps people get personalized fuel economy stickers based on current driving habits.
Dash. The New York-based startup calls Dash something like a FitBit for cars. All cars after 1996 have a portal to pull the car’s data. Dash connects that data, along with other information, like weather and traffic, and connects that to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
Once the software pulls together all of the hundreds of data points, it gives drivers ways to maximize MPG, improve engine performance and gives tips on carbon emissions offsets.
Dash expects to have a commercial launch in the first half of this year. The app is about far more than efficiency: it can ask you if you really want to drive if you checked into a bar on Facebook in the past few hours or can call 911 if your car’s airbags were deployed.
But the information on driving could, like other onboard telematics, teach drivers just how much they actually use so that the next time they go to purchase or lease a car, they will be armed with lots of information about their own driving habits. That data will help people know if they’re a good fit for a plug-in, hybrid or plug-in hybrid car.
MyCarma. For the car buyer, MyCarma allows people to get a personalized fuel economy sticker based on their own driving habits instead of relying on the standard stickers (which also got an upgrade in recent years).
Unlike Dash, which will have customers purchase a data logger for about $20, MyCarma plans on having dealers lend data loggers to potential buyers. After driving around as usual for a week, the dealership will then give a report on the fuel cost based on your driving habits.
The White House is promoting apps through its Energy Datapalooza, but when it comes to an EV revolution or even energy efficiency through the Green Button initiative, it’s hard to tell how many consumers will find these apps and use them.
For more efficient vehicles, and more efficient drivers, the secret will likely be onboard telematics with easy-to-find apps that carmakers offer in a marketplace, whether that’s the Apple Apps Store or their own version of it.
Most carmakers are already offering sophisticated telematics for electric vehicles, but to bring more drivers to electric or plug-in hybrids, dashboards that show driving efficiency could be a key gateway to build confidence with buyers considering the jump to EVs.
Of course, the apps are only one small piece of the puzzle, and far more work is needed on the hard stuff -- such as driving down the cost of electric cars and their batteries.