DETROIT -- The electric-vehicle industry is only several baby steps into a long and difficult journey, say the engineers at major automakers who are wrestling with the many problems that remain.
"I don't think the industry truly comprehends the difference between where we are with technology and where we need to get to," Micky Bly, the senior electronics engineer for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car, said during a panel discussion last month at the SAE 2010 Convergence conference.
Bly and other senior engineers representing six automakers agreed that their companies, suppliers and the government have a considerable amount of work to do before electric vehicles can be considered fully commercial.
Bly, General Motors Co.'s executive director of global electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, said EVs represent a major shift in reliability requirements and technology that carmakers and suppliers have yet to recognize.
"I'll go into one meeting" discussing electronics in gasoline-powered cars, Bly said, "and someone will ask how we can take a dollar of cost out. Then I'll go to another [discussing hybrids and EVs], and someone wants to know how we can take $3,000 out of the cost of the vehicle."
In addition, he said, automakers need to help suppliers understand that "their parts will be used significantly differently" in electric vehicles compared to conventional ones. Some parts that were "maybe used three hours a day," when used in a vehicle plugged into the power grid between drives, "could literally be used 24 hours a day," Bly said.
"I don't think there's a supplier base that knows what that means in terms of reliability and durability and how to validate it."