Full speed ahead for electric cars

Electric cars were once an expensive novelty, mocked for slow speeds and limited range. However, a trickle of vehicles coming onto the market has become a steady stream and many countries are now setting dates for a ban on sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines.

A fierce global competition is underway to determine the motors that will power this electric revolution; who are the new automotive kings and what does the car of the future look like?

How far have we come in EV adoption?

In 2016 there were a record 750,000 sales of electric cars across the globe. Norway leads the world in EV adoption with a 29% market share; in second place is the Netherlands with a 5.4% market share.[1]

Until 2015, the United States had the largest market for electric vehicles. From 2016, China became the biggest market, with around one third of the global total of EVs sold. China also leads in use of other electric vehicles; it has around 4 million low-speed electric vehicles, 300,000 electric buses and 200 million electric two-wheeled vehicles.[2]

Alongside the adoption of electric vehicles, charging infrastructure has been growing. Publicly-available charging facilities grew by 72% in 2016, outstripping the stock growth rate of EVs (60%). Despite this boom, electric cars still represent a tiny percentage of total vehicles. However, that looks set to change.[3]

The end of the internal combustion engine

To date, four European countries have announced dates for banning the sale of cars with internal combustion engines. The Netherlands will phase out traditional cars by 2025; Norway by 2030; in France and the UK the ban is set for 2040.[4]

These are ambitious targets driven by the imperative to meet carbon emission targets under the Paris climate accord. Only 6% of car sales in the Netherlands are currently electric or hybrid vehicles; this figure will have to jump 94% in seven years to meet the target.[5]

Outside Europe, developing countries are also looking to make the switch to EVs. India plans to sell only hybrid and electric vehicles from 2030 and China is said to be interested in enacting a ban. In the United States the transition is slower, with less than one percent of the 17.55 million annual car and truck sales being electric or hybrid and no discussion of a ban.[6] The United States has also seen rapid growth in the provision of public charging stations, but there are around 16,000 such stations for EVs, as opposed to approximately 112,000 gasoline stations.[7]

Can the automotive giants make the jump?

Such a rapid transition to EVs is causing major disruption in the automotive industry. Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have announced plans to move to all-electric ranges in future, while other car giants are scrambling to develop electric models.[8]

There is no guarantee that all of today’s familiar car brand names will survive the transition, particularly in the face of innovative new entrants to the automotive market, such as Tesla and Dyson. The challenge for established market players is to reconfigure processes and infrastructure for design and manufacturing, whereas smaller, nimbler players will be seeking investment to enable them to scale up operations.

Energy efficiency

In terms of performance, EVs now convert around 59-62% of electrical energy from the grid into power, whereas traditional fuel in a combustion engine converts only 17-21% of energy into power. Electric motors are quieter, smoother and provide stronger acceleration than combustion engines.[9]

Although electric vehicles can be more expensive to purchase upfront, the running costs are now lower than those for a combustion engine vehicle. A recent report looking at EV costs in markets including the US, UK, Japan and China showed that the electric vehicles cost less to own and run over a four-year period. The low cost is currently inclusive of government subsidies, but EVs are projected to remain cheaper to run even when this support is withdrawn. [10]

When will EVs take over?

However, EV designers still face considerable challenges; range, recharging time, and the cost and weight of batteries are key problems which must be addressed in order to improve take-up and reliability. The average EV can now do up to 300 miles per charge, but full charging can take hours to complete. As a result, some consumers still have reservations about purchasing them for other than short trips.

There is still some way to go for electric vehicles, but who knows what dramatic developments we might see in the coming years?


[1] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf

[2] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf

[3] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GlobalEVOutlook2017.pdf

[4] http://www.thedrive.com/sheetmetal/15825/these-are-the-countries-that-plan-to-ban-non-electrified-vehicles

[5] http://www.thedrive.com/sheetmetal/15825/these-are-the-countries-that-plan-to-ban-non-electrified-vehicles

[6] http://www.thedrive.com/sheetmetal/15825/these-are-the-countries-that-plan-to-ban-non-electrified-vehicles

[7] https://electrek.co/2017/06/19/us-electric-vehicle-charging-stations/

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/15/electric-cars-frankfurt-motor-show-bmw-mercedes-benz-renault

[9] https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/01/electric-cars-already-cheaper-to-own-and-run-than-petrol-or-diesel-study