Electric Cars the future made real?

Accelerating Sustainable Transport

The automotive industry is changing rapidly, much more quickly than at any point in the last 20 years. There’s a major shift towards green technologies and increased fuel economy, driven by both regulations and consumer demand. At the same time, consumers also want cars that offer a much better technological experience, like an iPad or iPhone. Consumer adoption of EVs has been much faster than that of hybrids, and this is only going to accelerate as the charging infrastructure improves, and battery performance and manufacturing advance to deliver more affordable EVs with longer driving ranges.

In the next 5 to 10 years, every car on sale will offer a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or full EV variant, and the adoption rate of these technologies will increase dramatically. Markets in China and India will also likely play an even greater role than they already do. Additionally, electronic driver aids will continue to migrate down-market, with products like adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning becoming standard on most cars. Self-driving cars certainly have the opportunity to be a transformative technology. They have a long way to go before adoption on a wide scale occurs, but it is one of the more exciting automotive technologies of recent memory.

Manufacturing is always a challenge, and as the EV industry scales up, there is going to be a lot of room for people who can figure out how to reduce the cost of manufacturing the batteries, motors, and power electronics that are at the heart of electric cars. There’s still going to be a lot of work for engineers, but less focus on internal combustion engines than in the past 20 years. Expertise in batteries, electric motors, and advanced computer and electrical systems will become more highly valued, but in general all engineers will have to continue to be more well-rounded. Cars have become so much more technologically advanced that it’s critical to understand areas outside of your field of expertise.

This year, 13 car companies offer at least one electric option: Volkswagen has four models, while Ford, BMW and Mercedes-Benz each offer three. General Motors, Nissan Motors and Toyota have three of the highest-profile vehicles in the Volt/Bolt, Leaf and Prius. Altogether, 33 different electric vehicles should come on line in 2017, says the Consumer Federation of America.

Worldwide number of electric vehicles in use from 2012 to 2016 (in 1,000s)*

Tesla - the real deal of near future

Tesla Motors came into existence in 2003 but it wasn't until 2008 that it properly captured the public's attention with the first electric sports car - the Tesla Roadster.

Tesla didn't invent the idea of the electric car but it's been one of the key players in pushing development and innovation, almost to the point of bankruptcy. Getting electric cars manufactured at scale is no easy task, and the company has relied on angel investors (including Musk) plus investments from Daimler and Toyota to keep going.

Fuel economy is of course a misleading term in this instance, but if we think about the range from a full battery charge (in normal driving you can expect a safe minimum of 190-280 miles depending on the model you choose), plus the low cost of recharging that battery, the Tesla offers unbeatable pence-per-mile costs among cars of its type.

The focus on the new personal car – the 21st century electric Model T – may be leading the EV industry, at least in North America, in the wrong direction. Mass adoption of electric personal vehicles is inhibited by incumbent improvements and the inability to obtain economies of scale that will bring costs to competitive levels and reduce the need for subsidization.

Meanwhile, the EV industry has not moved aggressively into market segments – commercial trucks for example – that seem to offer significant advantages. Others, China in particular, are moving much more rapidly in these areas and may well capture market scale and technological leadership.

In fact, the vehicle world of tomorrow may resemble less the Ford era than the decades before, in the early days of the auto, when steam, electric and internal combustion vehicles of many types, size and purpose all shared roads with a vast array of horse-drawn vehicles.

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Created with images by Blomst - "tesla supercharger battery"

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