Disruptive technologies have a way of changing the world in rapid and unpredictable ways. Ten years ago, Apple introduced the Smart Phone. Today, nearly 8 out of 10 Americans own a Smart Phone, and over half of the world’s population own Smart Phones. Smart Phones have literally taken over the world. In 2012, Tesla introduced their revolutionary Model S electric car. It was Tesla’s first attempt at building an entire vehicle designed from the ground up, not just a conversion of an existing vehicle as was the case with the Tesla Roadster. Nobody thought Tesla would succeed as a car company let alone shake up the entire automotive manufacturing industry. Today, Tesla has sold over a million vehicles worldwide and their market capitalization is now worth more than GM and Ford combined! The rest of the auto manufacturers are scrambling to catch up with Tesla’s technology leadership.
To date, electric vehicle sales haven’t exactly set the world on fire. The numbers have been growing, but are still only about 2 percent of total vehicle sales in 2019. The relatively small numbers are due to their higher cost (mostly due to the expensive high voltage lithium ion battery), limited availability and public skepticism of their practicality. But all of these are rapidly changing.
EXPONENTIAL SALES GROWTH OF ELECTRIC CARS
First is the growth in sales of electric vehicles. Going back to 2011, it took almost 5 years for cumulative global electric vehicle sales to reach ONE million vehicles. Seventeen months later (2017), global electric vehicle sales had increased to TWO million vehicles. Ten months later (2018), sales passed THREE million vehicles. Six months later (late 2018), it blew past FOUR million vehicles. Less than six months later (2019) it passed FIVE million, and by early 2020 the number has now reached nearly SEVEN million vehicles! This is explosive exponential growth, and it demonstrates where the industry is headed.
Virtually every auto maker is now working to develop and produce new generations of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs). Over the next five years, we will see not dozens, but several HUNDRED brand new electric vehicles for mass production. A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that by model year 2021, there may be as many as FIVE HUNDRED new battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric and fuel cell models available for sale!
By 2040, electric vehicles are predicted to account for over 60 percent of all new vehicle sales. How quickly that happens depends on a number of variables including the global economy, government action (or inaction) regarding climate change, regulations regarding internal combustion engines, and ongoing improvements in battery technology , range and cost.
Right now, China has the highest number of electric vehicles compared to any other country in the world (three times that of the U.S.), while Norway has the highest percentage of electric vehicles on the road (over 50 percent of their vehicle population). In fact, Norway hopes to have nearly 100 percent of their vehicles fully electric within five years!
NEW ELECTRIC VEHICLES COMING
The new vehicles include passenger cars (both traditional sedans as well as ultra high performance super cars), SUVs and light trucks. Some of the new models that have been announced to date include:
Audi e-tron SUV
GM electric Hummer
Ford F-150 Electric pickup truck
Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV
MINI electric hardtop
Nikola Badger electric pickup truck
Polestar 2 (made by Volvo)
Porsche Taycan electric sedan
Rivian R1t and R1s electric pickup trucks
Tesla Model Y
Volvo XC40 Recharge SUV
The point is, consumers will have more and more electric vehicles from which to choose as auto makers start to seriously transition their product lines away from internal combustion engines and move toward PEVs.
New Mustang Mach-E SUV will be a 2021 model, and will offer zero to 60 mph in under four seconds!
Tesla Cyber Truck will be offered with single or dual motor options, and be capable of towing up to 14,000 lb. while going from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Rivian electric pickup will have a range of more than 230, 300, and 400 mile depending on the battery pack. The 135-kWh model will be the fastest version with 754 horsepower and zero to 60 mph in 3 seconds! Who needs a Corvette with this kind of performance?
THE ISSUE OF PRICE
Today, most electric vehicles are 20 to 25 percent more expensive than gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles because of their high voltage battery. However, battery costs are coming down as worldwide production ramps up. Over the past ten years, battery costs have already dropped 87 percent, and will continue to decline. By 2025, industry experts predict electric vehicles will sell for the same price as comparable gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles. In other words, there will no longer be a price penalty for buying an electric vehicle.
PERFORMANCE AND RANGE ANXIETY
Many electric vehicles are capable of delivering impressive performance, accelerating from zero to 60 mph faster than many so-called gasoline-powered performance cars. Look at all the Youtube videos that have been posted of Teslas beating Mustangs, Hellcats and Corvettes at the drag strip. However, range anxiety remains a concern for some consumers even with electric vehicles that can travel up to 300 to 400 miles on a charge.
Range anxiety seems like a legitimate concern because if you run an electric car battery all the way down, you can’t just get a jump start to get your car going again (at least not yet). Your car has to be towed to the nearest charging station or electric outlet to revive the battery. But most people who own electric vehicles say this has never been a real concern for them. The car tells you how much range you have left so you can plug into a recharging station or electrical outlet before the battery gets too low. There are also Smart Phone apps that communicate with your vehicle to keep you informed about the battery’s state of charge and remaining driving range. So if you pay attention and plan ahead, there’s little likelihood of running the battery dead.
Most people also overestimate how many miles they typically drive. The average American drives only about 30 miles per day, and 98 percent of most trips are less than 50 miles. These kind of ranges are well within the capabilities of today’s electric vehicles. And for situations were longer trips are necessary, the availability of charging stations is addressing that issue as well.
A Bosch charging station with an electric Kia Soul.
Nearly 80,000 public charging stations have been installed in recent years across the U.S., with tens of thousands more on their way. A growing number of stores and strip malls now have reserved parking spaces where people can plug in their electric vehicle for a partial charge while they shop. Some parking garages, commuter lots and public building also have charging stations that allow convenient recharging.
How does the current availability of electric vehicle charging stations compare with the availability of gas stations in the U.S.? As of early 2020, there are about 168,000 gas stations serving almost 280 million cars and trucks (that’s one gas station for every 1,667 vehicles). As for the 1.5 million electric vehicles currently registered in the U.S., that’s one charging station for every 18.5 vehicles. So on a per vehicle basis, there are actually more charging stations per vehicle than gas stations!
The latest generation of super chargers can reduce charging times from hours to minutes. A 440v Tesla supercharger, for example, can achieve an 80 percent charge in under 40 minutes, and a 50 percent charge in about 20 minutes. It’s still not as fast as refilling a gas tank on a conventional internal combustion-powered vehicle, but the recharging times continue to get faster and faster.
A 220v public or home charging station can typically increase the charge on a battery that is 40 percent charged up to 80 percent in about one hour. A full charge may take up to several hours to achieve.
The slowest charging is from an ordinary 110v electric outlet. A 110v electric outlet will typically deliver about 3 miles of range per hour of charging. Leaving the vehicle plugged in overnight will therefore give you about 24 to 30 miles of driving range. At this rate it may actually take a couple of days to fully charge a low battery.
GOVERNMENT INCENTIVES AND REGULATIONS
To encourage the development and growth of the electric vehicle market, many government entities have offered various rebates and tax incentives to buy an electric vehicle. The reason for doing so is because carbon emissions from cars and trucks is second only to coal-fired power generation as the leading source of man-made carbon emissions. Reducing carbon emissions is essential if we are to minimize the effects of global warming and climate change.
In the U.S. automakers have received a $7,500 tax credit for every electric vehicle they sell, up to 200,000 units. Six months after selling more than 200,000 vehicles, the tax credit drops to $3,750, then drops to $1,875 six months later, and eventually goes to zero. So as electric vehicle ramps up, most of the tax credits are going away. Even so, it’s important to remember that the price difference between conventional internal combustion-powered vehicles and electric vehicles will also continue to narrow reducing the price penalty for buying electric.
One factor that may accelerate the shift to electric vehicles are proposals to actually ban the sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles in the future. Norway wants to phase out internal combustion engines by 2025, and Europe has proposed doing the same by 2030. The United Kingdom is talking about banning internal combustion engines by 2040. It’s doubtful the U.S. would ever propose such a ban (except in California), preferring free market forces to determine how quickly the public adopts electric vehicles. Even so, the handwriting is on the wall that electric vehicles will proliferate and eventually dominate the market.
HOW ELECTRIC CARS WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING
Internal combustion engines will be around for many years to come, but as electric vehicle sales continue to grow it will mean big changes for the auto service and repair industries, Big Oil and how we drive from point A to point B.
Electric vehicles require almost no maintenance or service. There’s no oil changes, no belts or spark plugs to replace, no filters to change (other than a cabin air filter or air filter for battery venting and cooling). Thanks to regenerative braking, brake pads are lasting upwards of 150,000 miles on most electric vehicles today. Consequently, new car dealers as well as independent aftermarket repair shops will see a decline in service revenue. The complexity of electric car technology also means many small repair shops will lack the training, experience and tools required to work on electric vehicles.
With every electric vehicle that is sold, Big Oil sees a drop in demand for gasoline and diesel fuel. The typical vehicle that travels 12,000 miles a year and gets 25 mpg burns about 500 gallons of fuel a year. With a plug-in electric vehicle, fuel consumption drops to ZERO gallons burned per year regardless of how many miles are driven. More electric vehicle sales, therefore, means less demand for gas and oil, less need for expanded drilling and fracking (and the environmental impacts that go with such endeavors), and lower profits for Big Oil.
So where will all the electrical energy come from to power the growing fleet of electric vehicles? Some of it will come from clean energy sources such as wind and solar. But realistically, much of it will come from conventional coal or natural gas-fired power plants and (horrors!) nuclear power.
Actually, nuclear energy is both powerful and clean (zero carbon emissions), assuming there are no 3-Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima type disasters. A single nuclear power plant can produce ten times as much electricity as a large wind farm (200-plus windmills), and it can do it reliably and continuously 24/7 regardless of weather or wind conditions. Although only a couple of new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. in recent years, the growing demand for electrical power will certainly require building many more nukes to replace older plants that are nearing retirement, as well as old coal and gas-fired power plants.
According to the U.S. Energy Administration, demand for electric power in the U.S. will grow from 4178 TWh (billion kilowatt hours) in 2019 to over 5000 TWh by 2030, and possibly much more depending on how fast electric vehicles take over.
In addition to changes in the power generating industry and how and where power is made available to electric vehicles, advances in self-driving technology will likely alter the driving experience itself.
If self-driving capabilities eventually make vehicles fully autonomous (meaning no driver input other than telling your car where you want to go), there may be a huge shift in the way people look at vehicles themselves. Cars may become simply a means of transportation rather than a status symbol. If you can’t even drive the car, what difference does it make how fast it can go from zero to 60 mph? It becomes a tool to get you from one place to another . The route the vehicle takes and the speed at which it gets you there will be determined and controlled by a computer algorithm and V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2I (vehicle-to-internet) and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications via hi-speed 5G Wi-Fi connections. In other words, there will literally be no driving experience. Car makers will have nothing to sell consumers other than convenience and utility.
Self-driving cars such as this Toyota LQ concept will totally change the driving experience from one that is active and requires driver attention and input to one that is totally passive.
Some say private vehicle ownership may be replaced by some type of subscription transportation service. Why buy and maintain a vehicle when you can summon a self-driving car to your front door via your phone app when you need to go somewhere. A driverless Uber-type vehicle shows up and you pay a flat rate per mile to get from A to B. No car payments, no car insurance, no license fees, no maintenance costs, no auto repair bills, no trade-in ripoffs at the dealership, no arm wrestling a car salesman to get the best price, no problems getting financing. You just join a car subscription service and pay by the mile. That would be a real change for most of us, yet many young urban dwellers are doing just that by forgoing car ownership and using ride-sharing or short term car rentals (such as Zip car) when they need to go somewhere that is not served by public transportation or within biking or walking distance.
Electric vehicles will certainly bring about dramatic changes in the next decade and beyond, and we can only guess where they may take us. But one thing is for sure, we stand on the cusp of a revolution in transportation technology that will be as life-changing as the internet and the Smart Phone.
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