on December 9th, 2021

It's no secret that electric vehicles (EVs) are going to be prevalent in our future. Every year, we are seeing more and more automakers add EVs to their lineup. We took a brief look at the EV industry and where it is heading in the future.

In November 2022, the Economist Intelligence Unit released Industries in 2022, the latest addition to their annual series. The report examined the opportunities and challenges ahead for seven sectors of the global economy: automotive, consumer goods and retailing; energy; financial services; healthcare and pharmaceuticals; technology and telecoms; and tourism.

Of these seven sectors, engineers are heavily involved in almost all. Some of the critical forecasts included in the report were:

  1. Supply-chain disruption will make it harder for manufacturers and retailers to meet recovering demand.
  2. High prices will push up interest rates, raising debt levels and dampening demand.
  3. New technologies will offer new opportunities.
  4. Companies will come under more pressure to cut emissions and meet more standardized reporting requirements.
electric vehicle charging port
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Aligning with Point 4, the report further predicted that global sales of new EVs will continue to soar, rising by 51%. Pressure to reduce emissions means that carmakers are being forced to make drastic decisions regarding the future of their fossil-fuel models. Because of this, the phasing out of internal combustion engines is likely to happen sooner than we think.

Passenger cars and light trucks are already facing stricter vehicle fuel-economy standards in countries like the United States of America. President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order which sets a nonbinding target of making 50% of passenger cars and light-duty trucks zero-emission by 2030.

In 2022, it is expected that other governments worldwide will set more regulations to help reduce transport emissions. This will include measures to accelerate the adoption and implementation of EVs. 

The Battery Doesn't Make the Electric Vehicle

So how did the electric car evolve to what it is today? And can we predict what EVs will look like in the future?

Well, the prediction isn't as simple as manufacturing cars. Cities are still reliant on adapting to light passenger vehicles before moving on to further changes. City planning and the conditions in which the cars will operate will also need to be examined.

A 2017 article in the Journal of Industrial News gave one of the easiest timelines to understand the evolution of the EV.

1832-1839: Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invented the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.

1835: American Thomas Davenport is credited with building the first practical electric vehicle -- a small locomotive. 

1832-1839: Robert Anderson invents the first crude electric carriage entirely powered by non-rechargeable primary battery cells.

1835: An American, Thomas Davenport, builds a small electric locomotive.

1900: EVs are popular, and of the under 4,200 cars produced in America, 28% are powered by electricity. EVs accounted for nearly a third of vehicles on the road in New York City, Boston, and Chicago.

The first electric vehicle
©commons.wikimedia.org

1908: The Ford Model T was released and changed the automobile market to focus on fuel-powered cars.

1920: During the 1920s, the electric car ceases to be a viable commercial product. The electric car's downfall is attributable to several factors, including the desire for long-distance vehicles, their lack of horsepower, and the ready availability of gasoline.  Since the 20s EVs have almost become a bit experimental for manufacturers and were often part of concept car ideas. This changed again in the 1990s.

1990: The American state of California passed a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate, which required a percentage of cars to have no emissions by 1998. By 2003 the mandate outlined that 10% of vehicles operating in the state have zero emissions.

1997: Toyota unveils the Prius. The hybrid car became successful, and 18,000 units were sold during the first production year. It was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle globally and showed that the EV market was valuable.

1999 - 2000: In 1999, Honda released Insight, the first hybrid sold in the US since the early 1900s. The Prius was released in the US in 2000 and became a success due to marketing and celebrities driving it. Some all-electrical vehicles are also released. This includes Honda EV Plus, GM EV1, Ford Ranger pickup EV, Nissan Altra EV, Chevy S-10 EV, and Toyota RAV4 EV). The cars can, however, only be leased.

2009: Tesla is introduced. The Department of Energy in America awards $8 billion in loans to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors to support the development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

2016: Tesla has secured half a million pre-orders for the Model 3 since the vehicle was first unveiled in March 2016. Starting at $35,000, the Model 3 is Tesla's first car geared at a consumer audience. The base Model 3 can drive 220 miles on a single charge, accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, and reach a top speed of 130 mph. It cements EVs as mass-produced and readily available cars that are accepted by drivers as an alternative.

Is Industry Pushing Innovation?

The viability of EVs being commonplace in our near future depends on the available battery technology. In recent times, battery fires have come in the way of further EV success.

Earlier this year, Hyundai recalled around 90,000 of its Kona EVs, costing them approximately $900 million. More than a dozen reports of fires in Kona EV battery packs have been documented since 2019, which ultimately led to the recall decision.

Close-up of Tesla logo on electric vehicle
Photo by Austin Ramsey on Unsplash

However, the Industries in 2022 report predicts that the new year will be more battery experimentation, including lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) and solid-state batteries.

Dominant role-players in the EV manufacturing world like Tesla are moving to LFPs in new models. On the other hand, Toyota in Japan is working on solid-state batteries for new models of vehicles. They have placed an order to have these batteries in an additional 400,000 cars by next year.

Since these batteries are currently more expensive than lithium-ion batteries, investments could hopefully see a significant change that brings down the cost of these batteries next year.

How Will Electric Vehicles Impact City Planning?

Cars that need to be charged require charging points. It's a simple as that. There's some change to what civil engineers and city planners need to do to accommodate this.

Engineering algorithms are needed to establish charge points on routes and the optimal ways for cars to be 'refueled.' One paper, Smart city planning - Developing an urban charging infrastructure for electric vehicles from 2014, already looked at this kind of development from a planning perspective.

The authors introduced an application algorithm to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. They established a planning area around the city center with an edge of 9km. The authors set an edge length of 100 meters for each geographical tile. They could then establish charging stations. The algorithm would select optimal geographical tiles for a charging point since it considers all factors like density, traffic, etc. The paper also established that CP-outlets, rather than CP-stations were further optimal. But to factor in comfort, these charging outlets are then placed in shaded areas away from the center.

The paper developed a decision support system based on extensive real-world data to advise city planners. This system determined the best locations for charging points based on its utilization. The results showed the optimal places for charge points within a given area based on expected utilization.

It was also worth noting that placing these points at various points of interest could also drive business or influence human movement in cities. The authors found that some stores have high influence since people will spend time at the location, while others like bakeries have low influence. CP points can effectively form part of city planning because they can also look at economic activity and bolster it.

Are Electric Vehicles the Future?

It's difficult to predict when EVs will take over completely. However, it is safe to say that we are not far away from EVs ruling the roads on a global scale.

Regulatory pressure and the consumer pull towards EVs will make a massive difference in this uptake rate. But what makes the end of the internal combustion engine inevitable is the technological revolution.

Everyone needs to charge their cars easily and quickly whether or not they have a driveway at their home. This will take work and investment but will happen, just as networks of petrol stations rapidly appeared up to fuel cars.

EVs definitely have the potential to reduce emissions and help address climate change. However, it needs an effort across many different areas to create a sustainable future.

References

Vepachedu, Sreenivasarao. (2017). THE HISTORY OF THE ELECTRIC CAR. Andhra Journal of Industrial News. 14-27.

Wagner, Sebastian & Brandt, Tobias & Neumann, Dirk. (2014). Smart city planning - Developing an urban charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. ECIS 2014 Proceedings - 22nd European Conference on Information Systems.

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