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In a series of articles, senior associate Stuart Greenwood looks at the current state of electric vehicles, the very latest developments in the field, what lies ahead, and some examples from around the world at how cities and countries are adapting and preparing for the coming of the EV.
Electric Avenue – is this the road ahead?
It is probably widely agreed that the future of the electric car looks promising, as many countries and industries are investing in the development and adoption of electric vehicles. But what are the issues to be mindful of; the potholes to navigate? And, beyond wealthy cities, is the rest of the world in any way ready?
We outline some of the trends and factors shaping the future of the electric car and look ahead to the challenges still to be faced.
The demand for electric cars is growing rapidly. Sales of EVs have grown from 120,000 worldwide in 2012 to more than that every week in 2023[i]. Driven by factors such as government incentives, environmental concerns, and improvements in technology, some estimates state the global EV market could reach 245 million vehicles by 2030.
Advancements in battery technology are making EVs more efficient, affordable, and reliable, and ongoing research into new battery chemistries continue to improve performance, reduce costs, and increase the range of EVs.
The availability of charging infrastructure is critical to the growth of the EV market. Governments and private companies are investing in the development of charging networks, including fast chargers that can recharge EVs in minutes rather than hours. Wireless charging is also being developed, which could make charging even more convenient.
Electric vehicles are also at the forefront of the development of autonomous driving technology. Self-driving EVs could transform transportation by reducing the need for human drivers and increasing safety on the roads.
Governments around the world are implementing policies to promote the adoption of electric vehicles, such as subsidies, tax incentives, and mandates for automakers to produce more EVs. The US, EU and UK have pledged to ban the sales of internal combustion engine vehicles over the next two decades. These policies are likely to continue, providing further support for the growth of the electric car market.
Yet, the growth of sales appears to have stalled of late[ii]. Battery technology is a key driver of the electric car’s future but there can be considerable discrepancy between manufacturer’s claims about battery life, and the actual mileage. The infrastructure, even in the most EV-enthusiastic countries, is also lagging. Charging points are relatively scarce and are operated by a multitude of different providers, each with infuriating differences in charging times and payment. The cost of an EV is also still prohibitively high for the average consumer (the cheapest price of a brand-new EV is around £23,000[iii]).
There is also the elephant in the room. Are EVs actually better for the environment? Though they produce zero emissions when driven, EVs are reliant on rare-earth minerals often mined in developing countries or from the ocean floor – both carbon-intensive and damaging. It has also been suggested that CO2 emissions from electric car production are 59% higher than those for the production of traditional internal combustion vehicles[iv].
The greater emissions largely come from the battery manufacturing process. This has led to companies such as Volkswagen and Volvo to now produce their EVs in carbon-neutral ways, and more manufacturers are expected to follow[v][vi].
The majority of emissions have therefore already been produced when an EV hits the road. With traditional combustion engines, a long period of emissions is just beginning.
If governments are to mitigate the worst effects of climate change caused by vehicles, then they need to work with the automotive industry to navigate all these potholes. Adopting greener forms of transport is essential but it is not a simple straightforward step for the world to head towards mass EV use. Developing countries lag behind considerably and if they are to be brought along on this ride then technology and infrastructure still have a long way to go to improve.
The electric car looks here to stay, and with advances in technology and supportive government policies, demand will surely continue to grow. But for this to happen the infrastructure must continue to grow too, and the technology continue to evolve, to make electric cars more accessible, affordable, and convenient for consumers.
And to come in future articles:
Going Dutch: a look into how Amsterdam aims to be free from all carbon-emitting vehicles by 2030
Latest tech: McLaren looks to patent triple motor EV supercar powertrain
Spotlight on South Africa: the charging problem
Spotlight on Japan: Autonomy or not autonomy, that is the question
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