Electric will soon surpass fossil-fuelled cars…
The prediction may appear audacious, especially if you haven’t even driven an electric car, but we are actually in the middle of the biggest revolution since the first battery-powered engine in 1834, and this transformation certainly dwarfs Henry Ford’s accomplishment of the first production line cars in 1913.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, this will happen much more quickly than you imagine. In just four years (2025), Jaguar aims to only sell electric vehicles, with Lotus following suit by 2028 and Volvo from 2030. General Motors have set 2035 as their all-electric target and Ford have stated by 2030 all vehicles sold in Europe will be electric, however, VW has said 70% of its sales will be electric by 2030.
This isn’t a phase or greenwashing; the energy revolution is here to stay. Specifically, regarding electric vehicles, Governments around the world are setting targets to ban the sale of fossil-fuelled vehicles, giving impetus to the process, and possibly marking the end of the combustion engine and making it the latest victim to a technological revolution. And as technological revolutions tend to happen very quickly, the end for the petrol/diesel engine could be sooner than you think.
The writing is on the wall… just look at how the internet started in the late 1990s and how entwined it is in today’s society. There was a lot of hype about how computers could talk to each other and we witnessed the start-ups of Amazon and Google took over from Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. In many ways, the EV market is in a similar position to the internet back in the early 2000s. Back then most hadn’t logged on, it may have been interesting, but how useful could computers talking to each other be? After all, we’ve got mobile phones!
The internet like the adoption of mobile phones didn’t follow a linear path to global dominance, they didn’t gradually evolve affording us time to plan ahead. Instead, their growth was much like the spread of Covid-19, explosive, disruptive and regarding the internet changing the way we do almost everything and crushing businesses that are too slow change.
This trajectory is known to technologists as an s-curve which is an elongated S. New innovations begin on the start slowly at the beginning of the s-curve only of interest to the early adopters. For the internet, this curve begins in October 1969 when a computer made very brief contact with another a few hundred miles away. Move forwards a decade and hundreds of computers were on the network, but the pace of change was accelerating. By the 1990s the tech-savvy started buying personal computers and as demand grew, prices started to fall rapidly. This mirrored with huge improvements in performance encouraged more people to log onto the internet.
At this point, the S is beginning its steep upward climb. By the mid-1990s 16 million people were online, by 2001, there were 513 million, and now there are more than 3 billion. At this point, the S begins to slope back towards a horizontal line, with virtually everyone who wants to be is now online.
We witnessed similar patterns of a slow start, exponential growth and a slowdown into a mature market with smartphones, photography, printing presses, antibiotics, even the combustion engine and steam engines. EVs will do the same, although it’s fair to anticipate that the EVs S curve won’t be quite as extended as that of the internet due to the global climate emergency, as Government’s scramble to influence change. For EVs we are at the bottom of the S just before it starts sharp ascendancy.
The EVs s-curve started in the 1830s by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson with his rather crude electric car, in 1998 General Motors produced 1,000 EV1s at a cost of a billion dollars to develop, although its range was a dreadful 50 miles, used car dealer Quentin Wilson was won over “I remember thinking this is the future”. Although a decade on, Top Gear presenter scorned him when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero stating “You’ve done the unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!”.
But step into the modern-day and range anxiety is becoming less relevant with Mr Wilson’s Tesla Model 3, which is capable of almost 300 miles on a single charge and can accelerate from 0-60 in just over 3 seconds.
“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”
There have been colossal strides forward in terms of the production and design of the motors that drive EVs, the onboard computers, the charging systems and the car itself. But the sea-change in performance that today’s EV drivers are experiencing is due to the non-beating heart of the EV, the battery. The energy density (the amount of power that can be packed into each battery) is rising sharply and they are lasting longer too! Chinese battery maker, CATL, unveiled the world’s first million-mile battery. Companies such as Uber & Lyft are leading the switchover due to their fleets of cars that clock up high miles, however as prices continue to tumble, retail customers will soon follow.
The question is how fast will this happen? And the answer is very fast indeed. The EV market is growing exponentially, just like the internet did in the 90s. Despite overall car sales slumping in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, EV sales shot up by 43% totalling 3.2m, just 5% of total car sales, demonstrating we’re at the steep part of the S. In just 4 years’ time 20% of global cars sold will be electric and this will rise to 40% by 2030 and by 2040 that will nearly be 100%.
But there’s another curve at play, something manufacturers describe as the “learning curve”. As goods are manufactured, they’re refined, making them better but also cheaper, this allows economies of scale to kick in, prices drop further making them more affordable, just like PCs, white goods and cars. It is the same for batteries and electric cars, but Ramex Naam, the co-chair for energy and environment at the Singularity University in California says “We’re on the verge of a tipping point”.
He believes the game will be up as soon as EVs are as cost-competitive with combustion vehicles, a thought that is shared with Tesla’s Elon Musk. Elon claimed the Model 3 is the world’s best-selling premium sedan and that the newer cheaper Model Y will become the best-selling car of any kind.
“We’ve seen a real shift in customer perception of electric vehicles, and our demand is the best we’ve ever seen,” Mr Musk told the meeting.
Before EVs drive their fossil-fuelled counterparts of the road, there is still work to be done. Everyone will need to be able to charge their vehicles easily and cheaply wherever they park their vehicles, whether at work, home or out at leisure locations. But just as a network of petrol stations sprang up to fuel cars a century ago, the same will happen for EV charging, but it will take work and investment.
If you are sceptical, take an EV for a test drive, you may find you want to be part of motoring’s future. But before you buy, you need to consider where you will be in a few years’ time, how many EVs you’ll need to charge, and where you can charge them, and if you will have sufficient power at a site to charge them in conjunction with your normal power consumption. There are funded solutions available through The Energy Revolution™ for businesses and an opportunity for them to become a revenue stream for those that adopt the service.
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