Don’t get over excited about the rapid expansion of electric vehicle fleets.
Do get excited about the rapid expansion of electrified vehicles which are quite another kettle of fish.
The evidence is all over the European car market, with the silent invasion of “start-stop” technology, which is now the drive train of choice in both small and high-end automobiles. What is it? That quirky little mechanism that shuts down the internal combustion engine when you’re stuck at the lights, and which restarts it as soon as your foot touches the accelerator. Underneath the hood is a much-improved lead-acid battery, which has to deliver many thousands of cranking actions than your old car of a decade ago ever had to. The EU forced car makers to adopt this technology to reduce car emissions, and car makers have slipped it into products without the customers really noticing.
In doing so, they have opened up the potential of so-called mild hybrid technology becoming mainstream, much more than pioneering manufacturer Toyota did with its Hybrid Prius design over 20 years ago.
The advanced mild hybrid will be able to coast with its Internal Combustion (IC) engine shut down at motorway speeds and crawl in traffic on electric drive, and neither of these possibilities put any massive demands on battery chemistries that already exist.
Getting 100mpg fuel economy doesn’t look so difficult either.
That’s not to naysay the innovation going on in electric vehicle development and the all-important batteries. Much of the battery work has focused on cost-reduction, in part pioneered by Elon Musk and now being emulated by others. Giga factories are being built all over the world in a race to reduce battery cost. The idea is a simple one: if you can increase factory output to billions of battery cells in a well-proven design, you should be able to build battery packs for electric cars at less than US$100/ kWh, or in simple terms, under US$10,000 for the life of the vehicle. At that point, it’s a commercial goer. But you have to sell the electric concept to the buyer. EVs get more publicity these days because of chronic air pollution in China and similar concerns.
The same issues arise for the commercial vehicle operator as do the issues of charging and other running costs. They’re still not well defined.
The last bit of lifeblood has not been squeezed from the IC engine and marrying both electric and fossil fuel technologies (and weight reduction) makes a lot of sense. Barring a blanket ban on IC, pure EVs are going to struggle for quite a while.
The issues affecting passenger vehicles and freight vehicles are similar. However, for freight vehicles, purchasing decisions should be more rational.
In summation, for the next decade, it has to be hybrid.