Do drivers dream of electric cars? Three questions automakers will have to answer
Once a curiosity, electric cars are gaining wider appeal. For example, the Nissan Leaf, the most popular fully electric car, has sold 380,000 units. As consumers become more aware of their options, psychological barriers are being broken down. But how to get to the next level and achieve massive uptake of electric vehicles? Denis Le Vot from Nissan, Peter F. Tropschuh from Audi and Karim Zaghib from Hydro-Québec shared their observations and brainstormed solutions during the Movin’on Summit.
Denis LeVot identified three specific consumer questions that automakers will have to successfully answer if electric vehicles are to become as convenient, attractive and affordable as internal combustion vehicles. Here they are:
Vision for the near future
|1. Where can I charge it?
Charging infrastructure is limited. Users must have access to private parking and charge facilities at home. Longer trips are difficult as public facilities are spotty.
A well developed network of charging points for anxiety-free electric driving.
|2. What is its range?
More limited than internal combustion, but the distance is closing. The latest Nissan leaf has an autonomy of 240 km, with 350 km on the horizon.
1000 km from less than 10 minutes of charge time. Compare to 800 km with more efficient internal combustion vehicles.
|3. Is it expensive?
Mass market electric vehicles exist, but they remain a premium product, more expensive than conventional models.
Electric vehicles as cheaper than internal combustion vehicles, when considering purchase price and operating costs.
The questions of range and price lie in the hands of automakers. The experts are confident that solutions exist and that many are on the way, such as solid state batteries that are smaller, cheaper, higher capacity and more easily recyclable than current lithium-ion batteries. Fast charge technology will also allow electric vehicles to better compete in terms of convenience.
According to Denis, “the auto industry is becoming the new rocket science. The technological challenges, electrification, autonomization, are a dream for young engineers. This is very positive.”
However, the biggest impediment is the lack of infrastructure. Curbside charging, working to ready electrical grids for increased demand — these are harder problems to solve since the responsibility falls on various actors.
What tomorrow holds
It’s always tempting to try and predict the future. And if you’re in the innovation business, you pretty much have to. Yet, “customers expect to be able to operate with the car of the future in the same way they are used to operating a conventional car,” says Audi’s Peter F. Tropschuh. Here are a few other discrepancies between expectations and the projected future:
Internal combustion vehicles aren’t going away anytime soon
The phase out will take time, probably a number of decades. In the meantime it’s important to keep working to reduce emissions of conventional vehicles.
Radical new cars are coming
Electric cars will be free from certain design constraints of conventional vehicles, allowing for a fundamental rethink of their of geometry and organization of space. In as little as two to three years, radically new vehicles could start hitting the market.
Smart charging and vehicle to grid
New technologies for smart charging are on the horizon. For example, charging cars could serve as energy reinforcement, contributing back to the grid during peak demand periods and then recharge when demand drops.
EV, meet autonomous vehicle
The future of electric and autonomous vehicles will be interconnected, with each facilitating the other, and their rollouts happening in tandem. However, autonomization will take time. Making it work on predictable highways is one thing, but complex urban environments are much more challenging.