What are the key development areas for EV tech in 2018?
Battery technology – Batteries have outpaced expectations, in being cheaper and more energy dense than we thought. There still needs to be a second generation of EV battery though, whether solid state or lithium air, something along those lines. Research is going on in those areas in some of the best labs in the world and is advancing, but charging is now the most important factor for the advancement of EVs through 2018 and in to 2020. 200 to 300-mile range vehicles are now on the road and Tesla has a proprietary charging network, but how will OEMS and government step up to enable the charging infrastructure?
Consortiums e.g. GM and Ford are both heavily invested in electric vehicles, but not like Tesla are, instead they let companies like Charge Point handle the refuelling. But for the success of their product it makes sense for them to be more involved in the future of charging infrastructure.
Autonomous vehicles – Autonomous vehicles are the X factor in all of this. How does the growth in autonomous vehicles impact EVs? Thinking about the three-way relationship between autonomous vehicles, EV and ride-sharing, how do they disrupt or impact each other? These are long term questions and we won’t know the answer before the end of 2018.
Autonomous vehicles are more efficient drivers than people and they can travel for longer because they won’t get tired. This impacts EVs and their batteries tremendously. At the moment Uber aren’t making money because they have to pay the drivers. However, this is still cheaper with EVs as the maintenance and running costs are cheaper than traditional cars. When autonomous vehicles do come along, that’s when they’ll start to see more profits.
Autonomous vehicles will also plot the most efficient route to accelerate and decelerate etc. however, this consumes a lot of power in itself, to utilise the sensors in the computers. No one knows if that’s a net-zero relationship or not. It is being researched but not talked about that often. Big government labs are simulating efficiency at the moment and it’s in academic circles but it doesn’t catch the headlines for political reasons and also, understanding those relationships is more technical than people really want to understand.
Supply chain factors - permanent magnets demand rare earth metals that come from just a few places on earth so the economics of this can be an issue. Research on processing Aluminium and Magnesium for use in motors is taking place, driven by the need to reduce costs. This will continue until we get to battery tech 2.0.
Which new technologies will disrupt the EV industry, either commercially or just theoretically?
Even if new EV techniques are developed it takes time to commercialise and there’s low application. In some ways it is quicker to commercialise technologies than it used to be, mainly by the rise of venture capital and start-up companies – there’s a different tolerance for risk in pushing things out quicker. Tesla puts vehicles out that GM or Ford never would because GM would want five years of on-road testing before releasing a vehicle. Tesla is more likely to get data back from customers earlier – a more Agile approach and those customers are less likely to mind having technical bugs in their cars and buy for social and environmental reasons rather than technicality, so there’s scope for faster advancement of tech here.
The single biggest advancement is related to charging - not specifically EVs but batteries and chargers that can together recharge vehicles faster - and relating to infrastructure that need it. Charging is the story for 2018.
Storage is further along than charging. There are viable 200-300 mile cars on the road today, for example Chevy Bolts, but you need to charge them. Batteries have advanced at a quicker pace than charging and that comes down to the level of government support - the government in the US and in most other countries have just been really slow in pushing EV charging infrastructure. In the US the lobbying system means that companies have influence over laws and you can see there are some companies who don’t want EVs to succeed, but oil and energy companies have been and will need to invest in EVs. A lot of them have already but the forward-looking ones are diversifying in to EV charging. If we look at why this has not been as successful as it could have been we could say that there will need to be some federal push, some change in legislation.
Asia is honestly ahead of everybody else right now in terms of pushing EVs, China specifically. Their environmental landscape has lead their government to push more in to EVs than the US. Rapid growth in the Chinese economy and major pollution problems play in to this and the US has a lot of domestic oil reserves reducing its support of electric vehicles. So overall, the progress in EV charging infrastructure varies country by country in terms of state priorities.
What could China learn from the West about EV tech?
The most advanced tech still comes from the West but economically and from a regulatory stand point, China is further in front. People in the west have talked a lot about the rise of China and how it’s going to be the super power soon. Electric vehicles however are one area where they are very nearly on par with the West already, with the help of US patents. My advice for the East would be to start with the infrastructure rather than the vehicles, the west started with the vehicles.
What do you hope to get from attending CWIEME Shanghai?
Personally I’m looking forward to learning more of the Asian philosophy of the EV market; it’s different form the US market. I’m really looking forward to seeing what China is doing in the EV field and hearing other perspectives on where the industry is going.
Matthew Doude, Director at the Centre for Advanced Vehicular Systems at Mississipi State University, USA will be our keynote international speaker at CWIEME Shanghai on the 27 March. He will speaking on 26th March on New Energy Vehicle.
You can find out more on the CWIEME Shanghai website