Electric vehicles: the five biggest questions at the moment

Electric vehicles: the five biggest questions at the moment

As several governments, including the UK and France, commit to ban sales of new petrol and diesel-powered cars from 2040, electric vehicles (EVs) will become an increasingly large proportion of the fleet mix.

By Craig Thomas on Jun 11, 2019

But fleet managers will inevitably have questions about the cost and viability of EVs and the support for them. We’ve answered the biggest of those questions.

When will EVs have longer ranges?

Longer ranges are perhaps closer than we think – especially as Tesla Owners group

in Italy have recently managed 670 miles (1078 kilometres) from a single charge in their Model S 100D (the official range of that variant is 315-341 miles/507-549 kilometres). The forthcoming Model 3 can also theoretically drive as far as 310 miles/499 kilometres (when fitted with the larger battery pack), so practical ranges are possible.

The latest version of the Renault ZOE can also now go around 200 miles/322 kilometres on a single charge, so production cars are heading in the right direction: the BMW i3, for example is also gradually building its range with the addition of higher-capacity batteries.

A number of car manufacturers are also promising new models for 2020/21 with Tesla-like ranges, so we’re only a few short years away from fleets having a choice of vehicles that are a lot more practical.

What are the prospects for a workable charging infrastructure?

According to the International Energy Agency, in 2016 the annual growth rate of publicly available charging was 72%, with 212,000 slow chargers and 110,000 fast chargers. However, it also estimates that there needs to be between 4 million and 14 million outlets by 2030 (depending on the number of EVs on the roads).

We’re seeing this growth happen already. Tesla is aiming to expand its global network of 145KW superchargers to 10,000, while Nissan has a global network of 4,000 fast chargers. And the Ionity consortium – a joint venture between Shell and carmakers Volkswagen Group, Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and Ford – has just announced a pan-European 400-strong network of 350KW fast chargers by 2020.

NewMotion operates more than 30,000 private electric charge points for homes and businesses in the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK. It also provides access to a network of more than 50,000 public charge points across 25 European countries, serving more than 100,000 registered charge cards.

It’s also worth noting that the majority of fleet EVs currently charge at workplaces, with governments offering incentives for companies to install their own chargepoints.

Where will the chargers be?

All over the place, with the locations of the chargers depending on their charging capacity. So there will be location charging at places such as petrol station forecourts and coffee shops; while there will also be what’s known as destination charging, where drivers will go and park up somewhere, such as an office complex for a meeting, where the car can be left charging for a longer period of time.

How long will it be before EVs are the same price as conventional petrol and diesel cars?

The cost of building an EV is falling all the time, so it won’t be too long before carmakers will be able to sell them for a purchase price that is comparable to vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs).

Battery costs are generally seen as the main indicator of EV costs. Bloomberg New Energy Futures has been tracking the costs of lithium ion batteries since 2010, when they were $1,000 per kWh: by the end of 2017 we’re looking at around $200 per kWh on average, with some manufacturers already well below that figure. Indeed, General Motors announced recently that the battery costs for its Chevrolet Bolt are $145 per kWh.

Once this figure falls below $100 per kWh – which Bloomberg estimates will be around 2025/26 – EVs will be able to compete with the upfront, purchase price of conventional petrol and diesel cars.

However, fleets – which look at total cost of ownership, rather than just purchase price – will find that EVs will be cheaper to run than ICE-powered cars even sooner than that.

Will there be enough materials to meet the demand for batteries?

The total capacity of lithium ion battery packs needed for new EVs in 2015 was 15.9 GWh, but estimates from Navigant Research suggest that by 2024 this will increase to 93.1 GWh.

But lithium isn’t the only material used in batteries: cobalt, nickel, manganese and aluminium are also used in cathodes. Demand for all these materials will inevitably rise, not only because they are use in cars, but also in products such as mobile phones. As a result, carmakers are currently attempting to secure long-term supply of the materials they need – in a market where the price of cobalt, for example, has increased by 190% in 18 months and lithium demand is expected to be four times greater (779,000 tonnes) by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs.

However, a reliance on these materials might not be a given, especially as battery technology evolves and solid-state batteries – which replace the liquid electrolyte with a solid, safer material, and promise to store and release more power, are developed. Toyota is one company that is already planning to use solid-state batteries in its cars by the early 2020s.

More and more companies are seeing the benefits of e-mobility, and with legislation forcing businesses to look to non-diesel and petrol engines alternatives, demand for EVs is likely to grow in line with the rate of progress over the next decade.

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