Electric vehicles have travelled a long way in just 20 years, but still have not quite arrived. Their batteries and motors improved greatly over that period, yet only around 2 percent of the cars sold worldwide in 2018 were electric.
The main reason is that motorists compare them to what they’re used to, and, compared to petrol and diesel cars, electric vehicles come up short. No matter how many charging points are installed, motorists still find it significantly more practical to drive a car with an internal combustion engine (ICE), especially if they often drive long distances.
They also know, however, that they are rarely more than a couple of miles from a petrol pump, where they can fill their tank in just a matter of minutes, even if there’s a queue of two or three cars ahead of them. An electric fast-charge point takes about 20 to 30 minutes to deliver a worthwhile charge. That would mean a delay of over an hour, if two or three electric cars are ahead in the queue.
Concerns like these will only fade away when an electric car can be fully charged in a couple of minutes and travel at least the same distance on that charge as an ICE car on a full tank. Even when that time comes, most motorists will seriously consider buying an electric car only if the purchase price is close to that of a similar class ICE car. equivalent ICE vehicles and would be significantly cheaper built for one particular part, the battery.
According to Gene Berdichevsky, who was the principal engineer on the Tesla Roadster battery project, the battery accounts for nearly a third of the purchase price of most electric cars. The important question therefore for the motorist and the industry is:
When will these three problems be resolved? A kind of “Catch 22″situation is involved here. The cost of electric cars will drop when sufficient numbers are sold and economies of scale come into play.
Sufficient numbers will be sold, however, only when the battery charging time and range issues are resolved. For those reasons, barring a technological breakthrough in battery technology, sales are likely to rise relatively slowly in the next five years spurred on mainly by potential owners noticing more electric cars on the road.
That slow growth will lead to gradual price reductions. There’s little doubt that the entire car industry strongly believes a breakthrough in battery technology will happen sooner rather than later. The proof of that belief is in the vast sums they have already invested in electric car production. Virtually every big manufacturer makes electric or hybrid vehicles. These include Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
Some of these companies have specific plans to phase out building vehicles powered solely by ICE engines. Volvo says that electric cars will represent half its global sales by 2025 and hybrid electric the other half, with many of those being plug-in hybrids.
Volkswagen, the world’s largest car manufacturer, says that a quarter of all cars it produces dozen fully electric models by around the same date, and Mercedes has a similar target. Tesla, which makes only electric vehicles, is set to increase production through a number of new manufacturing facilities.
Apart from its plant in California, the company has started manufacturing cars at a huge factory in Shanghai, China, and in November 2019, CEO Elon Musk announced plans to open another big plant in 2020 near Berlin in Germany. Apart from building cars, Tesla has an enormous lithium ion (Li-ion) battery plant near Reno, Nevada. The factory produces batteries both for its cars and its bulk electricity storage systems.