Runaway Adoption of Pure Electric Vehicles: Multiple Triggers
May 24, 2017
It has long been speculated that electric vehicle adoption may have a sudden tipping point of adoption. IDTechEx pointed out that incentives help as does reaching lower cost of ownership but lower up-front price is the killer blow. We noted how that has happened with small vehicles such as gasoline-assisted bicycles and golf cars becoming more expensive than pure electric alternatives, this resulting in runaway adoption of electric. Ten years ago, IDTechEx correctly predicted that this will progress to ever larger vehicles with on-road small cars in line for being cheaper as pure electric from 2020 onwards. On cue, several car makers have now said they will be offering pure electric versions at no price penalty in that timeframe. That is more dramatic than it sounds, because maintenance of the much simpler pure electric powertrain and the cost of the electric "fuel" are tiny compared to conventional and vehicle life is often to be longer too. Some electric boats have been in operation for 130 years!
However, there is much more to it than that because unintended consequences are imminent as other market parameters change. There will be a domino effect. Take diesel. Many cities have set dates when they will ban diesel vehicles and some countries are contemplating such legislation. Globally sales of diesel vehicles are dropping due to the Volkswagen scandal, purchasers fearing that resale prices may collapse. In European countries sales of diesel are essential to gasoline stations: for example, in the UK, they represent 65% of fuel sales. There, the number of such "forecourts" is one sixth of what it was and the few remaining ones will be very tempted to grab the hefty increased property value and let someone turn them into apartments or, since they are shopping locations already, as supermarkets.
Ironically, shutting down gasoline stations is encouraged by the fact that you cannot make significant money out of EV chargers on your forecourt. Legislation is going through in the UK that gives the government the right to force the larger forecourt owners to provide EV charging. However, is enforced, that may only further encourage them to shut up shop and walk off with that nice property gain.
Other unintended consequences
The unintended consequence will be extra journey time and hassle for drivers seeking petrol, not just diesel. Suddenly it is the internal combustion engines that become a pain to refuel whereas EVs are charged at home and at destination, a convenience not possible with the conventional vehicle. This will make petrol vehicles undesirable even before cities and countries ban them and they become overpriced as they become more complex to meet 2025 and 2030 carbon dioxide laws intended to reduce global warming and a raft of acid gas restrictions, diesel being hit by particulate restrictions too. For example, 48V mild hybrids have taken off in a big way this year but there is a cost penalty of several thousand dollars. See the IDTechEx report, Mild Hybrid 48V Vehicles 2017-2027.
We face multiple hits on conventional vehicles all the time now, another example being linkage between diesel and breast cancer, depression and more, not just lung and heart disease. As causality is proven and the true scale of injuries is revealed, people will be more and more cautious of putting money that way and that includes investors, so modernisation of facilities, reduced emissions and competitive pricing of conventional vehicles becomes more and more difficult. That effect is multiplied by major Tier one suppliers such as Delphi recently getting out of the internal combustion engine parts business.
Fuel cell tipping point
In parallel something like this is happening with putative suppliers of fuel cell vehicles and their parts putting their work on the back burner or exiting completely, aware that prohibitive costs and the hydrogen coming from fossil fuels is not a good place to be. With runaway adoption of battery electric vehicles, even the grants for these non-green fuel cell vehicles are under threat, creating a self-fulfilling prophesy and boosting pure electric. IDTechEx correctly forecasted the realisation that fuel cell vehicles will never be mainstream but, like all forecasters, we are struggling to predict accurately when the tipping point of pure electric cars will come. It has all become as bit surreal with oil company Total recently issuing the most bullish forecast for EVs and Ford talking of helping cities to get rid of large numbers of private cars and use small numbers of autonomous pure electric taxis instead.
Electric vehicles but not as we know them
All this has echoes in off-road, marine vehicles and aircraft too as the leading players expand into the full market for economy of scale. For example, Hyundai and Tesla are enter in electric buses with pure electric versions. Where will the Toyota interest in boats and aircraft lead it? BMW has gone back into aircraft. BYD, number two in EVs after Toyota, matches it with activity in electric buses and forklifts. Honda has a successful electric lawnmower that is autonomous. Google, developing autonomous pure electric car technology, has just flown a pure electric drone that can generate 600kW from wind when it is up there, sending it to earth down a tether. See the IDTechEx report, Airborne Wind Energy 2017-2027. For the big picture, see the IDTechEx report, Electric Vehicles Land, Water, Air 2017-2027: Forecasts, Analysis, Opportunities.