It seems to me….
“We still see that people don’t really realize that electric cars are here right now. And when we show up with an actual vehicle, and you see it drive away under its own power, it’s still kind of a jaw-dropping moment for a lot of people.” ~ Franz von Holzhausen.
Roughly 85 percent of U.S. workers commute by car. Car making has been a generator of economic development and the expansion of the middleclass in the post-World War II U.S. and elsewhere. Now, the way that people use motor vehicles is evolving at an astonishing rate given the rise in car and ride-sharing services, electric vehicles (EVs), and the anticipated arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Changes in transportation services and technologies will almost certainly impact public transportation service delivery and future infrastructure needs.
Compared with existing vehicles, EVs are much simpler and have fewer parts; they are essentially computers on wheels. They need fewer people to assemble them and fewer subsidiary systems from specialist suppliers. Additionally, the next generation of automotive engineers will exploit new possibilities in vehicle design using advanced features including improved intelligence, fully integrated braking systems, nanocapacitor driven motor controllers, and independent inboard all-wheel motors using advanced armature configurations. Car workers at factories that do not make EVs are rightfully concerned they could be considered dispensable. With less to go wrong, the market for maintenance and spare parts also will decline.
Electric propulsion offers enormous environmental and health benefits. Charging car batteries from central power stations is more efficient than burning fuel in separate engines and even additionally advantageous if recharged using personal solar systems. Existing EVs reduce carbon emissions by 54 percent compared with petrol-powered ones according to the U.S.’s National Resources Defense Council. That figure will rise as EVs become more efficient and grid-generation becomes greener.
Local air pollution also will be reduced. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that such pollution is the single largest environmental health risk with outdoor air pollution contributing to 3.7 million deaths a year worldwide. One study found that car emissions kill 53,000 Americans each year compared to 34,000 who die in traffic accidents.
The number of electric vehicles sold annually is predicted to increase from about 160,000 sold in 2017 to over 1.5 million by 2030 – over 50 percent of total sales. The internal combustion engine has had a good run and could still dominate shipping and aviation for decades to come – but electric motors will soon offer freedom and convenience more cheaply and cleanly. The future is clearly EV.
EVs still remain a relative rarity outside select areas such as the California South San Francisco Bay where charging stations are widely available ; otherwise owners are on their own. Most vehicles are currently re-charged at the owner’s home but this essentially precludes long-distance travel. Battery improvements should reduce the time to re-charge from the current up to an hour to only 5-10 minutes. Charging station availability will quickly follow. They already are common in the Silicon Valley area at supermarkets, shopping centers, and other obvious locations (such as Fry’s or Whole Foods).
While EVs represent the future, assuming much of the rest of the country is similar to more rural areas than to Silicon Valley, their future remains quite a few years away. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the SF Bay Area which on this issue is most likely the bellwether for the rest of the nation.
The U.S. transportation infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating and badly in need of repair and modernization. Transportation faces emerging challenges about which federal and state governments need to be vigilant. Studies have shown that infrastructure improvement (along with increased educational availability and basic research) is one of the best ways to improve the national economy but EVs will severely impact current state and federal revenue derived from gas taxes. The impact of climate change will be costly and increased popularity of ride-sharing and electric vehicles (EVs) could deprive government agencies of current revenue from fuel taxes.
The effect of EVs on transportation infrastructure is a problem which will need to be addressed as the gas tax has been the principle method of financing the U.S. highway transportation system. Given recent increases in vehicle fuel efficiency and the impending rapid conversion to EVs, much of this source of funding is rapidly declining and will be insufficient in the very near future. At some point, a fairly rapid transition to EVs can be anticipated resulting in considerable political distress as it becomes obvious gas taxes no longer are adequate for road/highway maintenance and construction. There are several proposals being considered including a mileage tax though politicians will most likely initially attempt to compensate by shifting the financial burden to license fees, essentially a totally regressive tax unfairly burdening the least wealthy.
Once the switch to EVs begins to rapidly increase, existing gas stations will out of necessity increase the cost of fuel and many will be forced to close further accelerating the transition. The effect on long-haul trucking where the switch might be delayed also might be detrimental.
Toll roads are already quite common in the Northeast but considered extremely objectionable throughout much of the rest of the country. They might be the only plausible financing alternative as while local road maintenance might be partially paid for from general tax revenues, this will not be acceptable for state or national highways.
A rapid conversion to EVs will not result in network power carrying capacity or cost problems for electric utilities as some critics have predicted, the primary current power grid shortcoming is reverse flow, not overload. Power networks were not designed or constructed with any consideration of distributed power production being fed back into the lines from private solar generation stations. But this could provide an opportunity for power utilities to begin converting to microgrids, rather than current large regional power production facilities, incorporating solar panels, batteries, and links to the electrical grid which would be more sustainable, less costly, and produce lower emissions than larger power generating facilities.
From an environmental perspective, EVs have to be the predominant means of travel in the near future. Hopefully, fuel cells will reach a point where they can someday supplant EVs but that remains farther in the future – the only commercially available fuel cell vehicle currently on the market is the Toyota Mirai.
It is highly possible that China could be the leading EV manufacturer within the near future. While recharging station availability could possibly delay the transition to EVs in the U.S., China is subsidizing EV manufacturers with $60 billion by 2020. Tesla, the leading U.S. EV manufacturer, hoped to produce at most 250,000 vehicles in 2018 but Chinese companies sold over 700,000 in 2017 and are expected to produce over 4.5 million annually by 2020.
As China has become more prosperous, its car ownership has soared and vehicles are now within the reach of most of its growing middleclass with possession having risen from barely 20 per 1,000 of the population at the turn of the century to more than 100 per 1,000 now.
The key to sustainable rapid growth for EVs lies in compulsion. If China mandates that a quarter of new licenses be given to EVs over the next five years, some 25 million to 30 million would be added to the global total. To speed up the pace of change, older vehicles running on internal combustion engines could be taxed or regulated out of existence. And licenses could be restricted to just EVs in some cities.
This isn’t just fantasy. Several big cities across China are experimenting with incentives and restrictions to force greater EV acceptance. Unless the U.S. takes steps to encourage EV development through higher MPG requirements and rectifies its deteriorating infrastructure problems, the future of EVs most likely will be Chinese if they are permitted to achieve sales advantage leading to market domination.
Those pioneers currently purchasing EVs should be congratulated for though EVs are the vehicle of the future, that is not true today. Premium pricing unrecovered for used vehicle sales, lengthy battery recharge cycles, travel distance limitations…. Given time, this will change – but not yet.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Franz von Holzhausen is an American automobile designer currently in charge of design at Tesla Inc. after resigning from his position at Mazda North American Operations.