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Electric-Vehicle-Revolution: with changes comes opportunity

20 September 2019

The electric vehicle revolution is unstoppable. However, major changes to electricity infrastructure will be required, and there are practical limits to fast charging. However, with every major car manufacturer in the world announcing ambitious plans to release an extensive range of EV models, this change will be thrust upon us. The launch of a new player US-based Rivian in Nov 2018 signals just how tangible this revolution is. Huge business opportunities are emerging as the world gears up for the electric revolution.

Rivian RIT Electric Truck features 4 independent motors (a benefit in 4WD vehicles), 180 kW battery and 640+ km range. Level 3 autonomy-capable hardware. 0 to 100 km/hour in 3 seconds. It's a complete game-changer.

I’ve always enjoyed the throb and exhaust note of a V8 engine motor car; that’s one aspect of the electric car revolution I am not looking forward to.

When the Prius launched, while environmentally friendly and perfectly practical and comfortable, it was underwhelming. Tesla was a distinct improvement, but the newest entrant, the Rivian RIT, is awesome.

The EV revolution is getting underway, and if that means new vehicles like the Rivian, I am sold.

The Rivian RIT electric pick-up truck (launched NOV 2018) is yet another example of the revolution started by Toyota, evolved by Tesla, and now all auto brands are jumping on the electric bandwagon. The Rivian RIT is a total game-changer, putting electric vehicles in the same class as hydrocarbon fueled 4WD pickup trucks and potentially beating them at their own game.

Every major motor vehicle manufacturer has announced not just one or two, but whole ranges of electric vehicles.

German auto giant Volkswagen Group has released an ambitious electric vehicle program, the latest example of a global market that’s set to, not just change the face of motoring as we know it, but drive a level of infrastructure investment on an unprecedented scale.

At Volkswagen’s annual media conference in Berlin (March 2018), CEO Matthias Müller announced the Group had secured battery supply partners in Europe and China and planned to expand the assembly of EV cars to 16 plants globally through the end of 2022.

Volkswagen is the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, owning 12 auto brands including Porsche, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda and Bugatti.

Starting in 2019, VW will be introducing a new electric car “virtually every month” a total of roughly 80 new electric car and SUV models by 2025 – VW aims to have electric variants for every one of their 300 models.

VW also aims to sell 3 million electric cars a year across the group by 2025 (the VW group sold 10.8 million vehicles in 2018)

Mercedes' parent company, Daimler, last year revealed plans to offer electric versions of all of its Mercedes-Benz and smart car models by 2022.

The USA has announced plans as well, General Motors is seeking government support for extending tax credits to incentivise EV uptake in America, as it rolls out plans to offer 20 all-electric models by 2023.

The electric vehicle revolution is gathering momentum.

Major shift in infrastructure requirements

Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles have the enormous infrastructure to support their existence. Apart from vehicle manufacturing and supply chains right down to the dealer, there is vehicle servicing and fuel networks. Infrastructure that has been assembled and iterated over a (roughly) 100 year period.

If market take-up of EV sales reaches serious levels, new networks for servicing and recharging will be needed.

The servicing is easy enough, retraining of mechanics will be required but EV’s are mechanically simpler than ICE vehicles. The real challenge will be supplying EV’s with Energy – recharging.

The need for major investment in-vehicle charging and power grid infrastructure.

While EV’s at the moment offer ranges of between 300 and 600 km’s, it’s conceivable that these will increase as battery technology evolves. Range anxiety will become less of an issue. However, recharging speeds (even at super-fast charging rates of 15 minutes) will be an irritation.

Practicalities of charging Electric Vehicles

ICE cars take minutes to refuel. Recharging EV’s will require much longer.

Our lives will be impacted, as we modify our busy schedules to fit recharging time. As if we don't have enough to worry about. I assume vehicle sales will outpace the rollout of charging infrastructure. There will be a period of adjustment.

Eventually, when vehicles become fully autonomous the car will probably wander off by itself and hang out with its buddies at the local charging station. In the meantime, people will be anxious for faster charging.

It’s worth considering the physics of this.

The Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 has a range of 393 km and uses a 53 kWh battery.

It takes around 20 hours to charge the Roadster Sport from a regular household 16 amp circuit. Other chargers, including a 35 amp and 70 amp quick charge are available and significantly reduce charging time.

The fast-charge HPWC plug-in charging adapter requires a 16.8 kW (70 amp 240 volts) power connection. Which at roughly 80% efficiency, can recharge the battery from flat in just under 4 hours.

For most houses in Australia, 70 amps is a large amount of current (typically having a maximum 100 amp connection for a 240-volt single-phase supply). To put this in perspective an old fashioned two-bar electric radiator draws 10 amps.

Recharging the Tesla is the equivalent of running 7 two-bar radiators flat out for 4 hours.

Standard general power outlets in Australian homes are rated at a mere 10 amps. To recharge a Tesla at a fast rate, you need an electrician to run some hefty cables, install a high power wall socket (HPWC) and probably an upgrade to your grid-connected electricity system (and/or solar).

Reducing charging time (if even possible) to 5 minutes (48 times faster) would require a power connection capable of delivering a whopping 3,360 amps at 240 volts (single-phase). Copper conductors required to deliver such a high current would need to be over 2 inches thick.

Even with 3 phase power, this is still 1,176 amps at 415 volts. Assuming your house could deliver it, the cable and plug would be Anaconda in scale (actually, forget about a cable and plug; more likely copper bars and some large connecting bolts.)

5-minute fast charging may not be practical, however even at 30 minutes a 200 amp 3 phase power connection is required.

During the initial fast ramp-up (once the EV revolution starts building pace), inevitably, with all those amps available there will be some rare but spectacular electrical faults. This matter is the subject of much research, aimed at ensuring battery systems in motor vehicles (a particularly challenging battery application) are safe under all circumstances including vehicle accidents. I assume a similar concern is being applied to stationary charging systems. But, in a commercial world, anything is possible.

A new paradigm. We don't refuel our cars at home. But with EV's we will.

In reality, home charging (most likely overnight) will take place at a more modest pace, and future fast charging will be available mainly at service stations.

Most people happily drive to and from work for the whole week before stopping at the servo to refuel. However, plugging your car into a wall socket with even a modest current delivery capability will be more than adequate to top up the batteries (remembering, after most days the battery will not be anywhere near fully discharged).

Service stations currently designed to re-energize petrol/diesel/gas vehicles in the space of 5 minutes, will now need to cope with vehicle stays of 30 minutes. But likely, we will need less of them. Charging points will be installed at work, in car parks, at home - everywhere. That's a huge amount of new equipment, electricity infrastructure, payment systems and installation.

Further, the new service station will be different from the old one. Fuel storage requires massive underground tanks and special protection to avoid fires, explosions and environmental damage.

Whatever the source of electricity (from the grid or from solar) when EV's become substantial in numbers - we are going to need a lot more of it. Major changes required.

The tipping point

Assuming Big Auto is serious about the EV revolution (as evidenced by their announcements) and these announcements are not simply marketing hype, there will be a point where the economics of running the two technologies in tandem won't make financial sense. Big Auto may push the internal combustion engine laggards into the future by suddenly ceasing manufacture. How long will petrol stations continue to operate servicing a dwindling market? What will happen to the price of petrol when volumes decline?

It will be interesting to see how motor vehicle financing will adjust during the late stages of the transition. Who would risk financing a vehicle in a marketplace where resale values are unpredictable? Without vehicle financing, sales of ICE vehicles will plummet. At some stage, there will be a tipping point.

After what will start out looking like an orderly transition; the flip-over could be sudden and brutal.

Could electric cars end up cheaper to make?

Big Auto may have another motive apart from reading the environmentally responsible tea leaves.

While not the case currently, electric vehicles could be potentially much cheaper to manufacture. The drive train in a conventional car (engine, gearbox, tail shaft, differentials, and exhaust system) comprises some 23% of the vehicle manufactured cost. Drive trains in electric cars (electric motors, inverters, control unit and transmissions) are average 14% of the car. The catch, however, is that battery packs cost around 43% of an EV.

There is evidence the price of battery packs could come down considerably once volumes reach much higher levels. Conventional vehicles have incredibly complicated engines and gearboxes. Somehow, the manufacturing costs of those components became much cheaper but still contribute highly to vehicle cost.

With all things manufactured, volume greatly drives down unit cost. Volume drives efficiency in production and allows amortization of development cost over more units. The new components will become much cheaper.

Wonder what producing all those electric motors will do to the price of copper? Electric motors have a lot of copper wire in their field windings. And let's not forget the number of battery metals that will need to be mined (nickel, cobalt, lithium, HPA, manganese).

Globally, the vehicle manufacturing industry is accelerating toward a massive restructure

From vehicle manufacture right down to dealerships and service departments, and refuelling/charging infrastructure - every aspect of the supply chain and service providers will need re-organisation with far-reaching implications for many industries. And we haven't even considered autonomous (driverless vehicle) technology.

Although it's difficult to improve on the basic concept of putting a wheel on four corners, the EV revolution is driving a rethink of car design. Today’s electric vehicles are still based on combustion engine vehicle thinking — with rare exception, conventional car design places the motor, transmission, and other drive components under the hood.

Israeli startup REE, however, proposes a different approach to designing EVs — placing everything usually found under the hood into the wheels. The startup thinks its modular car design is the future of EVs.

Electric drive systems (apart from the battery pack) deliver more torque and flexibility in a smaller package, allowing more room to play with the design.

This author believes the EV revolution is underway and won’t be stopped.

With change comes opportunity. Business opportunity.

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Update: 20 September 2019

Mercedes abandons petrol, diesel development

The world’s oldest car maker has signalled a seismic shift in direction and the shockwaves are likely to be felt far and wide in the car industry.

Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport says Mercedes R&D boss Markus Schaefer has ceased development of internal combustion engines and will now focus instead on the development of emerging technology vehicle alternatives. If these reports are correct, and Mercedes executes rapidly on its plans, the signal to other manufacturers will be powerful; others may make similar announcements.

Given the number of global auto manufacturers who have announced ambitious EV programs over the last 12 to 18 months, this announcement could be seen as an evolution. However, the standard play has been to keep a foot in both camps - keep developing internal combustion and EV vehicles. However, as discussed above (in the main article), auto manufacturers may be concluding running two development programs is not sustainable.

Read the original article: Mercedes abandons petrol, diesel development




Further reading

A blog discussing fast charging issues and practicalities by FastNed (A European Electric "Refueling" provider)
How do EV charging stations work? Level 1, Level 2, and DC Fast charging (USA)
Electric Car Charging Goes Super Fast - well, 15 minutes anyway (How Stuff Works)
I fill up my car's tank for just £4': have electric cars reached tipping point?

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