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Friday, 4 October 2019

My take on the future of EVs

I recently published an article on my website I am reproducing it here as part of my blog. Looking forward to seeing your comments.
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Are electric vehicles the future?

By Jastej Singh Matharu
[The automobile industry is in an exciting new stage of transition in search for relevance]

As an automobile engineer all things related to motorized vehicles are of interest to me. What I find especially fascinating at the present juncture is the way the auto industry is changing and transforming.

Here in India the sector is passing through a rough time where the demand for vehicles has dropped and all companies are passing through a trying time. Even if you look at the larger picture around the world you find a similar drop in demand in many other markets.

It seems that the car industry the world over is going through a churn of sorts.

So what is really happening? Let us look at the new technologies which are now emerging. Technologies which some time back were considered to be niche and were used only by select  companies and are now being adopted by all as mainstream. For instance, owning a hybrid automobile has now become more or less common place. There are a large number of such models available from many companies.

These cars are running on the internal combustion engine which is being assisted by an electric motor. But what truly seems to be changing is the emergence of the pure electric vehicle.

While earlier pure electric vehicles were being produced by only a few companies now mainstream companies are coming out with a pure electric versions of even some of their best selling models.

So how does one determine where this changing environment is headed. The one thing which gives a sure picture of where things are going is how companies are investing. Where is money being spent by automobiles companies and by companies which buy automobiles in bulk.

Amazon is buying 100000 Revian EVs which will be used by Amazon as delivery vehicles. And the first 10000 vans are expected to go into service in just another 2 to 3 years [1]. This is a huge order. It is worth noting that Revian, the company which will supply the vans is a non mainstream automobile company. In fact it is a company in which Amazon has invested. Making it clear that Amazon feels that this is to it’s benefit. This massive investment nudging the automobile market towards an EV future.

It increasingly appears that the idea of EVs is something which is now amongst us. And it is emerging and getting reflected in various forms.

If you look at the two wheeler industry it can be noticed, that alongside the mainstream companies, a large number of startups have emerged which are offering pure electric  two wheeled vehicles.

There is an ease with which new companies are now able to start up and give competition to established automobile companies.

There would be many factors influencing this trend but it appears that one of the main reasons is the simplicity of the electric motor which is now replacing the internal combustion engine.

The internal combustion engine has been there for a century but the challenge with it  is that a vertical movement of pistons in an engine has to be converted through a crankshaft into a rotational movement.

Another issue is that the range of speed which the internal combustion engine offers. This range is insufficient to cover the entire speed range which is needed by the vehicle wheels which are being driven by it. So we have to bring in a gearbox and step up or step down the gears in order to cover the entire range. This brings in the need of a clutch, essentially losing the simplicity of mechanism.

On the other hand the electrical motor, which while being simple, is able to give us a torque curve which the combination of the internal combustion engine, the clutch and the gearbox arrangement can only aspire to achieve.

So in the electric motor we have a simple driving engine which is giving the best possible torque curve and which is more or less covering the entire range of speed which the driven wheels of the vehicle need.

So this simplicity of the engine, the electric motor, is making it possible for startups to build competing pure electric vehicles.

Once you got the engine and the transmission simplified things start to fall in place. The fact is that technology for manufacturing electric motor is well stabilized and this implies that startups can source these motors easily.

They do not have to go through a huge design and development cycle which would be needed for developing an internal combustion engine.

So as this idea of pure electric vehicle on our roads is taking root. If the mainstream automobile companies take time to switch to pure electric vehicle and the flow of change is not fast enough, then in all likelihood manufacturers may move ahead and create new markets which all companies will have to follow to remain relevant.

In a way compelling the mainstream automobile industry to move faster towards this change.

Recently there was an announcement that Tata Motors has developed a new pure electric power-train called Ziptron[2]. This is a clear indication of things to come as they will be able to fit this power-train to power many of their existing popular models.

Toyota, which is one of the front runners in developing hybrid vehicle technologies, is offering a vehicle which has solar panels fitted on it[3].

Jaguar which has made considerable investment in developing their pure electric car I-Pace. Similarly other companies have also developed pure electric models. It was recently reported that in the UK market the Jaguar I-Pace pure electric car has become a top seller[4] in it’s genre.

In an interview given by Ralph Speth the JLR Global CEO recently he has mentioned that the growth in customer demand of EVs is faster than expected and the supply of batteries is not able to catch up for sufficient cars to be produced[5]. More manufacturers of large batteries are needed to meet this demand.

A roadblock in this future of the EV is the issue of lack of proper infrastructure such as charging points. But even here if you look at the world over you find every country moving in the direction of providing more charging points.

It is remarkable that automobile companies are themselves taking interest in installing charging stations. It was reported recently that VW is planning to install 4000 electric charging stations in Germany by 2025[6]. Tata Motors has taken the initiative to come up with electric charging points in coordination with Tata Power and they are planning to create 300 electric charging stations[7].

The supply of batteries is likely to improve as companies invest in new battery manufacturing plants in anticipation of increased demand. Exide is opening a plant for vehicle batteries which will be operational by this year’s end[8]. Tatas are setting up a battery manufacturing plant with a large investment[9].

All this may lead to cheaper batteries which will bring down the cost of pure electric vehicles. Once batteries become cheaper and once we are able to have larger batteries than the cost of the vehicles will come down and their range will increase.

So it seems that the automobile sector is heading towards introducing more pure electric vehicles.

When we finally  move away from a pure internal combustion engine vehicle to a pure electric vehicle, there will be exaltation in being able to contribute to the reduction of pollution which remains a major problem in many large cities of the world. The consumer could possibly feel that by going in for an electric vehicle they may be able to contribute towards the reduction of pollution.

The internal combustion engine powered vehicle will be there for many vehicle applications which cannot be covered by pure electric vehicles. And there will be also be a large number of hybrid vehicles.

It does seem though that eventually, sooner rather than later, we will see a rise in the number of pure electric vehicles on our roads.

It is an idea whose time is here and the events occurring all around us today attest to that reality.

As Victor Hugo famously said “No force on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

[1] Amazon orders 1 lakh Rivian EVs as delivery vehicles, Autocar India.
[2] Tata Motors up the ante in EV space with new engine, The Economic Times.
[3] Toyota Motor is trying to figure out how to make a car run forever, Business Standard.   
[4] Jaguar I-Pace Tops Pure Electric Vehicle Sales In Q2 In The UK, Car and Bike.
[5] I wouldn’t say the worst is over for China: Ralf Speth, JLR, Economic Times.
[6] Volkswagen To Install 4000 EV Charging Stations In Germany By 2025. Car and Bike.
[7] Tata Motors partners Tata Power to install 300 EV charging stations. liveMINT.
[8] Exide’s Gujarat plant to produce batteries for EVs to be operational by year-end. Financial Express.
[9] Tata plans to invest in lithium ion battery manufacturing in Gujarat. Business Line.

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My take on the future of EVs