ELECTROMOBILITY What’s holding back EV adoption?
The technology is on the doorstep for mass-produced electric cars across the world. For some reason, EVs remain an exclusive niche rather than mainstream transportation. What are the physical obstacles that prevent the public from adopting an electrified fleet?
Fully electric vehicles have no tailpipe, much less any emissions being belched into the atmosphere. They operate at a barely audible whisper, reducing noise pollution as well. And operating an EV costs pennies on the dollar compared to a petroleum-powered vehicle. What’s more, governments in many countries offer massive financial incentives and rebates for EV purchases.
With all the perks of electric vehicle ownership and operation, both for personal and fleet use, it makes little sense why the fleet of vehicles on the road today haven’t gone electric. From electric highway tractors that can save up to 44 % on refueling costs to subcompact cars, the benefits are obvious. Still, obstacles remain that prevent widespread EV adoption.
A traditional mindset
General Motors’ CEO, Mary Barra, appeared on Leadership Live with David Rubenstein on Bloomberg. She stated about EV adoption that, “"We believe the transition will happen over time. It will happen in a little bit longer period, but it will happen.” The time frame she referred to is the next ten years.
As one of the largest carmakers in the world, and one that has billions invested into EV development, GM still takes the slow and steady approach. With much more currently invested into traditional gas-powered vehicles, shifting gears to electric goes beyond the physical challenges.
Comparatively high costs
Although electric vehicles are a minimal cost to operate, their initial purchase price remains much higher than a comparably-sized internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. Electric versions are approximately 34 % higher in purchase price comparatively. That difference remains difficult to justify over a vehicle’s lifespan, especially when fuel costs are low.
Today’s EVs have a respectable range. The Nissan Leaf is capable of 363 km on a full charge while the Tesla Model 3 Long Range extends out to 518 km. Others are much shorter in range, binding them close to city infrastructure for access to charging.
Although most EV users are within urban areas, the rare occasion to travel long distances hours from home can be the sole reason that an EV is avoided. Battery technology is developing, though, that could double or even triple battery range in a similarly-sized battery pack.
Slow charging speed
For others who are closely watching EV technology mature, charging speeds are an obstacle to investing in an electric car. With a 50 kW rapid charger, it can still take more than 30 minutes to add 160 km of range to a typical 60 kWh electric vehicle. Comparatively, it takes less than five minutes to refuel a gas-powered car. If EV charging isn’t accessible overnight, a detour of over an hour to recharge a car is enough to make an EV infeasible for a commuter. Access to fast charging is improving, especially in urban areas, and new battery technology and improved charging designs will help mitigate this concern.
Volkswagen committed to developing EV models at a rapid pace and expects more than 1.5 million of their EVs on the road by 2025. Other carmakers like Volvo and Ford are heavily invested in EV models being revealed within the next couple of years.
As of early 2020, options for electric cars remain paltry in Europe, the United States, China, and the rest of the world. Low-cost compact models are on the horizon, and that should help propel EV adoption industry-wide.