Time to look at ahead to 2018 and the future of our transportation system, but more specifically, this column will focus on the EV (electric vehicle) sector. A lot is happening internationally regarding EVs that could alter what is happening right around the corner.
Before diving right in, perhaps it might be a good idea to summarize some of the analysis recently released by the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit), a global resource for economic and business research, forecasting, and analysis. Once we delve into those numbers then I will branch off and give my take on the space and some of the opportunities and hurdles it will face in the near future. As part of its “Industries in 2018” report, the EIU presents some really interesting research regarding our topic today: EVs.
First off, the EIU’s data suggests the global automotive industry will experience growth in 2018 for the 10th consecutive year. In fact, across the 60 countries covered in the report, automotive sales are expected to increase by 2.9%, with commercial vehicle sales expected to gain even more ground, rising by 3.8%.
Global sales of EVs could even top 1.3 million, according to the analysis firm. This is up from 774,000 in 2016 and an estimated 1 million this year in 2017. However, despite these rosy growth projections, a couple of the industry’s biggest markets are stirring the pot, so to speak, which means automakers may have their work cut out for them in 2018.
Here’s what I mean. In September, China announced some new rules aimed at driving up the production of NEVs (New Energy Vehicles), which includes both battery powered and plug-in hybrid EVs. Essentially, automakers that want to sell in China will need to ramp up their EV production if they want to continue to take advantage of this market for their products. This could create a sort of domino effect with far-reaching consequences.
A second force at play next year in the EV space: the U.S. renegotiating NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement), which underpins automotive trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
For this column I won’t go into too much into this one, since it strays too far from the focus here, which is ultimately the technology and the infrastructure, but I would be remiss if I did not mention it, since trade agreements dramatically affect industries and, particularly, their international supply chains. For instance, you might actually consider the China news as a good thing for the EV space as a whole. Essentially what’s happening here is China’s NEV targets will accelerate the rollout of EV’s from numerous automakers.
To do this, carmakers will need to invest more heavily in designing, testing, and manufacturing the technologies that make EVs and NEV’s tick. Investment spurs innovation, and perhaps China’s new rules might spark a fire under car manufacturers to implement even more really cool technologies that will ultimately help reduce CO2 emissions globally.
As to whether the nation’s targets favor domestic Chinese car manufacturers over foreign car manufacturers, that’s likely very true, but one can only hope the competition will spur some important forward progress in the automotive space to thwart that problem. If you think about it, this is all part of a much bigger picture, or discussion, overall.
Let’s think of it another way. Perhaps Tesla is the most obvious example here in the U.S. of where the EV and the connected-car space is headed. Eventually, the technology will be so advanced that drivers won’t have to compromise what they love about their gasoline-powered vehicles to drive something that emits less CO2. Concurrent trends in EV and connected-car technologies are making EVs and traditional vehicles safer and smarter.
Vehicles of the future won’t burn fossil fuels, just like they won’t change lanes if there’s another car in the blind spot. It’s all happening at once.
In an age in which consumers want personalization in everything they do or own, connected cars offer more personalized experiences. In an age in which distracted driving is more of an issue than ever before, smart-sensor systems that are borderline autonomous can take control of a vehicle to prevent accidents from happening.
And, finally, in an age in which environmental concerns are prominent among consumers and governments, electric vehicles and hybrid-electric vehicles are more attractive than ever to a growing percentage of the global population.
One hurdle EVs will continue to face, however, is infrastructure. EV charging still isn’t as seamless and accessible as it needs to be to bring this technology mainstream. However, this too is changing, but likely not in 2018. Just recently, Honda announced its goal of rolling out EVs capable of charging in just 15 minutes.
That would be game changing. Honda says it plan to roll these vehicles out by 2022. This is exactly the kind of innovation it will take to bring about the age of connected hybrid and purely electric vehicles.
Faster charging and longer range, alongside a more robust and accessible charging infrastructure, are 100% necessary to grow this space. And then, the next step here is moving to full autonomy. In the distant future, not only will vehicles not rely on gasoline, but they also won’t rely on human drivers.
It’s on the horizon—we know it is. To get there, though, the industry is going to need to tackle such issues as security and safety, as well as infrastructure. It’s also going to need to navigate changing government mandates and trade agreements. Lastly, public opinion about electric and autonomous vehicles will need to evolve. It will. That just seems to be down the road, so to speak. All of this is just going to take a little longer to get there.
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