A growing number of manufacturers, consumers, government agencies, investors and urban developers believe that the electric vehicles (EVs) can have better outcomes for the industry and environment. Cleaner, safer and simpler electric vehicles now span categories ranging from two-wheelers and rickshaws to cars and mining vehicles, as well as fleets of buses and vans.
The ‘glue’ connecting the mix includes startups in IoT (Internet of Things) and solar energy as well as mobile operators and blockchain players. It will not be individual corporate players who win the game, but whole ecosystems of partners and competitors coming together to define standards and roll out electric charging infrastructure.
To be fair, EVs should not be seen as a magic wand or silver bullet solution for existing problems of global warming or pollution; they have their own sets of inherent problems too, as this article will explore.
Automobile giant Volkswagen has announced an investment of $24 billion to set up an all-electric line-up of cars, including infrastructure, by 2030. “We have to listen to the voice of reason,” according to Mathias Mueller, Chairman of the Volkswagen Group. “This is not the future anymore, it is reality,” he adds.
This is a significant announcement coming from the group, which comprises Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Audi, Seat, and Skoda. Together, the group sells 10 million vehicles per year and is the largest car manufacturer in the world. In terms of market share, the company aims to sell over one in four electric vehicles by 2025, and an all-electric fleet by 2030.
China is the world's largest market for electric vehicles, and manufacturers such as Toyota Motors have announced plans to produce electric vehicles in China; Nissan is reportedly preparing to release built-in-China electric vehicles this year itself. US company Tesla sold more than 10,000 electric cars in China in 2017, according to industry estimates.
China's largest electric carmaker BYD reportedly sold 113,669 new energy vehicles in 2017. Automaker Volvo has announced that electric vehicles will account for 50 percent of all its sales by 2025. It plans to offer a hybrid variant of all its vehicles from 2019.
Electric two-wheelers are being enhanced by the likes of Honda and Yamaha, as well as Mission R, Lightning LS-218, and Lito Sora. Indian players in this space include Ather Energy and Tork Motorcycles. Electric trucks are being developed by Workhorse, E-Force, Daimler, and BYD. Indian mobile phone company Micromax is also said to be in the electric battery game for the EV market.
From housing blocks to parking areas, it is clear that electric charging facilities will need to be widely available for this sector to take off. A network of charging stations is needed to make EVs viable; this includes hybrid combinations of on-grid and off-grid energy sources such as solar chargers. Ambitious industry targets include EV infrastructure every 150 km in America and Europe.
Charging stations for EVs can also be solar-powered. For example, the Great Plains Institute in Minnesota has received a grant from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Solar Energy Innovation Network. The plan is to create a roadmap for solar-plus-EV technology.
Interestingly, the Indian Railways is planning on allocating space for electric vehicle charging stations at the parking lots of Delhi train stations to promote the use of green energy. Facilities to be provided include AC and DC chargers.
Singapore launched its first electric vehicle sharing service in December 2017 with 80 cars and 30 charging stations. Their target is to have 1,000 EVs, 500 charging locations, and 2,000 charging points by 2020. The world’s largest electric car sharing service is reportedly Autolib in Paris; its subsidiary BlueSG runs the service in Singapore.
Taxi and car-sharing companies
Cities in countries like India face acute problems of energy insecurity and pollution, and industry-government alliances will play a key role in this regard. Low-interest funding of electric bus fleets for public transportation are some suggested measures.
High-profile partnerships have been formed between taxi and car-sharing platforms and EV manufacturers. For example, Ola’s Mission: Electric initiative aims to put over one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. It also partnered with Mahindra & Mahindra to build an electric mass mobility ecosystem in Nagpur. The target for 2018-2019 is to place over 10,000 e-rickshaws and electric auto-rickshaws on the road.
Other players to watch are Lithium Cabs, Zoomcar and SmartE in the e-rickshaw space. The Centre of Civil Society reports that around 29,000 e-rickshaws were registered in New Delhi in the 2013-2017 period.
Mahindra and Mahindra also has a tie-up with Uber to deploy EVs across several Indian cities. Initial target cities include New Delhi and Hyderabad. The arrangement includes competitive prices, attractive financing and insurance premiums, and comprehensive maintenance packages.
Mahindra Electric and Zoomcar have partnered in an agreement for 100 e2oPlus electric cars to be offered on the Zoomcar platform in Delhi for self-drive rentals. The initiative has already been launched in Mysuru, Hyderabad, and Jaipur. Mahindra Electric’s portfolio also includes the eVerito sedan and the eSupro mini-van and panel vans.
AI and ML will play a key role in manually driven cars and especially in driverless cars. Much of this will be coupled with IoT and smartphone interfaces and controllers. “Data sharing between devices, including cars, will become a reality, and securing the information becomes paramount,” according to Mahesh Lingareddy, Chairman of Smartron, an IoT company.
The “car OS” (operating system) will need to be developed with deep and wide industry alignment. Cars will be like tablets on wheels, jokes Christian Senger, head of e-mobility at Volkswagen AG. The level of control exerted by automation is graded in progressive levels, wherein Level 5 autonomy means the vehicle will take all decisions for the commuter.
SAE International's On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee has come up with five levels of automation in vehicle navigation. These include driver assistance, partial automation, conditional automation, high automation and full automation.
Multimodal transport solutions are the need of the hour for urbanising India. Cloud-based solutions for such software platforms are being rolled out by Smatron, Kruzr, LightMetrics and Raksha SafeDrive.
Some countries have set strict emission targets which will help spur the shift to electric. For example, in Europe, manufacturers must bring down vehicle emissions to 95 grams per km per vehicle by 2020.
Sweden plans to have a fossil fuel-free transportation system by 2030. Canada has announced regulatory changes to make it easier for condominium owners to get approval from their condo corporations to install an electric vehicle charging system.
Ontario’s Electric Vehicle Charging Incentive Program has provided incentives for the installation of thousands of home charging stations. There are an estimated 18,000 electric vehicles on Ontario’s roads.
“The transportation sector contributes the most greenhouse gas pollution in the province, so actions that encourage the use of low-carbon vehicles help move us towards a healthier, cleaner future,” says Chris Ballard, Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
Governments need to have clarity in their pronouncements on electric vehicle adoption. For example, in 2017 the Indian Ministry of State for Power and Renewable Energy set 2030 as the phasing-out date for fossil fuel vehicles, but later withdrew the target date. Electric vehicles will not only help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but also reduce dependence upon oil imports, which raises all kinds of political risk in a volatile world.
Other initiatives include Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME), part of the National Electric Mobility Mission (NEMM) to promote fuel-efficient cars. Such schemes will be particularly important for fast-growing or large cities. Incentives will also be needed at industry and consumer level to spur the switch to electric vehicles.
The Committee for Standardisation of the Protocol for Charging Infrastructure, set up by the Indian government, has recommended adopting uniform standards for electric vehicle charging stations, as well as options for electronic payment such as via smartphone. A study by the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV) shows Gujarat, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra as the top five states in EV sales.
Citizens will also have to play a consistent role in switching their driving, commuting and vehicle ownership attitudes. Unfortunately, as disposable income increases in emerging economies, there is also an aspirational rise in demand for self-driven vehicles rather than public transport.
Today, 19 out of the 35 most polluted cities in the world are in India, according to BIS Research. More than half the pollution in densely-populated urban areas is vehicular. As of 2016, there were 229 million vehicles on Indian roads. Citizens will need to play a more vocal role in switching to electric vehicles or using more public transport.
The EV market is attracting a fair share of startups as well. For example, e-rickshaw company SmartE aims to get over 100,000 e-rickshaws on the road by 2022. Founded by Goldie Srivastava in 2014, its initial target is last-mile connectivity for the public transport system in the Delhi-NCR region.
Partners for the company include Goenka Electric Company and Kinetic Green, with vehicles priced at around Rs 1.5 lakh each. The company claims to move over 40,000 commuters on a daily basis, and now has over 650 vehicles in operation. Charging models are centralised as well as de-centralised (swapping of batteries).
Care has also been taken to ensure passenger safety via measures like avoiding over-crowding of vehicles. Targets for 2022 are three billion rides and 100,000 jobs for vehicle operators. The company has already raised Series A funding of around $5million from a PE fund based out of Singapore.
Hyderabad-based Gayam Motor Works manufactures electric three-wheelers and electric bicycles. Its setup allows e-vehicle owners to swap drained batteries with fully charged ones to eliminate charge-time waiting. For an electric rickshaw, a single battery charge is estimated to run for 110-150 km.
The level of battery power remaining is updated to a cloud application, which gives notifications along with the location for the nearest swapping station. The company’s clientele includes Uber in Singapore, Hong Kong, and the US, as well as BigBasket, Ekart, Swiggy, and the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in India.
Instead of lead-acid battery technology, lithium-ion batteries are used. The company initially made vehicles for the Asian Development Bank-funded “E-trike project” for electric vehicles in the Philippines.
Gurgaon-based EV startup Twenty Two Motors has raised $1.6 million in pre-Series A funding from investors, including Haryana Industries. Its offerings include two-wheeler lithium-ion battery packs, battery management systems (BMS), and smart electronics. IoT, analytics and AI will be leveraged to determine users' ride behaviour.
Other two-wheeler players in the Indian market include Mahindra E20 and GenZe, Hero RNT Diesel Hybrid Scooter, Hero Splendor iSmart, Hero Leap, TVS Qube, and Hyosung ST-E3 EVA. Reva founder Chetan Maini has now set up SunMobility, a startup which will set up EV infrastructure across India.
The road ahead
Though hurdles such as long charging times, short travel ranges, and heavy batteries remain, they are being addressed by a slew of innovators. New companies such as Rimac, Vanda, Nio, and Genovation have joined market leaders like Porsche, Aston Martin, and Tesla in creating the next generation of electric vehicles.
The road ahead for electric vehicles is literally in the sky as well: many aeronautical companies are working on all-electric planes, and not just hybrid transitional models. Alliances have been formed between industry giants Airbus and Boeing and startups like Zunum Aero and Wright Electric.
The innovative eRoadArlanda initiative in Sweden involves a stretch of road that recharges electric vehicles as they drive on it. Charging will be via an electrified rail mounted into the ground. Challenges arise in safety of electric charge and in costs of installation, as well as operations during conditions of fast-moving traffic.
Emerging technologies like blockchain could also help to track the sourcing of rare minerals used to make EV components, and ensure that ethical sourcing is practiced. These include nickel and cobalt, some of which is mined in conflict areas.
It will help countries benchmark their manufacturing and roll out initiatives with those of progressive regions such as Scandinavia and East Asia. Government and industry in these regions are forging stronger partnerships for domestic and international growth of electric vehicles. Cities to watch for electric-powered public transport are Shenzhen in China, where most of the 16,000 vehicles are reportedly electric.
For countries like India to match East Asia, it will need significant manufacturing prowess for key components, ranging from battery cells and semi-conductor modules to micro-processors and controllers. This extends from prototyping to large-scale low-cost manufacturing. However, opportunities also exist in design and IP, and not just in the OEM sector.
The big shift to electric and modular design vehicles disrupt and democratise the entire automotive value chain from the bottom to the very top, according to Neeraj Kumar Singal, Director at Lightyear Infratech & Semco Group. Where an Internal Combustion (IC) Engine car has around 10,000 moving parts, an average EV has around 20.
In sum, with all the convoluted parts gone and availability of major components in the world market, new challenger startups will emerge on a larger scale, according to Singal. Many vehicle manufacturers could become simple assemblers of vehicles rather than complex engineering companies.
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