When it comes to the automotive industry, the American investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. is clear about what is happening: “The Future Is Electric.”
The bank suggests, “The road to a fully electric future was paved in 2020 with potential new partnerships between automakers and Electric Vehicle (EV) start-ups, advancements in battery range, and heightened government efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.”
Electric cars, also called electric vehicles (EVs), are no longer just an outlandish concept that interests a few fanatics. Manufacturers and consumers are now starting to take them seriously.
But what kind of an automobile qualifies to be called an EV? What are the advantages and disadvantages of electric cars? Have EVs transformed the automobile industry? And if so, how? Are electric cars green? What is the future of electric cars in a world accustomed to combustion engines?
If you want to know the answers to these questions and more, this article is for you.
What Qualifies a Vehicle To Be Called an Electric Car?
For an automobile to be called an electric car, it should be powered exclusively by electricity.
The US Department of Energy defines EVs: “All-electric vehicles (EVs), also referred to as battery electric vehicles, have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine.”
The Department of Energy adds, “The vehicle uses a large traction battery pack to power the electric motor and must be plugged into a wall outlet or have charging equipment, also called electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE).”
The History of Electric Cars
Even though EVs are perceived by many as an invention of modern times, their history dates back to the 19th Century.
The US Department of Energy reports that the first crude EV was created by Robert Anderson around 1832. The department indicates that the idea would only become practical four decades later.
Although EVs have a long history, the modern version could be attributed to public concerns about how burning fossil fuels impacts the environment.
Anyone who disputes the idea that EVs are the future mode of transport possibly hasn’t seen the numbers. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that, in 2010, there were around 17,000 vehicles in the entire world. That number had increased to 7.2 million in 2019.
Of course, this sounds like a tiny drop in the ocean when you consider that there was already an estimated 1.4 billion vehicles on the road in 2019. However, the fact that the number of EVs grew by more than 7 million in a decade proves that the phenomenon is not just a fad.
How Do EVs Work?
According to the US Department of Energy, “Because it runs on electricity, the vehicle [EV] emits no exhaust from a tailpipe and does not contain the typical liquid fuel components, such as a fuel pump, fuel line, or fuel tank.”
Some of the critical components of EVs identified by the US Department of Energy include the following:
- Battery: Powers the vehicle.
- Charge port: Connects the vehicle to an external power source.
- Electric traction motor: Drives the vehicle’s wheels to move forward or backward when in reverse.
- DC/DC converter: Manages the transmission of electric power from the traction battery so that it’s enough to power the motor but not too much for smaller vehicle accessories.
- Onboard charger: Converts AC (alternating currency) electricity from the charging port to DC (direct current) power to charge the traction battery.
- Power electronics controller: Manages the power from the traction battery, controlling speed and torque.
- Thermal system: Ensures that the temperature in the vehicle system is maintained at appropriate levels.
- Traction battery: Stores the electricity used by the electric traction motor.
- Transmission: The mechanical power from the electric traction to drive the wheels.
For the components above to connect seamlessly, they require wire harnesses and cable assemblies. These wire harnesses and cable assemblies are mainly used as electrical connections for various installed components and devices to make EVs function effectively.
But where do EV manufacturers get these harnesses and cable assemblies? Fortunately, there are semi-automatic and fully automatic wire processing machines for labeling, winding, tying, cutting, stripping, bending, crimping, sealing, and twisting harnesses and cable assemblies.
How Tesla Redefined the Journey of the Electric Car
If there is one carmaker whose name has become synonymous with EVs, it’s Tesla. Therefore, it is impossible to tell the story of the modern EV without including Tesla in the discussion. But how has Tesla redefined the trajectory taken by modern EVs?
A decade ago, people routinely criticized Tesla for making “toys for rich people.” Today, the company is proving most of these skeptics wrong. This is a reality also acknowledged by the Harvard Business Review, which reports that the chairman of Volkswagen declared Tesla a “serious competitor.”
Writing for Reuters.com, Edward Taylor, Norihiko Shirouzu, and Joseph White attempt to explain “how Tesla defined a new era for the global auto industry.” The authors note that Tesla’s position in the market is the result of “taking a new approach to building vehicles that challenged the established system.”
Taylor and his colleagues cite an engineer who said, “Elon Musk has been walking on the edge of a razorblade in terms of the aggression with which he pushes some technologies.” He added, “By contrast, Mercedes and other established automakers are still not comfortable about releasing a new technology, such as partially automated driving, without years of testing.”
What Drives The Adoption of EVs?
The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company suggests that three factors are driving the changes leading to the increased adoption of EVs, namely regulation, consumer behavior, and technology.
Regarding regulation, McKinsey notes that governments have become stricter when defining emission targets. This results in cities attempting to reduce vehicle use or incentivize those who adopt the more environmentally friendly EVs.
Generally, more consumers are starting to realize that mobility based on fossil fuels is unsustainable. This is an assumption acknowledged by McKinsey, which suggests, “Consumer behavior and awareness are changing as more people accept alternative and sustainable mobility modes.”
As can be seen in Tesla’s example, auto manufacturers are now racing to respond to changing government regulations and consumers demanding more environmentally sustainable products – resulting in the proliferation of technological advances.
McKinsey reports, “Industry players are accelerating the speed of automotive technology innovation as they develop new concepts of electric, connected, autonomous, and shared mobility.”
Advantages and Disadvantages of Electric Cars
For most people, the most significant advantage of an electric car is that they would never have to worry about buying gas. But did you know that owning an electric car has several other advantages?
Here are some of the advantages listed by the website that helps consumers to make environmentally-friendly decisions, Earth911.com:
- EVs are environmentally friendly.
- Electricity is cheaper than gasoline.
- EVs are cheaper and easier to maintain.
- Because they don’t use combustible fuels, EVs are less likely to explode after an accident.
- EVs run much quieter and are therefore likely to reduce noise pollution.
Let’s now look at some of the disadvantages of EVs listed by Conserve-energy-future.com:
- The world has used combustion engine vehicles for over a hundred years, and its infrastructure is designed for such vehicles. Thus, it may be hard to find a charging station, especially in remote areas.
- EVs are still more expensive to buy than combustion engine vehicles.
- Even though electricity costs less than gasoline, you still have to pay for it.
- EVs take hours to charge fully, and you can’t use the vehicle while charging.
- The silence of the electric car could result in accidents as people may not be alerted when it’s approaching.
How Green Are Electric Cars?
Electric cars are better than their combustion engine counterparts because they are environmentally friendly. But how accurate is this assessment?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has the answer. “Electric vehicles typically have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars, even when accounting for the electricity used for charging.”
In a New York Times article that attempts to answer the question related to how environmentally friendly EVs are, Hiroko Tabuchi and Brad Plumer write, “In short: very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects.”
The Future of Electric Cars
Regarding the direction in which the EVs are driving, a BBC.com article reports that the British automaker Jaguar Landover has announced that from 2025, all the vehicles it will be selling will be electric. The same has been said by the Swedish company Volvo, which announced that, from 2030, all the cars in its showrooms would be electric.
Peter Campbell and Joe Miller argue that we should no longer be talking about the future of EVs because that future is already here. In their article published by the Financial Times, they write, “This extraordinary surge in demand [for EVs] is being felt right across the world, from Shanghai to Stuttgart, Tokyo to Toronto, and from new brands to the established giants of the industry.”
The automakers are also beginning to see that the future lies with EVs. Mary Teresa Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors, puts things more clearly: “Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution by putting everyone in an electric vehicle.”