Motoring Weekly

Waiting anxiously for ‘E Day’

October 10 - 16, 2018

Gulf Weekly Stan Szecowka
By Stan Szecowka

Gulf Weekly Waiting anxiously for ‘E Day’

When will electric-powered cars become a practical choice for ordinary people? The question hangs in the air at the Paris auto show, where Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and General Motors have been showing off electric cars they hope are on track to a profitable future and greener world.

The raft of new vehicles lends buzz to electric cars. Bahrain plans to launch an experimental station to charge electric cars as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions, our sister newspaper The Gulf Daily News reported. 

The latest advancements in environmentally-friendly transportation technologies were discussed at the recent Mobility 360 Innovation in Sustainable Mobility Conference, held at the Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre in Sanabis.

Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche looked more Silicon Valley than Stuttgart, wearing faded jeans and sneakers to tout the Mercedes-Benz EQ, a battery-powered crossover SUV concept.

The vehicle aims to illustrate the company’s longer-term strategy that connects electric cars with other new technology, such as autonomous driving and vehicle sharing.

Dieter said the company aimed for 10 electric vehicles by 2025, making up 15-25 per cent of global sales – a bold prediction he immediately tempered by saying that was based on ‘continued development of infrastructure and customer preferences’.

He said: “We need to prepare ourselves with all our resources for electric mobility as a mass phenomenon.”

He also remained flexible if demand is lower, or even higher, than predicted.

Volkswagen compared its I.D. electric compact to its historic Beetle and mainstay Golf models and said it was the leading edge of 30 new electric models it plans to put out by 2025.

General Motors’ European division Opel has been showing off the Ampera-e, a rebadged version of the Chevrolet Bolt, saying it will achieve a range of more than 500 kilometres, a significant leap.

For now, the limited range and higher costs mean battery-powered vehicles have little attraction for many regular folks trying to get the most for their money, analysts say. They remain largely a niche market, often for people enthusiastic about new technology or the environment, and with the extra disposable income to act on that.

The Palo Alto, California-based Tesla has won attention with rising sales of electrics to well-heeled customers – but loses money.

Subsidies and incentives have been key in government efforts to help electric vehicles get a foothold. That has been the case in urban areas like Norway’s greater Oslo area, around San Jose, California, and in Shanghai, China.

In the short run, at least, they help burnish companies’ image as technologically-advanced and environmentally-friendly. Volkswagen is struggling to recover from a scandal over diesel cars rigged to cheat on emissions tests.

But companies are also laying the groundwork for the day when the cost of electric falls to, or below, that of internal combustion.

It’s a day that some analysts think is only a few years off.

When that happens, sales could hit a tipping point and it’s a moment carmakers want to be ready for.

The arrival of such an ‘E-Day’ could be accelerated by increasing government regulation mandating lower average emissions and higher mileage. Electrics in the product line-up would help carmakers meet new, lower limits on greenhouse gas emissions blamed by scientists for global warming.

Electrics have good acceleration, and fewer moving parts to wear out. And imagine: never stopping for petrol, ever again. But there are a host of other factors to consider such as the price of petrol, the price of electricity, charging times, battery costs and the ease with which you can find places to charge up.

There are also competing technologies. Plug-in hybrids, for example, start on battery power, then use a small internal combustion engine to general electricity and extend the vehicle’s range. Pure hybrids like Toyota’s Prius can’t be plugged in and rely on the engine alone to charge the battery.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance, however, issued a report in August that predicted electrics would match internal combustion vehicles in ownership costs in 2022, assuming oil prices of $50-$70 per barrel and battery prices of $125 per kilowatt hour.

That key cost has fallen from $1,000 per kilowatt hour in 2010 to around $350 per kilowatt hour today –faster than many expected.

Thomas Turrentine, director of the Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the American University of California, believes the key will be the usual motive: “Once there’s profit, you will see the car companies rush in and make more investments in production,” he said.

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says consumer choices can change, if the technology does. The company makes the Leaf battery-only electric. “It’s like with a smart phone, in the beginning you had eight hours charging for 30 minutes of discussion,” he said. “Today it is the reverse. You need time for technology to do its job.”

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