In an earlier article a couple of years ago, this question was posed, “what if battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are not the answer” but instead, the flavor of the decade?
Because the electric vehicle (EV) landscape has changed considerably since then, perhaps it’s time to revisit this question to ascertain whether the current state of play of that landscape supports and/or underscores future proliferation of EVs and particularly BEVs in the marketplace today. What has changed, what has not?
Not surprisingly, some EV vehicle production start-ups have failed, most notably Electric Last Mile Solutions and Lordstown Motors. Others such as Faraday Future, Arrival, Canoo, Lucid and heavy truck manufacturer Nikola are “on the bubble.” But, as with any new technology, such attrition is expected.
The EV marketplace could not nor cannot support everyone.
Another, and perhaps more telling indicator, is the current growing inventory status of EVs produced by legacy firms such as Ford, GM, Volkswagon, Kia and Hyundai. Could EV sales lag be a reflection that initial appetites of “electro-euphoric” early adopters has largely been satisfied?
Has the market reality populated with high priced EVs positioned them unfavorably as consumers consider lower-priced internal combustion (ICE) alternatives?
In a survey of dealerships by Cox Automotive seen in USA Today in July, the market may be headed into what Cox calls a “Trough of Disillusionment” as June’s industry statistic of EV days supply topped 100 where the industry average is 53 days (excludes Tesla which sells directly to consumers).
Vehicle Production Costs and the EV Adoption Rate
GM just announced a reversal of their decision to retire the popular and consumer friendlier priced Bolt and will instead reintroduce it equipped with new technology such as GM’s latest Ultium battery. How this decision will play in conjunction with other new technology in favor of the soon to be released Equinox EV will be interesting to watch.
Late last year, Stellantis, who has yet to bring an EV to the North American market (they have several in Europe), announced the idling of an EV production plant in Illinois due to rising EV production costs. Even Rivian idled 800 employees in the last quarter of 2022.
This May, Ford disclosed their electric vehicle businesses were hemorrhaging cash at what seemed to be an alarming rate. Wards Automotive predicts that even in 2027, ICE vehicles will still account for just under 80% of new vehicle sales.
Their analyst, Haig Stoddard, stated at a recent conference that manufacturers “expect strong ICE sales volume heading into the next decade."
By some estimates, there could be over 70 different electric vehicle models offered by 2025 in North America. Given the high vehicle production costs and the current low EV adoption rate in the marketplace today, one has to question if the industry can support such a market in less than 24 months.
The Electric Vehicle Charging Landscape
On the positive side, the “Wild West” character of the electric charging landscape is improving greatly with the acceptance of the Tesla connector as the North American Charging Standard (NACS) and likely underscored by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) upcoming J3400 standard.
In a bold yet welcome announcement, Ford’s adoption of the Tesla charging connector beginning in 2024 tipped the scales in a positive direction that will hopefully offer future clarity and consistency to the charging landscape which has been sorely needed. Although only the Asian OEM’s have lagged in their adoption of the NACS as their standard, their acceptance is surely to come.
Questions continue to abound however, about the robust nature of our electric grid nationally. As the Tesla connectors and by default, their supercharger network becomes more widely used, will our electric grid accommodate this demand?
The adoption of this connector standard will likely be the death knell for the heretofore standard Combined Charging System connector (CCS) found on almost all non-Tesla EVs currently and possibly even the slower charging J1772 charging plug.
This remains to be seen given the thousands of EVs equipped with this “standard” and given the existing laws surrounding the installation of charging stations where this “standard” is currently mandated. And what about the 800v CCS variant needed for EVs capable of accepting this higher charging voltage such as Lucid, Porsche, e-Tron, Ionic 5 and a few others?
Tesla superchargers charge at 400v currently and while Tesla says they have an 800v version, it has yet to be deployed. And then there’s the issue of charging software to assist EV owners by telling them where chargers are available, at what voltage and precise directions to their locations. The software landscape for chargers continues to be a challenge for EV owners venturing farther away from their home chargers.
Finally, there remains the matter of the continued lack of widespread charger deployment. Urban and other densely populated locations continue to be the preferred target for charging station deployment for obvious reasons.
For those same reasons, it’s likely that without some sort of government intervention or regulation, this situation will result in “charging desserts,” locations where charger availability is limited or absent altogether very much like the limited availability of internet access in rural areas…clearly, we’re not out of the “Wild West” just yet.
Would it make sense that for every 10, 20, 50 approved public charging station installations, some smaller ratio of chargers must be installed in a rural location by regulation?
Expansion Revealing Unexpected EV Headwinds
As our collective EV experience level increases, our understanding of the production, sales, operating, and charging of EVs expands as it has in the last three years especially, so too does our knowledge base expand.
This expansion has begun to reveal other unexpected EV headwinds. In a New York Times op-ed this July, writer Peter Coy relates general details of a presentation authored by Ashley Nunes, a research associate at Harvard and the director for federal policy, climate, and energy at the Breakthrough Institute he presented in April to the House Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials. In the presentation, Mr. Nunes offered the following for consideration:
- The amount of rare minerals such as lithium is directly proportional to EV battery size. In the U.S., we demand more range which requires larger and heavier batteries.
- Initially, we expected the cost of EVs to drop and operating to increase as vehicles were produced at scale. In reality and to date, EVs are more expensive and range has remained largely static.
- We have learned that production of EVs produces more greenhouse gases than the production of ICE vehicles. He estimates an EV must travel between 28,000 and 68,000 miles before they have an emissions advantage. For some consumers, that could take 10 years.
- Domestic mineral production cannot meet the need for cobalt, graphite, lithium and manganese required for EV batteries. “There is only so much mineral supply to go around,” he stated bluntly. Overseas mineral sourcing is no longer an option but a necessity.
- Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced in a far more cost-effective way through subsidies in favor of clean power generation.
So far, conspicuously absent from this article is Toyota. Their product line of 100% battery-powered EVs is limited by intention when compared with their competitors. Their primary focus is on hybrid EVs.
Toyota argues the overall carbon reduction of a hybrid vehicle where battery charging is accomplished solely by the engine and regenerative braking system is 37 times greater than a battery electric vehicle requiring external charging.
Finally, an entirely new (to most of us in the industry) consequence of EV adoption is tire pollution. Of course, this “issue” has been around for as long as we’ve driven on rubber tires but EVs may be accelerating the rate of tire pollution dramatically due to their heavy weight and acceleration.
Because EVs are heavier and accelerate more quickly than ICE vehicles, their tires leave more rubber and other pollutants in their wake during routine driving. Tire pollutants are linked to diseases in humans and have been shown to be equally harmful to animals.
More study is needed in this area as tire pollution is harder to measure than tailpipe emissions but there is no doubt that tire pollution is receiving more attention due to the impact of inherent EV characteristics.
A further consequence of EV operation (heavy weight and acceleration), is greatly reduced tire life. J.D. Power, in a survey of EV owners, found that tire life was their biggest complaint. Expecting the same life as they experienced with ICE vehicles at roughly 40,000 miles, EV owners are seeing they need to replace their tires much sooner, some at 13,000 miles.
From the perspective of the average motorist sharing the road with EVs, one wonders how safe an EV with worn tires featuring characteristically quicker acceleration and much heavier weight might be in the rain or snow; or in the event of a “routine” collision. Just wondering…
Since EVs do not contribute to state and local fuel tax payments collected at the pump, many states have or are considering implementing higher vehicle registration fees. For instance, in May, Texas enacted a $400 fee to register an EV plus an additional fee if $200/year. More than 30 states have adopted additional fees of varying rates for EVs with more to come.
Clearly and as we have seen in the adoption of other new technologies, the devil is in the details. Although state governments and the Federal government both seek to legislate in favor of rapid BEV adoption, the marketplace, as it often does, determines the direction and sets the standards for acceptance. The consumer always has a stake.
In the aforementioned article these questions were posed:
- What if electricity, as a motive power source, is only a “bridge” fuel placeholder until a better, more environmentally friendly, longer range alternative presents itself?
- Instead of relying on BEVs, a now proven technology but fraught with environmental challenges and limited range, a less challenging, alternatively fueled, longer range ICE becomes viable?
Continuation of Research and Expectations for Technology
Although the picture is still murky, some things are beginning to come into better focus. The BEV market may become less robust and consumer acceptance of the technology while proven, may cost more than the market can bear or support.
BEVs may prove to be less environmentally attractive than we originally thought. As this decade moves on, more research will be needed in this area but it is beginning to look less environmentally friendly as we become both smarter and more inquisitive about the technology benefits.
In North America, our appetite for more range and consequently larger BEV vehicles could be tempered by an acceptance of smaller BEVs with less range. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, most Americans travel an average of less than 30 miles per day. Perhaps if we settled for a BEV with less, less range and smaller battery size, the benefit offset in collateral damage to the environment would be tempered as well.
Is it possible that if BEVs become indeed the “Flavor of the Decade” our charging stations will become monuments to an unrealistic expectation for a technology, while proven, could never satisfy our appetite for "more?"
About the author: Bob Stanton is a retired government fleet director and current industry consultant based out of Cumming, Ga.
This article was authored and edited according to Government Fleet editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of Government Fleet.