11-07-2019 | | By Christian Cawley
The electric vehicle has long been touted as the future of the automobile. After all, the internal combustion engine is considered inefficient and dirty, unsustainable as a technology. In the European Union in particular, its days are numbered, passed into law.
But is the electric vehicle (EV) the solution? Is clean-at-the-point-of-use transport really a better option? Is there enough pubic demand to move away from diesel and petrol?
Announced in July 2019, the MINI Electric is a full EV three-door hatch with 124-mile range with a March 2020 release date. Yet its impending arrival directly contradicts the resigned realism of BMW's chief engineer Klaus Fröhlich.
"There are no customer requests for BEVs. None. There are regulator requests for BEVs, but no customer requests. If we have a big offer, a big incentive, we could flood Europe and sell a million (BEV) cars but Europeans won’t buy these things."
"From what we see, BEVs are for China and California and everywhere else is better off with PHEVs with good EV range."
Clearly there are cultural differences at play here. Europeans are more likely to drive; road trips from Edinburgh to London, Paris to Frankfurt, Rome to Barcelona, remain common. Californians are more likely to fly, as are the Chinese, who benefit from lower prices for BEVs anyway thanks to local manufacture.
Ultimately, Europeans and North Americans seem unlikely to ditch petroleum any time soon. Certainly not without a fight.
This isn't due to a luddite refusal to embrace the future. EV refuseniks have various issues with the arrival of the electric vehicle, from range to charging convenience, price… and the technology's own impact on the environment.
It's a concern that reverberates throughout the EV industry, along with worry over lack of natural resources. Tesla's global supply manager of battery metals Sarah Maryssael, for example, has emphasized the need for the automotive industry itself to invest in mining directly to face off a coming shortage of key minerals used in EV manufacture. Existing mining operations are simply not investing quickly enough.
This follows similar concerns voiced by Ford's Ted Miller, who told a mining industry event in South Africa that he "fully anticipate[s] we’re going to keep a lot of pressure on that cobalt production."
Ford and BMW are not alone in looking for alternatives to current manufacturing processes for EV systems. However, additional R&D is likely to push up prices. Not what the Californian state government or European Union want to hear.
With resource issues, additional R&D costs, and a distrust of vehicles with the range of a 1970s milk float, EV technology has a long way to go to convince the public automobile market of its validity.
Policy-wise, the drive towards 100% EV vehicles is impossible to reverse. Without significant culture-change with regards to public transport and personal non-EV mobility, however, the coming impasse between combustion engines and non-hybrid electric vehicles could prove to be the most significant challenge in the post-industrial landscape.