For a range of technical, commercial and practical reasons, the electric vehicle (EV) market is now gaining some serious momentum. After a slow initial start, the brakes are now truly off, and some argue that regardless of government legislation around the banning of selling internal combustion engine (ICE) cars at the end of this decade or in the mid 2030s, EVs will carve their own lion’s share of the new car market.
Substantiating this, a report from the International Energy Agency shows global electric car sales exceeded 10 million in 2022, that’s 14% of all new cars sold – up from 9% in 2021 and below 5% in 2022. The trend is continuing in 2023 with sales in Q1 up a massive 25% on the same period a year earlier.
Aside from the wrench, for some, of saying farewell to their beloved petrol or diesel engined vehicles for emotional or nostalgic reasons, the EV proposition has become and will only get more compelling. As a man of a ‘certain age’ and with a strong interest in cars and automotive engineering (you may call me a ‘petrolhead’), I love the sounds and smells and character of a straight or V6 or a boxer engine, which to me sound almost musical, but even I (perhaps due to my immersion in the electronics industry) am now thinking when, rather than if I ‘go electric’… good reasons not to are diminishing rapidly.
EV choices are broadening
Just a few short years ago, the choices for someone contemplating being an early EV adopter were sparse – a few high-end options and some very sterile, poor performing and expensive low-end small family cars. Now, almost all manufacturers are offering electric powertrain versions of their vehicle ranges, with cars that appeal to the short hop commuter and school drop-off parent, through to those in the market distance cruisers or even a genuine – looks, image, performance – supercar. The increase in choice, market forces and technical refinements are also nibbling away at the often-prohibitive cost differential between ICE and EV options.
EV range is increasing
Range was, and to some extent still is, an Achilles heel for EVs. With ICE cars able to cover anything between 300 and 600 miles, earlier EVs that were struggling to break the 150-to-200-mile barrier were not worthy of serious consideration by most. Coupled to that, it wasn’t even a dependable 200 miles; use of any convenience features such as aircon and heating, or anything more than gentle use of accelerator and brake resulting in the range reducing suddenly and alarmingly. Things have got so much better, and here electronics technology has been pivotal. More efficient components and systems and overall power management are helping, but the real spotlight is on the batteries themselves. Lithium-ion is and has been the ‘go-to’ cell technology, and driven by growing demand and market opportunity, multiple tweaks to the technology and cell-level management innovations such as those offered by Dukosi, for example, are resulting in much better all-round battery performance.
With many EVs now able to comfortably achieve genuine 200-to-300-mile ranges, they can adequately address the use-pattern and distances covered by most consumers (for instance, the average UK household covers less than 150 miles per week).
Looking further down the line, there are a number of alternative battery technologies that may supersede Lithium-ion. Several of these are not ‘wet’ technologies – meaning the potential for improvements in safety, reliability and design flexibility due to the avoidance of leakage and overheating risks. From solid-state to graphene and even sea water-based batteries, there are lots of avenues of investigation and development, that although in their infancy now, have momentum and funding behind them to be the ‘one’ that provides the game changing performance, practicality and importantly, sustainability credentials versus the incumbent Lithium-ion.
Charging is getting faster and easier
Intrinsically linked to range, achievable charging speeds must keep increasing and infrastructure rollout must stay ahead of the EV adoption curve to convince and reassure the buying public that the switch to electric is a sensible and viable idea.
The deployment of public charging points was a balancing act between staying just ahead of initial slow EV uptake, but not too far due to cost and rapidly advancing charging technology. Now, we see innovative and increasingly powerful charging technology that is generally trying hard to catch-up with and get ahead of exponentially increasing demand.
EV charging is classified as one of three levels – levels 1 and 2 cover home charging options with the latter offering up to around 7kW to allow empty-to-full charging overnight – an important threshold. Home chargers rely on the car’s onboard charging circuitry to convert domestic AC mains to DC for the battery.
Moving forwards, the expanding network of Level 3 chargers is the real key. These fast and powerful stations currently deliver between 50kW and 400kW of DC power direct to the battery allowing 0 to 80% of full charge to be achieved in around 30 minutes…or a normal coffee stop on a long journey.
There are other issues and opportunities related to EV charging that can help increase appeal and adoption. For example, some attention to the harmonisation of accessibility and connectivity to public chargers is needed. At present many EV drivers complain of needing a myriad of Apps to access and use chargers from various operators, and even then there are many stories associated with connection, authentication, and billing issues.
JD Power’s 2022 US EVX Public Charging Study revealed that an alarming 20% of people that went to a charging station did not end up charging their vehicle. This was down to problems ranging from stations that were somehow broken or out of service, to connection, user interface or understanding, or billing issues. Clearly there is still work to be done, but reassuringly, there are plans to accelerate and ease access for all to charging stations from different providers. In addition, many high-profile names in the electronics sector such as Microchip are active in developing solutions to support an easier to use, more reliable and efficient charging experience for consumers.
Like many, I will miss the quirky, non-linear, characterful power delivery and sounds of a performance ICE, but the all-round EV value proposition is just about there and hard to ignore, and then of course there’s the core and critical sustainability need at the heart of it all.
For a business working in and around enabling electronics technology for EVs, there is an added element of excitement to be felt about how electric powertrains and the supporting ecosystem are finally finding their feet… or should I say wheels.
Publitek’s role is to use its technology and communications expertise to build awareness and drive demand, enabling our clients who are innovating in the EV space to connect and engage with designers and decision-makers to accelerate the adoption of cleaner, more sustainable options for travel.