"One day we will have 100% of cars on the road that are moved by electricity and recharged by 100% renewed energy sources": JB Straubel, Tesla Motors CEO.

"Until we have petrol or natural gas – meaning in the next 300 years – no other technology will really be able to rival the ICE engines and in 2025 non ICE passenger cars will have a share of less than 1% of the global market": Fritz Indra, living legend mechanical engineer.

These two diametrically opposite views of the future of the automobile industry are probably not going to materialize into reality but they give you a good glimpse of the diversity of thought going on today. Old school and non-orthodox, petrol heads and pro-environment fanatics will keep going their way even if none of the two radical scenarios are likely to see the light of the day.

So what will be our reality in 10 years´ time? Will full or partial electric vehicles be able to establish as mainstream or are they condemned to be hip only the fuel petrol sky rockets or legislation gives them an edge over ICE vehicles?

Here we have to split the field into three different zones.

Battery EVs will only become popular if some sort of new chemistry allows them to become price competitive (at the current 500 euro/kWh for lithium ion cells this is simply not possible) and despite many announcements nothing is in the spectrum for the next decade, as eloquently explained by Elon Musk: "every time somebody says they have a breakthrough battery technology I ask them to send me a sample. They never do or if they do so it doesn't quite live up to the expectations". Meaning that price will go down on a basis of more units produced/less cost per unit. And this takes time.

Fuel cell cars are the proper substitutes for the automobile as we know it as far as driving range and recharge/refuel time is concerned. But technology is also way to expensive and there is no proper recharging infrastructure put in place, meaning range anxiety will still play a dissuasive role in the consumer´s mind. And this will be the case in the next decade, at least.

Plug-in hybrid technology has the advantage of allowing the consumers to drive fully EV on a daily basis and then use the same vehicle on a long weekend trip, with no range anxiety and with the full spectrum of benefits on their working days. The fact that the lithium ion content of their batteries ranges from 4 to 10 kWh (roughly 1/3 of the kWh content of a battery EV) reflects positively in the car´s price tag and the 30 to 50 km EV driving range will be enough for the user´s daily travelling needs on a working day, even more so now that the total number of people living in the cities has overtaken the total number of people living outside the urban areas.

And going back to the two dramatic quotes we started with, PHV are also the intermediate solution between battery EVs and ICE passenger cars, between Straubel and Indra. Even with no fuel price increase or special regulatory concessions they provide a propulsion solution that makes all the sense today and on a good path to become mainstream. And the commercial launch of dozens of new PHV models from different brands before the end of this decade as well as the advent of wireless recharging will only work as a catalyst to this process.

Joaquim Oliveira

Joaquim Oliveira

European Car of the Year Jury Member

Aug. 30, 2015 Columns › Joaquim Oliveira photo: Profimedia

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