MUNICH — Judging by the enthusiasm of the 304 exhibitors at this year’s eMove360 trade fair, electric vehicles have arrived.
Granted, there weren’t any automaker stands at the annual show. But that absence was compensated by technology providers whose EV prototypes, charging stations, battery packs and other associated products and services dominated the 20,000 square meters of exhibition space.
There is no doubt that electrified powertrains will, over time, become standard in most if not all cars and trucks. But it’s an open question how long the transformation will take.
Thomas Hausch, who heads Nissan sales in Germany, painted an optimistic picture of the state of electric mobility. The world has changed in the past year, especially in Germany, he said at the World Mobility Summit held during the exhibition.
In particular, the declining appetite for diesel following Volkswagen’s emission-tests deceit has given a boost to EVs. And anti-diesel – and anti-combustion-engine – sentiment is spreading, especially in big cities. At the same time, the newest generation of EVs offers a battery range that addresses people’s so-called “range anxiety.” And the cars are becoming more affordable.
“The discussion is moving away from range to how much range you get per euro,” Hausch said. C-segment EVs such as the Nissan Leaf, the Hyundai Ioniq and VW’s e-Golf all offer good value for money and the kind of range that’s beginning to compete with combustion-engine powered cars, he said.
Hausch, by the way, expects a huge increase in Nissan’s EV sales this year and next.
But there’s another side to the EV story.
Some electric-mobility experts on the show floor privately expressed doubts about the near-term sustainability of the new optimism. There are still way too few charging stations everywhere and, though the technology is there, it’s unclear who will pay to create the infrastructure that’s crucial to the growth of EVs.
Then there’s the charging technology itself. As one EV service provider noted, connecting a car with a cable to a charger is a relatively primitive process. It’s also problematic that EVs tend to engage chargers much longer than needed. That’s especially true when they occupy a public charging spot in a residential area in the evening. If a spot is taken, no other cars can charge. Few EV owners get up during the night to move their cars.
Cable charging is likely to be an intermediate technology that will eventually be replaced by inductive charging technology. But this is still in its infancy and it will be many years before cars can easily position themselves above a magnetic coil and recharge their batteries.
Finally, there are the issues Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne raised again in recent days: A lot of the electricity used to power EVs comes from power plants that burn coal and, thus, negatively affect the cars’ “well-to-wheel” environmental footprint.
Also, Marchionne maintains there is today no solid business care for the manufacture and sale of EVs. In other words, no car company can make money with them, given the cost of batteries and other EV technologies and the relatively low sales volumes.
Still, if you listen to Nissan’s Hausch, who works for a company that is betting heavily on EVs, electric mobility has arrived both in markets and in people’s perceptions. Buying an EV no longer is something exotic and unusual.
Said Hausch: “We see that people are not talking about EVs anymore, but about cars.”
-By Arjen Bongard
(Arjen Bongard, editor-in-chief of automotiveIT International, can be reached at bongard_ext@automotiveIT.com)