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Analysis: When will EVs become mainstream?

21 Septembre 2020 - autocar

Analysis: When will EVs become mainstream?

Global survey names price, range and charging targets for EVs to be widely adopted

Mainstream EV adoption will occur when a typical EV costs £27,000, can achieve a real-world range of around 290 miles and can be fully recharged in just 31 minutes, according to a new global survey by Castrol and its parent company, BP.

The tipping point for the mass adoption of electric vehicles globally has long hung on significant improvements to charging times and range, as well as reducing the showroom cost of long-range EVs.

Castrol says it commissioned a market research company to interview 10,000 consumers and fleet managers in eight countries (China, India, US, UK, France, Germany, Norway and Japan).

The survey found it will be 2024 before the average global car buyer will start to consider buying an EV, with German, UK and US buyers estimating that their personal interest will not be engaged until 2025.

Although it's rather more speculative, the car buyers surveyed have an even less encouraging view of when EVs will become the mainstream choice. The average estimated date across the eight countries was 2030, but British and Japanese motorists estimated that it would be 2033.

It is probably the huge government support and centralised planning for EVs that has convinced Chinese buyers that EVs will become mainstream in 2027. Globally, 71% of fleet managers expect most of their purchases to be electric by 2030.

The survey categorised five aspects of buying an EV – price, charge time, range, infrastructure and vehicle size/ type – and asked consumers and fleet managers to rank them in order of importance.

For consumers, price emerged as the biggest concern (38%) followed by charging time (28%) and range (20%). Although this may seem contradictory, if fast charging is easily accessed, ultimate range is not such an overriding issue.

As for concerns over pricing, all of the consumers globally saw the price of an EV as the number one concern, but it was UK motorists who took the hardest line on cost, with £22,500 the tipping point for buyer consideration. It was £28,500 in Germany and over £31,000 in Japan.

Generations of drivers have got used to filling up a fossil-fuelled car in minutes and, thanks to the rise of diesel engines, getting 500- and 600-mile ranges from those few minutes. In light of that universal experience, the motorists surveyed by Castrol seem to be relatively accommodating when its comes to refuelling an EV.

The global average desired recharging time was 31 minutes. Indian and Chinese buyers were the most patient (35 and 34 minutes) and French (27 minutes) the least patient. UK buyers thought 30 minutes reasonable.

Even so, the survey revealed that the people interviewed thought EVs would go mainstream only when they could be recharged as quickly as conventional combustion-engined cars, something rarely mooted by electric car makers.

On the issue of range, fleet managers were more demanding than consumers. UK fleet managers expected 444 miles of range from future EVs, whereas UK consumers expected 276 miles from a charge. US buyers wanted 321 miles and German buyers 292 miles of range.

However, this survey seems to have put its finger on the EV dilemma. These three requirements – price, range and charging time – are currently in mutual conflict with each other. Building an electric car with the range and charging speed desired by ordinary drivers cannot be sold for the retail prices highlighted in the survey.

Today, Kia's e-Niro perhaps gets closest to the specification outline by the Castrol survey, thanks to its 259-mile real-world range (established by Autocar testing) and the ability to recharge in 54 minutes from flat to 80% via a 100kW DC fast charger.

However, its on-the-road price of £36,850 (before the £3000 government grant) is still far in excess of what the average UK motorist would pay for an EV. Its charging time is also much longer than the 30 minutes desired by UK drivers.

It should be noted, too, that the 54-minute charge will take the battery to 80% capacity only, dropping the potential range of a fast charge below 240 miles.

The idea, suggested in this survey, that EVs should eventually refuel as fast as a petrol or diesel car must be eye-opening for car makers. That's because it is generally held that EV charging will struggle to speed up beyond today's 150kWh chargers, which should achieve 100 miles of range in 10 minutes, although this is usually limited to 80% of the battery capacity.

More rapid charging would require more complex in-car electrical systems and more complex cooling management for battery packs – and that's without the strain such hyper-charging might put on the UK National Grid.

Which brings the debate back to the seemingly intractable issue of making EVs more affordable but capable of a decent range and very rapid charging. Getting the price of batteries down to well below $100 (£77) per kWh is clearly the main roadblock for mass EV adoption.

Will the infrastructure be up to it?

Hot on the heels of the Castrol survey, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) released its own research, which further highlights the problems of equipping the UK with a charging infrastructure suitable for mass EV use.

According to the SMMT, "the biggest factors holding buyers back [from EV purchase] are higher purchase prices (52%), lack of local charging points (44%) and fear of being caught short on longer journeys (38%).". It calls for VAT exemption for all zero-emission vehicles to help get EV sales up to 28% of UK market share by 2025.

But it's the hard figures behind supplying the energy for what the government suggests will be a full EV switchover in 2035 that are most alarming.

Extensive analysis by the SMMT and consultants Frost & Sullivan also shows that a fully zero-emission-capable UK new car market will need 1.7 million public charge points by the end of the decade and 2.8m by 2035.

Given there are only 19,314 on-street charge points today, the huge task requires 507 on-street chargers to be installed per day until 2035 at a cost of £16.7 billion.

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