It wasn’t so long ago that I would have been of the opinion that electric vehicles – and certainly those powered by batteries – may be part of the future transport solution but not necessarily the whole answer with other alternative fuels, including hydrogen, taking a large share. The so called ‘dieselgate’ scandal changed all that radically.
With car manufacturers eager to prove their green credentials and politicians looking for instant solutions, we seem to have reached a situation where it has been decided by all parties that electric is the future. The product plans announced by manufacturers at every international motor show are testament to this. As are the pronouncements of successive governments putting arbitrary time limits on the life of petrol and diesel.
Of course anticipated breakthroughs in battery technology, as well as ongoing advancements in the viability of fuel cells, will all help the electric revolution. And, provided that electricity generation can keep pace at national level, the march of electrification seems inexorable.
In my former role I was close to the early development of some of the electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are on the road today – as well as internal combustion engine cars running on liquid hydrogen – and was aware that both figured in future thinking. However, electric now seems preeminent, with hydrogen largely thought of as an alternative way of generating electricity through fuel cells.
I have recently joined the electric revolution myself, having taken delivery of a plug-in hybrid vehicle. It seemed appropriate to gain some direct experience of living with the new technologies and, as a high mileage driver, to really assess the viability of a plug-in solution versus my former diesel workhorse. Whilst some very high mpg figures are theoretically possible – normally based on a high proportion of short, electric only journeys – my early experience is that in general driving over longer journeys the hybrid is broadly comparable to my former diesel, provided that I charge it overnight. That’s considerably better than some of the older hybrids that I have driven in the past which couldn’t come close to diesel levels of consumption in the real world and shows that the technology is advancing rapidly.
All of this is going to have significant repercussions right across our industry. Our campaign relating to the skills of those working on the high voltage systems of these cars is well known, and we are making good progress with government on a way forward. But there are implications for manufacturing, the supply chain, and even the way we sell and distribute these vehicles. Battery electric vehicles are often compared to mobile phones as an illustration of how technology advances, particularly in terms of advances in battery life and compactness. But those rapid advances are exactly why most people choose not to own their phones but to buy the use of them, facilitating an easy change to new technology as it emerges. PCPs have already made the ‘pay for use’ model much more commonplace for cars, but we have recently seen Geely announcing that the high value electric vehicles it intends to launch under the Polestar brand will be available on a no-deposit, subscription-only basis, giving customers access to the use of a car but also to wider mobility services and solutions. This may be a specialised product but it does point towards ideas that may become more prevalent in the future, with big implications for the current distribution model.
Whichever way you look at it the future is electric – and it is likely to bring a few shocks along the way!