At present, electric plug-in cars make up just one tenth of 1% of the global car market. That’s an incredibly small amount. At present, internal-combustion vehicles (i.e. those that run on petrol, diesel or LPG) dominate the international car market hands-down.
However as technology progresses, there comes a time when consumers no longer want to buy the dated alternative; it simply doesn’t make economical sense.
Take a look at smart phones as an example; the past five years have seen a dramatic decrease in the cost of entry-level smart phones. While they were once only available to those with money to burn, today there are plenty of smart phones that come in under the $100 mark. It no longer makes sense to consider buying a ‘brick’ phone when you can get smart phones for virtually the same price.
According to a recent article written by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “It’s looking like the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car.”
They believe that by 2022, electric cars will cost around the same as their gas-guzzling counterparts – leading to a mass increase in people making the switch to electric. In terms of sales, Bloomberg has made some very good points in their argument as to why electric cars are the way of the future. They note that electric vehicle sales grew by 60% worldwide last year; this is the approximately the same annual growth rate forecast by electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla through to 2020. At the moment, they’re right on the mark.
As the Bloomberg article notes, it’s also the same growth rate that helped Ford’s Model T eventually take over from horse and cart back in the 1910s. Surely this bodes well for the future.
Case study: Tesla’s Model S
Tesla is perhaps one of the most exciting electric car manufacturers in the world at present.
Introduced in 2012, their Model S was a full sized, all-electric luxury car that proved to be very popular in countries such as the United States, China, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Switzerland and Denmark.
Targeting the luxury vehicle market, the Model S doesn’t come cheap. In Australia (where it hasn’t been sold on a mass scale), the car retails for AUD$130,000+. And that’s just for the base model. In the US where car prices are cheaper and the Model S has proven to be far more popular, the base model sold for around USD$70,000.
In December 2015, the Model S surpassed 100,000 sales – which was a very exciting milestone for not only the company, but electric car sales in general.
What about world oil prices?
When petrol prices hit AUD$1.60 a litre in mid-2008, Australian drivers began to fear the worst. In New Zealand and much of Europe, petrol prices exceeded $2 a litre during this period. Even now New Zealand is still between AUD$1.80 and $1.90 per litre, while UK prices are well over AUD$2 a litre. There were also some frightening reports at the time that predicted Australians could be paying between $2 and $8 a litre as soon as 2018. Thankfully at this stage, it doesn’t look as though this predication will come to fruition.
Oil prices are relatively affordable at the moment here in Australia thanks to the fact that world oil prices have been at a record low. With petrol falling below $1 a litre in some capital cities multiple times over the past year, motorists are certainly rejoicing.
Although many predict that Australia’s lower fuel prices are here to stay at least short term, there is uncertainty as to whether this trend will continue long term. With many countries experiencing much higher prices than Australia, many believe it is only a matter of time until our prices rise again.
Only time will tell where our fuel prices are heading – but if they follow the trend set by Europe, electric cars will certainly begin to look more appealing Down Under.
How have electric cars improved in recent times?
Electric car technology is going ahead in leaps and bounds, which is promising in terms of the industry’s future. Here we look at some of the main recent advancements in electric vehicle technology.
Lower battery prices
When it comes to manufacturing electric cars, the battery itself accounts for around a third of the cost. Therefore, for electric vehicles to gain widespread adoption, the price of these batteries must fall.
According to the aforementioned article released by Bloomberg, battery prices for electric cars fell by 35% last year (2015). The article also notes that according to research, unsubsidised electric vehicles will be as affordable as their oil-burning counterparts within the next six years. Bloomberg predicts that once this occurs, serious mass-marketing efforts will occur and the electric car’s star will begin to rise rapidly.
Since the cost of electric car batteries has dropped, the incentive for manufacturers – and also buyers – has increased.
One of the main drawbacks of electric cars is the fact that they can only go so far on one charge. While they may last for a while zipping around the inner city streets, they aren’t suited to weekend trips away down the coast.
Longer-range batteries mean that electric cars don’t need to be charged as often.
However, as technology progresses this is set to change. Already there are electric cars entering showrooms that are capable of travelling 200+ miles (approximately 320 kilometres); although this doesn’t rival the current fuel range of internal-combustion vehicles, it’s impressive.
There are a number of longer-range electric cars that are set to enter the market, including the Chevrolet Bolt. Nissan has also released details for a battery pack that is capable of travelling 200 miles, and this technology is expected to become part of their next generation Nissan LEAF electric car.
In terms of longer-range travel in electric vehicles, the technology is getting there. Already, these cars provide a driving range that makes them suitable for city travel – surely it won’t be long before weekend cruises up the highway become achievable as well.
More charging stations
One of the main drawbacks to owning an electric car at present is the lack of charging stations. Combined with lower travel ranges, drivers are nervous that there won’t be a charging station nearby when required.
However, in the US this is already starting to change. An increasing number of petrol stations and companies are installing charging stations to help the uptake of electric vehicles, meaning ‘range anxiety’ could soon be a thing of the past. Companies such as Walgreens, Coca-Cola and Google are already installing charging stations, while US states such as California are committed to deploying thousands of charging stations over the next decade.
As a sweetener, Nissan is offering those who buy its current generation LEAF two years of free battery charging across hundreds of stations.
While coal power stations are still the primary source of energy in Australia, there is a strong push to move towards renewable sources such as wind power, solar power and hydro electricity. Although Australia unfortunately isn’t at the forefront of this movement, many believe that it’s only a matter of time until coal-fuelled power is put to rest.
Reducing emissions on a global scale
Ultimately, the world is looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions and oil dependency – as these are two factors that we know influence climate change. In a recent study conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute and NRDC, it was found that widespread electric car use could potentially cut carbon emissions by as much as 550 million metric tons annually by 2050 – that’s essentially the amount of emissions produced by 100 million passenger vehicles.
The recent Paris Climate Agreement – where 197 nations representing 97% of the world’s carbon emissions got together – unveiled commitments that aimed to combat climate change. The agreement was brokered at the end of 2015 and subsequently signed by participating nations in April, 2016. While the Copenhagen and Cancun Agreements saw countries pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 2020, the Paris Agreement includes commitments from 2020 onwards – signalling an ingoing drive to reduce emissions and combat climate change.
Major carbon emitters that took part in the agreement included the USA, China, India, Mexico, EU, Brazil, South Korea and Indonesia. Australia was also part of this agreement; we have already pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 – however many hope that by signing the Paris Agreement Australia will strive to do more. While we are not one of the leading carbon producers on a global scale, an article published by Abc.net.au notes that Australia is considered to be “one of the world’s highest per capita emitters”.
According to NRDC’s article, motor vehicles account for 17% of the world’s CO2 emissions; as such, motor vehicles consequently featured in the Paris Agreement. The three largest passenger car markets (which represent two thirds of global sales) have all put strong fuel economy standards in place. These standard will help drive up electric vehicle sales, as governments push for cleaner, more economical vehicles.
China is one of countries committed to implementing better fuel economy standards. In recent times it has become one of the world’s largest markets for electric cars (overtaking the US in 2015), and is home to the largest electric vehicle manufacturer – BYD.
Car manufacturers are already on board!
Many car manufacturers are already embracing electric vehicles – with many investing billions of dollars in electric technology.
According to NRDC, the number of electric car models has increased from just 2 in 2012 to 25 in 2016 – and that number is only set to rise. Manufacturers such as Tesla (whose Model 3 is set for release in 2017), GM, Nissan and BMW are leading the way; however others are beginning to jump on the bandwagon.
The field of electric cars has also captured the attention of companies beyond the vehicle manufacturing industry, with Apple and Google apparently tipped to join the race. If these giants believe electric cars are worth the investment, then the future certainly is looking bright.
The oil companies aren’t convinced…
Although many are predicting a bright future for electric powered vehicles, perhaps unsurprisingly oil companies are playing it down.
According to a 2015 article by Auto World News, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) believes that electric cars will still only make up around 1% of the global car market in 2040. OPEC believes that without a significant technological breakthrough, these cars won’t be viable; they cite high costs, lack of refuelling regulations and a lack of demand for alternative energy vehicles as the reasons why electric cars won’t gain traction over the next few decades. The organisation believes that hybrid cars – such as the Toyota Prius – will remain more popular than pure electric cars.
However, it comes as no surprise that OPEC is predicting a bleak future for electric cars. The organisation has admitted that over 40% of the global oil demand comes from road vehicles – so of course they are not predicting any change to that figure by 2040. They have to remain optimistic about the future of oil, since that’s how they make their money.
What about electric cars in Australia?
While the US and China have been very quick to jump on the electric vehicle bandwagon, Australia is certainly off to a slower start.
So why is Australia so slow on the uptake? There are a number of reasons why electric vehicles are yet to take off here:
- There is a severe lack of infrastructure when it comes to public charging stations.
- The limited range of electric vehicles doesn’t work as well in a country that is so big and spread out.
- The initial price of electric cars in Australia is higher due to a lack of government subsidies that are present in countries such as the US.
- Petrol prices are still relatively affordable, reducing the financial incentive to go electric.
- Electricity production in Australia is dirty; we’re predominately fuelled by coal, which means that the environmental benefits of driving an electric car aren’t as great as countries that produce more ‘green’ energy.
According to a 2015 Carsguide.com.au article, a mere 1,130 electric vehicles were sold in Australia in 2014. Many of these cars were not ‘pure electric’; rather, they had range extenders that allowed the petrol engine to work as a generator and charge the battery. At present, that’s the reality in Australia – we’re simply not set up for 100% electric cars.
This doesn’t mean that electric cars won’t have a future here. It just means that Australia – as always – is a little slower to acquire the latest technology!
Case study: Tesla Model 3
Car enthusiasts around the world are waiting in anticipation for Tesla’s much-hyped Model 3. This car combines a far more practical driving range (200 miles/320 kilometres) with outstanding performance, looks and safety features; it’s a premium car that matches many internal-combustion cars on the market in more ways than one.
With the same classy looks of the popular Model S, the Model 3 is priced to appeal to the masses. Tesla announced in February that their Model 3 would be priced at USD$35,000, which means that these cars could potentially sell for as low as USD$25,000 in the US once government incentives have been applied.
This huge price drop and increase in driving range is certainly a step towards making electric vehicles viable here in Australia in coming years.
The way of the future?
Bloomberg New Energy Finance states in their article that “By 2040, long-range electric cars will cost less than $22,000 (in today’s dollars), according to the projections.” If this is the case, increased practicality and affordability will almost certainly mean that electric cars are the way of the future.
While Australia has a long way to go in terms of making electric cars a standard option, the fact that overseas markets have been so quick to jump on board bodes well for the future. As technology improves – and Australia seeks out cleaner energy production methods – electric cars will certainly find their place in this country.
Just as colour televisions took over from their black and white predecessors once technology and price point allowed, electric cars will one day outnumber internal-combustion vehicles on our roads.