Three Lessons For EVs From 2010s’ Failures
The 2010s mark the first full decade of the modern EV.
Tesla started selling the Roadster in 2008 and soon after EVs from major established automakers were deployed to North America, Europe, China, and Japan. In 2010, EVs were rare, now they are common. While the last decade was encouraging there are three failures to mindfully reflect on when looking to the next decade.
Battery Swapping …Too Soon?
In the 2010s, some companies piloted swapping systems to mitigate the long charging time EVs require. Most notable among them was Better Place, but Tesla also flirted with the concept. Unfortunately, the battery swapping programs didn’t work. Technically they had merit, but practically they couldn’t scale up. The 2020s might be different—interoperable battery pack design could be on the horizon.
EV makers are largely adopting a skateboard chassis design, which look increasingly similar. Indeed, some are wishing to share their chassis to aid scale and decrease EV development costs. This trend, alongside EV maker interests in finding second life uses for retired batteries, encourages the development of more interoperable battery packs—a crucial first step for swapping. The evolution toward swappable packs will take a long time, so seeing it mature in the next decade is unlikely. However, it is likely that EV makers eyeing limited opportunities for differentiation will reintroduce the concept but this time under better conditions.
If You Build It, They Will Come
“If you build it, they will come” has been the justifying motto for investing in public charging networks. It is accurate because deployments of public chargers have positive effects on EV adoption by way of relaxing would-be adopter range anxieties. But it is inaccurate because once EVs are adopted, their owners find it more convenient and economic to charge at home rather than on a public charger. This dynamic is likely to change in the 2020s.
EV ownership is easy for people with a garage and two or more cars. They buy an EV, charge it at home, and use their other car for the long-distance trips. It’s not easy for other vehicle ownership circumstances, which are the norm in most global markets. However, as EV range lengthens and fast-chargers grow denser, EV ownership will become more diverse and more receptive to public charging. Ergo, if you continue to build it, they will come.
Getting EVs into carshare programs is a highly attractive way to reduce road transportation emissions. However, it does have a big complication: charging. Most carshare programs rely on members for refuelling and this is simple with petroleum fuels, which is difficult for EVs. Early EV sharing programs installed chargers at reserved parking locations, provided discounts to members that found charging for the EV, or employed teams to retrieve and charge EVs nearing empty. These EV sharing programs have not done well and prospects into 2020 are not encouraging, but that’s okay since the real opportunity here is ride-hailing.
The mobility market is moving toward ride-hailing. Carsharing is still relevant, but its growth prospects are limited in the near term by the meteoric rise of Uber and its competitors. In the long term, carsharing is limited by the deployment of driverless vehicles purposely designed for mobility as a service. Though still a challenge, charging is less complicated in hailing as dedicated drivers are better suited to manage EV charging needs. For driverless hailing the charging challenge is an opportunity. It can be automated with cords, without cords, or by battery swapping.