COMMENT: EV charging success reliant on convenience and collaboration

With EV adoption growing year-on-year, providing a sufficient charging network represents one of the greatest challenges the automotive industry has ever faced. By Jack Hunsley

In an industry which day by day appears ever more set on an electric future, there are some key issues surrounding the practicalities of electric vehicle (EV) charging which need to be urgently addressed. While the industry may well inevitably produce an EV with a comparable battery range and reliability to that of today’s internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, this progress will be useless without a charging network to pair it with. As such, for players both old and new, the move towards electrification is seen as a huge challenge and a significant business opportunity.

For the new players, the arrival of electric powertrain technology has allowed expertise from other industries to make the jump to automotive. Energy suppliers, in particular, appear on the cusp of great things, both in terms of the expertise they can provide and in the potential profitability of their business models. For older players, the electrification requires a change in mindset. The oil giants, for instance, which for decades have made huge profits from diesel and gasoline, are obviously not willing to completely yield to this greener future and are beginning to carve out a role for themselves in the electric world.

While the industry may well inevitably produce an EV with a comparable battery range and reliability to that of today’s internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, this progress will be useless without a charging network to pair it with

Out on the road, an influx of affordable EV models is expected to mark a turning point on a number of counts. However, while switching from gas to electric has obvious environmental benefits, there are very practical concerns that need to be considered. For example, despite expectations that the majority of charging will take place overnight at home, many customers are unlikely to have access to off-street charging facilities. While solutions such as wireless charging could be the answer here, it will still require a huge change in consumer behaviour to encourage private EV adoption. For charging done away from the home, it is vital that this process be as quick and as smooth as possible in order to convince ICE vehicle owners that electrification is a viable alternative.

The role of commercial vehicles (CVs) is also hugely important. With electric buses, in particular, having already made their way into wide-scale use, ensuring there are sufficient charging solutions in place is vital in allowing this adoption to continue. Opportunity and depot charging will allow electric bus adoption to grow and spread at a sufficient rate. For trucks, however, the situation is more complex. Given the preference shown towards fuel cell technology, developing economically viable medium and heavy-duty electric trucks is considered a major challenge. While there is some optimism in the industry, comprehensive cross-continental charging infrastructure will be a crucial enabler of long haul e-trucks.

With EV adoption growing at an impressive rate globally, ensuring that this electric fleet is kept on the move presents perhaps one of the greatest challenges the automotive industry has ever faced

In all of these areas, however, the theme of collaboration is one that shines through. While producing the best and brightest EV model could theoretically put one company ahead of the rest of the pack on the vehicle front, without a charging network its profitability would be hindered greatly. Behind-the-scenes cooperation is therefore expected to be an inevitability that will benefit all contributors.

Overall, the EV charging scene is set for a period of immense scrutiny and growth. Nine years on from the release of the Nissan Leaf, owning an EV is no longer considered quirky or unusual. With EV adoption growing at an impressive rate globally, ensuring that this electric fleet is kept on the move presents perhaps one of the greatest challenges the automotive industry has ever faced.

For more about the challenges and opportunities associated with EV charging, download Automotive World’s February 2019 special report, ‘Charging the electric vehicle’.

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