Ascama & Innovation Rotating Header Image

Moving to Electric Cars

Why aren’t there more Electric Cars for Sale?

Many articles show over and over new designs, new intentions, great ideas, however it is still close to impossible to buy an electric car besides a few old approach hybrids. I’m not the person to dig into conspiracy theories, I’m more interested in following the money and understand the impact a change would have. Conspiracy or not nobody is interested in losing their job due to change and the car industry is a major employer with an incredible supply chain from all around the world. It further is still using the in my eyes old “BIG is better approach”, so a change in production in a US car manufacturer or European car manufacturer is felt even at industries in the Netherlands that provide bolts, paint or engine blocks just to name a few connections. In order to increase the number of electric cars we need to know what the impact would be and try to manage the impact of the transition.

The basics

In a combustion engine a big engine with many cylinder’s and many liters represent a comfortable driving as there is a high torque at low rpms. 
An electric engine however has always the highest torque at low rpms, without losing much at higher rpms and having a powerful electric engine doesn’t translate into a low mileage when the power is used in a conservative way. At constant speed the big electric engine does hardly use more energy than a less powerful electric engine. So the bigger engine can be used for a higher top speed and also for higher torque.  
High torque however relates to high current and that means the source must be able to deliver high current. Chemical storage units, like batteries are often limited by their power, more power mostly requires more capacity.  Capacitors on the other hand have relative high power, but are more limited by their capacity when taking weight and volume into consideration.  So in order to use the maximal power of the engine a big battery capacity is needed or a combination of batteries and capacitors or other source (e.g. new ulta capacitors). 

What would change for the Car Salesman?

The story needs to become different, you don’t need such a big hp engine to get good torque, but you need to be able to pull sufficient power from your storage system. With respect to the hybrid story, old style hybrid approach is parallel and allows most experience to be used from building internal combustion engines (ice) cars. A series hybrid, where a small ice drives a generator  electricity (or fuel cell) and the wheel are driving by electricity, is the more efficient approach and allows simplification of car design. This however retires a lot of knowledge, car companies have invested in. When also in-wheel motors are used to drive the car the complete mechanical construction simplifies and many features move from hardware to software (think about e.g. driving a curve where wheels get a different speed to tighten the curve). Further an electric engine would be able to drive more miles in total, so a car could be driven longer. 

What would change  for the Car Dealership?

Electric driven cars need much less maintenance, so income from preventive and corrective maintenance will lower significantly and the more simplified the car design the more maintenance income will be lost.

What would change for the Car Manufacturer?

As indicated in the section for the salesman, when the manufacturer chooses the most efficient design it will have to write-off a lot of its production capabilities and knowledge. So likely the transition will be stretched depending upon competition of newcomers, to minimise the loss.  Any efficiency opportunity for the ICE will be used to safeguard the investments, so the ICE designed cars will get their continuous improvements in efficiency but a full turnover will take time.  A number will start to invest in new storage sources(Nissan Renault, Toyota)  and create start-up companies to develop electric cars. But unless they find replacing products for their old capabilities the transition will be slow.

What would change for the Supply Chain?

A number of product types in the mechanical sector will simply disappear, but also new products will emerge, so more or less a zero-sum game change, where the focus will initially be on making all parts more energy efficient and finding ways to recover energy (e.g. just compare mobile electronics with those in a car).

New entrants

There are basically 2 new types of entrants, those that produce small production scale innovative designs and those that combine that with a “Think Global Act Local” production business model. The second group will become the competitor of the old industry as they can achieve economy of scale through combined design, homologation and purchase power  with a franchise like local production approach. In the latter business model I also see opportunities for combining the free capacity in the maintenance sector and conversion of  existing luxury ICE  cars and SUV’s in electric plug-in version with a range extender (small ICE acting as generator).

The real breakthrough needs to come from rethinking the car as mean of transportation, could it not be designed smarter, why must an integrated navigation cost $3000 while a standalone cost $300 or less. Why do we need miles of copper wire to control a zillion of buttons, switches and interfaces, why do we need so much heating and cooling to keep the interior comfortable temperature wise, why do we redesign cars completely, for a cost so that many need to be sold to make a profit?

The answer although simple “because consumers accept it” could also be reversed when new entrants offer alternatives. It is my hope that the “Think Global Act Local” business model will soon hold as it would reduce the liability of big companies drastically and would stabilize the economy (http://www.mdi.lu/english/concept.php).

Comments are closed.