In this week’s review of electric vehicle (EV) and charger news, we continue to see large strategic investors moving into the space, seeking to hedge their business model or looking to profit from the changeover to EV’s, by investing in charger companies, battery companies and utilities. As the 80-year dominance of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is disrupted by EV’s, we are seeing a surge in innovation as designers and entrepreneurs are liberated to think “out-of-the box (and four wheels)”—this week, motors in the wheels. Related to the disruption story, we are also seeing push back from the businesses whose revenues are threatened—this week, the oil industry. We finish with a bit of history and the EV/ICE battle that took place in the 1920’s for dominance of the personal transportation industry with an interesting conclusion on why ICE’s won the battle for personal transportation.
BP Buys UK Charge Company. Following Shell’s lead earlier this year in investing in a UK charger company and a utility, BP has bought the UK’s largest electric vehicle (EV) charging company, Chargemaster. BP plans to roll out the company’s chargers across its 1,200 UK gas stations. Financial Times ("BP/electric cars: chickens and eggs".) The initiative by Shell and BP to invest in EV chargers is part of a response to an electric future where their major sources of revenues are shifted to utility companies. A future where the majority of refueling occurs at home and the office, with a top off or two at the supermarket or movie theatre, is also a major threat to the gas station convenience store model where profit margins are much higher and more stable than on the sale of gasoline.
Electric Wheels. As we have pointed out before, EV’s represent a major technological shift in the automobile industry. The revolution that EV technology represents has unleashed design creativity and spurred further innovation. A number of companies are working on incorporating the electric motor into the wheels and in doing so, reducing mechanical complexity and frictional loss (from the drivetrain), increasing further the amount of room available for cabin and storage space, and improving car handling. IEEE Spectrum ("Protean Electric’s In-Wheel Motors Could Make EVs More Efficient".)
While there are a number of issues to resolve for this type of technology, it is yet another example that the cars we drive in the future are going to bear little resemblance to the cars we have been driving for the past 80 years.
Oil Industry Push Back. In a recent piece on CNBC, former EPA Administrator and Republican Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, lambasted oil industry funded studies questioning the environmental efficacy of EV’s.
"Here’s the bottom line: transportation electrification is a really good idea, and electric vehicles are a superior product. That’s why they will replace the internal combustion engine."
In the article, she makes a number of the points about the benefits of EV’s that we have written about in prior pieces. As she points, out EV’s are 3-4 times more energy efficient than ICE’s and emit no particulate matter. Already, the relative costs of building new fossil-based power plants have made them uneconomic and, as the grid continues to move from fossil-based fuels to renewables, the benefit of having the entire transportation system move with that creates a multiplier effect on reducing carbon emissions. CNBC ("Oil industry is 'peddling misinformation' about electric vehicles".)
The fact that the oil industry is funding misleading reports should be of no surprise. Similar to the tobacco industry funding medical research in the 1960’s and 70’s to refute the cancer risk of tobacco, challenges to the status quo always create a reaction and the more revenue at stake, the greater the reaction.
Déjà vu all over again. An interesting article about the early days of the automobile, when EV’s outsold the ICE and Ferdinand Porsche was putting generators into the wheels of cars (see story above). That article makes the point that, for more than three decades, there was no clear winner in the technological fight between EV’s and ICE’s. Until the 1920’s, the US’ largest automobile maker was the Electric Vehicle Company. Interestingly, the article points out that EV’s lost the fight not because of a technological preference, but because EV makers misread American’s financing preferences. While ICE company’s focused on selling cars, electric car companies were pushing a lease model. This was occurring at a time when Americans were adopting a culture preference for personal ownership. Quartz ("Early-1900s EVs were marketed to women because gas cars were too complicated".)
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