Despite considerable technological progress, the electric vehicle market is struggling to take off. The problems listed by potential buyers of battery-powered electric vehicles are usually the high cost, the limited autonomy due to the lack of charging infrastructure and the fear of running out of power.
The high cost and lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure are also problems for the fuel cell electric vehicle market, as are the lack of visibility of battery lifespan and reticence towards hydrogen.
Developing pertinent and attractive economic models for electric vehicles, batteries, fuel cells and distribution networks is crucial. A lithium-ion battery costs nearly half the price of the vehicle so battery rental is often preferable to purchase. For a mid-range passenger car, rental costs just under €80 a month.
Recharging, on the other hand, costs 5 to 10 times less than the fuel to cover the same distance. Integrating the charger into the vehicle makes it possible to recharge the battery from a domestic 16A socket at a night-time tariff for users with a garage with power.
It is highly likely that prices will drop significantly between 2015-2020 thanks to economies of scale and new technologies under development.
The price of fuel cells remains high despite being reduced by two-thirds over the last ten years, particularly due to optimized platinum dispersion in electrodes which has spectacularly reduced the quantity required. Economies of scale are expected to lead to significant cost reductions by 2030.
Increase autonomy or develop charging networks?
Despite being won over by the undeniable benefits of electric vehicles, numerous potential buyers are reluctant to take the plunge for fear of running out of power "in the middle of nowhere". However, the average return journey is around 40 miles and the average autonomy of battery-powered electric vehicles is around 100 miles. Current technological progress looks set to double autonomy but that will not fundamentally change the problem. (The increase in energy density of the new prototypes is around a factor of 3. This increase will probably not be entirely allocated to autonomy but shared between increasing it and reducing the battery weight and price at the same time.)
It is clear therefore that setting up an electricity charging and hydrogen refueling network is the major driver which will boost the electric vehicle market.
In several countries with a tradition of motorized transport, agreements have been signed between automotive manufacturers and parking lot owners, for example at shopping malls, to equip these lots with charging terminals.
Equip EVs with a range extender
Equipping electric vehicles with a small heat engine and fuel tank to travel 30 to 60 miles would provide a back-up if the battery completely ran out. This is a way of alleviating the fear of running out of power without having to excessively extend the charging network.
Equip EVs with solar panels
Some electric vehicle manufacturers are moving towards continuous battery recharging using photovoltaic cells on the roof. This increases autonomy in return for an additional cost which is significant with the current technologies.
An efficient and stress-free transition through hybridization
From the simple "stop & start" and "range extender" to full hybrids and plug-in hybrids, the impressive range of hybrid vehicles allows a transition to electric with a remarkable level of performance.
An example of a mid-range Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid vehicle: CO2 emissions of 48 g/km.
The user can choose the level of hybridization appropriate to its main use. The high cost of dual-fuel engines is expected to drop rapidly and allow electric vehicles to be developed without worrying about a flat battery.
Equip vehicle fleets
Fleets of delivery or rental vehicles in urban locations have particularly favorable operating conditions which are likely to convince reticent potential buyers.
Offer financial incentives
Some governments offer financial incentives which put the purchase price of a battery-powered electric vehicle on a par with a diesel-powered vehicle.
Incentivize with regulations
Numerous non-financial incentives can boost the electric vehicle market, including benefits for buyers.
• Access to city centers (if they are out of bounds to high-polluting vehicles)
• Increased axle payload
• Parking/access to delivery areas
• Parking restrictions for other vehicles (polluting)
• Access to special lanes
• Reduction/elimination of road tolls (in cities with tolls, the number of which is expected to increase)
Disruptive technologies are usually accompanied by a succession of preconceptions and modern electric vehicles are no exception to the rule. Communication is therefore key as is proof through use. This is especially the case for hydrogen and safety.
To sum up
The first people to have internal combustion vehicles did not have the network of gas stations we have today. Their unreliable ignition or fuel supply sometimes required the driver to become a mechanic while a can of gas alleviated the anxiety of running out of fuel.
Vehicles are resolutely moving towards electric and are already giving the performance of the internal combustion engine a run for its money without having the disadvantages in terms of resources and the environment.
We can bet that these constraints will give us the inventiveness and determination required to develop electric vehicles in the same way as internal combustion vehicles, thus allaying the most overcautious misgivings.