by P Sanchez
With the sales of electric vehicles growing year-by-year, and major manufacturers creating their own electric lines of vehicles to get their share of an expanding market, with one major manufacturer even announcing their plan to cease designing new gas-only models by next year and concentrating on battery-powered cars only, are we seeing the end of days for the internal combustion vehicle?
The Quick Answer Is...
Well, that depends. How far into the future are we looking at? If we look at one chart on global sales of light vehicles, there has been a steady increase since 2016. That previous year has seen 92 million units sold, last year (2018) had 97 million, and with rising projections putting 2024 with as much as 115 million units sold with almost 10% (14.2 million) are pure electric.
Definitely, electric motors will figure more and more prominently in the engine bays of newer cars either as a power augment or as the main drive with gas-support but statistics suggest that 9 out of every 10 new car sold in the next 5 years will still have an internal combustion engine. But what about variables that will either incentivized or even force the market away from the venerable gasoline engine?
The oil crisis in the 70's heralded the last biggest change to how we want our cars to be. The flamboyant gas-guzzling land yachts gave way to more practical and compact, smaller-engined, fuel efficient cars. Are we seeing the same trend today?
Petroleum products have seen a spike in prices in the last few years, no thanks to geopolitical turmoil. However, when oil is at stake, there will always be a concerted effort to get all major players back in the fold. As oil production is seen to increase again, while factors contributing to decrease in demand such as renewable energy and regional economics are making their effects felt, world crude oil prices are expected to taper down in the coming years. All this means is that gas-prices will still not scare us off from getting to the gas stations in the next decade.
Speaking of stations, though there have been an increasing number of electric charging stations being built to meet the new electric demand, it may not be enough. In 2017, there were more than 48,000 electric recharging stations available for the public with an average of 2.75 available outlets per station. Considering cumulative EV sales for that year and charging time of current battery technology, we could roughly estimate that each outlet will be occupied 6 hours a day (if EV owners were to rely on public charging stations exclusively).
But if projections are correct, EVs to charging station ratio will dramatically increase from 15.2 in 2017, to 28.2 by only 2021, with 10 hour occupancy per outlet at the most. In cities - where there’s higher EV adoption due to EV’s suitability for urban driving, lower at-home charging opportunities, and higher charging needs in the day - public charging occupancy time will even be higher. Queuing for hours for your next fast-charge is not an enticing proposition for EVs.
The last and probably most powerful agent to promote EVs for wide-adoption is legislation. At its core, reducing internal combustion engine’s impact on the environment is what drives legislation, a worthy cause for sure. However, major barriers still exist, from cultural preference to market forces keeping current premium prices for anything electric. Unfortunately, the desire for cleaner and zero emissions is tempered by sobering reality.
Studies show that there are 10 billion cars in the world, and with pure electrics just coming into the fray in recent memory, EVs account only a drop in the huge bucket. We’re a long way from the humming electric-pod filled highways we often see in utopian city scenes portrayed in sci-fi. Looking on how things are and where things are going, petroleum power will remain our choice personal transport in the foreseeable future.
So for now, don’t trade-in your gas powered car with an electric just yet. Keep it in top shape and it may still give you faithful and relevant service in the years to come.