What will power the car of the future?
Short of the likes of Abbott and Trump convincing global leaders that coal is good and climate change is a myth, the era of the electric vehicle (EV) will be ushered in with shocking force over the next decade.
Even if climate change deniers (whose opinions are apparently more valuable than science) were to halt tightening emissions regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, stopping this tr end would be like swerving a Titanic away from that (rapidly melting) iceberg given the degree in which car companies have already invested billions in making battery technology a reality over the next decade.
This doesn’t mean the end of the internal combustion engine (ICE) even into the 2030s, with the BMW Group and Volkswagen Group forecasting that up to 25 per cent of their global volume will feature electrification by 2025. And for perspective, the Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Alliance sold the most vehicles of any conglomerate last year with 10.6 million units globally … only 91,000 of which were EVs. But given that 1.2 million electrified vehicles sold worldwide in 2017, that’s almost one in 10, and it tips its own volume of electrified models will multiply 10-fold to 1m units by 2022.
The question, then, is not if car companies will move to alternative powertrains, but when? Who has laid chips in plug-in hybrid and electric-only technology, who is toying with hydrogen, and is anyone keeping the old ICE churning and burning?
How far away is a world dominated by electric cars?
Let’s start alphabetically with Audi, which has revealed its first full electric car, the e-tron quattro, as the building block in a family of battery electric cars.
Not far away, lets move to BMW and a key word: scalability. Electric motors and batteries have greater homogeny than an ICE, which can be distinguished by its cylinder count, turbocharging, revability, and sound, and by 2021 the German brand will launch its fifth-generation modular EV platform to underpin all models. By 2025 it will have 25 electrified vehicles on the market – including 12 all-electric – up from seven in Australia today.
Daimler – or Mercedes-Benz – will have every one of its models electrified by 2022, with 10 of the 50 electrified vehicles being BEVs, starting with the EQ C but also including the GLC F-CELL that is part-electric, part-hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (FCEV). Currently only C- E- and GLE-Class get a hybrid each here.
Ford will add 13 electrified vehicles to its portfolio by 2020, when more than 40 per cent of the nameplates it uses worldwide will have a battery option. Locally right now it has zero vehicles with batteries, and it’s the same for US rival General Motors and its offshoot Holden. GM has said it will bring 20 all-electric vehicles to global markets by 2023, and by 2025 nearly all models from Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet will offer electrification in China.
South Korean brand Kia will lob five new hybrids, five plug-ins and five electric-only options globally by 2020, with Hyundai beating them to the punch with the Kona Electric small SUV, Ioniq hybrid/plug-in/electric-only trio and even the Nexo FCEV primed for Oz next year.
Then we move back to Nissan, and a reminder of the punt it took back in 2010 with the Leaf that continues – as every other brand rushes now into the space – to be the best-selling EV globally with 300,000 cumulative units sold. Its Alliance partner Renault also has nabbed a 24 per cent share of the EV market in Europe with its Zoe, which has just arrived Down Under, and it remains the top-selling EV on the Continent. By 2022, the Leaf and Zoe duo will be accompanied by eight electric-only models and 12-electrified models, while luxury brand Infiniti has pledged that all its models will feature electrification by the year prior.
Even Toyota, which got in first with electrification in 1997 with the Prius – a shared accolade with Honda and its Insight that lobbed the same year – is turning its focus from hybrid to electric-only, with “more than” 10 EVs promised by 2020.
Add the Volkswagen Group’s promise – self-confessed to be spurred by the dieselgate emissions crisis and (over?) compensation for its emissions cheating – to sell 50 electric-only and 30 plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025 (across its Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat, Skoda and of course Volkswagen stable) and the promise-watch stops at 117 new electric-only vehicles that are set to be available globally from major brands by 2025.
Hydrogen is still a long way off from being an Aussie mainstay
And what of other technologies such as hydrogen FCEVs? Well, Toyota sold 2700 Mirais in 2017 compared with 1.52m hybrids or EVs globally. If you look back in time, in 1998 the Japanese brand shifted 18,100 Priuses, and - using that trend - it now claims that FCEV sales from all brands will expand ten-fold to 30,000 globally by the early 2020s. But, as a parallel, the Prius sold 37,100 units in 2001, meaning at best FCEV volume is running 20 years behind electric.
Mercedes-Benz will add an FCEV to the global market in the GLC F-CELL, Kia will add one to its Hyundai cousin, and General Motors and Honda believe there is a ‘future’ in hydrogen. At best, therell be five hydrogen vehicles on the future radar, meaning it still has a long way to go before it enters the mainstream as a viable and attractive alternative.
Mazda is keeping the internal combustion engine alive
Then there’s Mazda – and a return full-circle – which makes no bold claims about electrification but wants to “perfect” the ICE with its new Skyactiv-X engines from 2019. It is focused on ‘wheel-to-well’ CO2 emissions reduction, which is a dig at other brands moving to ‘zero emissions’ from the tailpipe but not in terms of production.
Even BMW admits that a current i3 EV needs 50,000km of zero-emissions driving before it neuters the production emissions from digging up battery minerals and fusing it together, and only then does it start to deliver an environmental benefit over a BMW 1-Series hatch with a petrol engine.
And so, the Japanese brand’s Skyactiv-X will become the world’s first unleaded engine to have compression ignition like a diesel that, “increases torque 10-30 percent over the current Skyactiv-G gasoline engine [and] improved efficiency up to 20-30 percent [to] even equal or exceed the latest Skyactiv-D diesel engine in fuel efficiency.” From a Mazda3’s 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder, that would mean up to 260Nm of torque and 4.4 litres per 100 kilometres – beating a current 1.4-litre turbo Golf by 10Nm while honing down on a current Prius’ 3.4L/100km.
Even the Volkswagen Group itself has said that “significant” improvements are set to be made around the consumption and emissions of ‘gasoline’ engines, with every other car company mentioned here still also committed to ICE development, especially with petrol engines. That should make Abbott and Trump happy, sadly…