In media the differentiation between existing electric vehicle technologies is rarely made. With Tesla Motors dominating the EV news it doesn’t come as a surprise that we think all EVs are battery electric vehicles (BEVs). But technically even FCEVs – or fuel cell electric vehicles - are part of the EV segment as they also drive with an e-motor (I don’t usually consider them part of the EV segment either).
Putting the current feasibility of FCEVs aside, FCEVs and the four most common EV technology platforms (HEV, PHEV, REEV, BEV) differ significantly from each other. First of all, EVs require an e-motor and a battery pack. The sizes of both vary in each technology group. When looking at the individual models the differences are even bigger. For example, while Tesla ModelS has a range of up to 275 miles, a Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 get less than 100 miles out of one charge. All three are BEVs (read more about EV segments)
BEVs extract energy solely from the onboard battery. If you have ever driven a Tesla vehicle you know what that means… immediate torque and a big smile on your face. Even the futuristic looking BMW i3 can take on a BMW M3 from 0-40mph. And believe it or not (based on my unpublished consumer research in Silicon Valley) performance is still the most common purchase criteria for car buyers.
Another advantage of e-motors is the high efficiency. While e-motors are >90% efficient, the best combustion engines have <30% energy efficiency. The theoretical limit of steel engines is reached at ~37% efficiency. Thus e-motors not only produce immediate torque but also allow cars to reach significantly better fuel efficiency.
The problem for EVs comes with storing energy. The energy density in current batteries is low compared to gasoline or charged hydrogen. Thus a Tesla ModelS with an 85kwh battery has to carry ~1,250lbs more weight than a car with combustion engine. Sure, the battery-weight can be reduced but it means decreasing range and performance of the vehicle (when depopulation cells from the side).
The three points I am trying to make are:
1. EV segment is dominated by 4-5 different technology platforms
2. BEVs allow for instant performance and high fuel efficiency
3. Weight (big battery packs) is inefficient and typical for BEVs
Not all of EV platforms will survive the next few years. Manufacturers will slowly gain confidence in e-motors and reduce the number of combustion engines produced. The instant performance and green image will attract customers; the clean energy will reduce fleet emissions like VW’s diesel technology (too soon?).
While I am sure that there is no way around EVs for OEMs, I understand that carrying around >1,000lbs for energy storage is inefficient. There are many ways around this issue. First, increasing energy density of batteries (thus reducing number of batteries for same range). Second, finding an alternative technology to lithium ion (such as fuel cell). Last, and easiest, option would be for customer to accept that they don’t need 300 miles of range in an EV, but that is another story.
To be continued…
Sini Ninkovic analyzes the EV market and its customers since 2012. He helped bringing BMW's i3 and i8 to market and currently works as Product Planner for Lucid Motors.