The Future of Electric Vehicles: Hitting the Backroads and More

Electric vehicles (EVs) not only own the fast lane with Porsche and Tesla whooshing by, but EVs are also going to be a common sight on backroads and rugged terrain. Ford, Chevy, Hummer, Tesla, and the upscale Rivian are among the car manufacturers seeking to cash in on the massive SUV and pickup truck market with new electric models.  

According to the Wall Street Journal, the introduction of heavy-duty EVs is turning pickup truck loyalists into “accidental environmentalists,” judging from the volume of preorders and interest in soon-to-be-released models. Simply put, the future of electric vehicles is bright and broad.

Buyers are captivated. There are hundreds of thousands of preorders for the Hummer EV, Rivian’s electric pickup truck, and the futuristic Tesla’s Cybertruck, which looks like it has bounded out of a video game. But what has main street buzzing are the electric versions of the Ford F-150, due for release in Spring 2022, and Chevy Silverado pickup trucks. 

Large vehicles are the most lucrative U.S. auto segment. SUVs and crossovers accounted for half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. for the first time in 2020, and pickup trucks captured an additional 20 percent of the U.S. auto market.

Customers are coming around to EVs. In spring 2020, 34 percent of survey respondents would be willing to buy an electric vehicle. In March 2021, the number grew to 51 percent. Similar increases were seen internationally, with interest in EVs roughly doubling in China, France, Germany, and the U.K.

Barron's reported that Piper Sandler analyst Alexander Potter forecasts EV penetration at 45 percent of new car sales by 2030, and 94 percent by 2040. He is predicting that the EV takeover of the global automotive industry will be complete in 19 years. 

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In addition to improving and broadening EV model selection, consumer acceptance of EVs has been a process of the industry making improvements in vehicle range and battery technology, cost, and charging infrastructure. 

The Future of Electric Vehicles: Battery Technology is Key

Battery performance is key to the electric vehicle experience, from driving range and charging time to the car's lifetime. According to Stanford University, artificial intelligence has made recharging an EV in the time it takes to stop at a gas station a more likely reality. Stanford developed a machine learning program that is reducing battery testing times by 98 percent. Before, new battery technologies had to be tested for months or years to determine how long they would last. 

The new SUVs and pickups feature a long battery range, high-towing capacity, and all the extras typical of mid range luxury vehicles. For example, Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning has a targeted EPA-estimated range of 300 miles. Chevy’s electric Silverado claims 400 miles. 

The Future of Electric Vehicles: Costs are Equalizing

The Wall Street Journal speculated that many people would switch to an electric vehicle to save money once the total cost of owning an electric vehicle is lower than a comparable gasoline-powered one. Consumer Reports asserted that the price in the U.S. has already crossed that threshold, while Car and Driver says federal tax credits play a significant role. 

A basic Ford F-150 Lightning EV will cost about US$42,000, and the XLT will be around US$55,000. The starting price for a Rivian is US$67,500, Tesla’s Cybertruck is US$39,900, and the GMC Hummer is US$79,995. Of course, options and other charges can change these figures substantially. 

The Future of Electric Vehicles: Charging Infrastructure has to Keep Pace

Building charging infrastructure has been a “chicken or the egg” question regarding expanding beyond fleet vehicles, which return to a central location to recharge. But there are signs that public charging stations are becoming more plentiful. A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said during the first three months of 2020, public electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) grew 7.6 percent. Of that, direct-current fast chargers, which enable rapid battery charging, expanded by 10.6 percent. California was one of the national leaders in this expansion, growing its charging infrastructure by 9 percent.

But it’s still not enough to meet anticipated EV demand. According to a recent article in Forbes, a lack of charging infrastructure could limit EV adoption, stalling the future of electric vehicles.

There are three different types of charging stations: Level 1, Level 2, and DC fast chargers (DCFC)

  • Level 1 chargers are the slowest. They use a 120V AC outlet (in the U.S.) to add around 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging.
  • Level 2 chargers use a 240V AC outlet and add about 10-60 miles of range per hour of charging.
  • DCFCs are 480V DC and can add around 180-240 miles of range for each hour of charging. 

Currently, 80 percent of EV drivers in the U.S. charge their cars at home, typically using either Level 1 or 2 chargers. But as demand grows for EVs, especially for those not living in single-family homes, public charging station networks will need to expand.  

Utilities Shepherd Charging Expansion

Utilities are going to play an active role in EV charger expansion and the future of electric vehicles. Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Charge Ready Program helps business and property owners deploy the infrastructure and equipment for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in multifamily buildings, the public sector, and business locations. This program provides financial incentives, infrastructure, and technical support. Last year, the pilot made significant progress, obtaining 1,360 MW of energy storage and installing 1,442 new vehicle charging ports in 2020.

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This year, Charge Ready received a considerable boost from the California Public Utility Commission, which approved $436 million to support the installation of 38,000 charging ports over the next four years. The initiative supports the state’s ambitious sustainability goals and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to have all vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

According to EV Connect, SCE’s Charge Ready aims to install 50 percent of the chargers in state-designated disadvantaged communities. As EVs become more affordable — the Tesla Model 3 is less than $40,000, and the Toyota plug-in Prius is less than $30,000 — every community will need charging stations. 

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