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The problem with swanky hybrid cars

 
The Article: The problem with swanky hybrid cars

My cab driver was not a happy bunny when I mentioned how lovely his apparently new cab was. It’s one of those hybrid cabs you may have noticed in London and other cities. Very smart, very sleek and very comfortable.

He was unhappy because apparently there are not enough charging points, and they become congested at certain times of the day. Despite the grant he had towards the cost of the hybrid vehicle, cab drivers can receive up to £7,500 off the cost of a vehicle from an Office of Low Emission Vehicles grant, he ends up running the hybrid cab on traditional fuel and not on electricity.

I mentioned that I was going to be speaking with someone who works for a trade organisation for the EV charging sector – the Open Charge Alliance – and that I would pass his complaint on to her. What did Lonneke Driessen, Director of Standardisation at the Open Charge Alliance have to say about the apparent lack of charge points?

“Your cab driver is absolutely right: we need a lot more charging stations to guarantee that everybody can charge hassle free. Many parties have already started investing in charging infrastructure, such as local authorities, utility companies, car companies, business owners and consumers individually. Our Open Charge Alliance tries to support this by developing open and royalty free standards to allow anybody and everybody to join in and invest in charging stations. Maximum participation means many charging stations, the lowest prices and the best service to consumers.”

“Electrify America” is a project funded by Volkswagen (VW) across the US. This funding is not from the goodness of VW’s heart but as a consequence of the 2015 fuel emissions scandal.

As part of the fine imposed on VW in the US, they are required to fund $2bn towards the “Electrify America” project, which will roll out charging points across America that will in-turn facilitate the potential success of Electronic Vehicles in the US by creating an adequate supply of charge points to facilitate the distances EV owners wish to drive and remove, in the US at least, the gripes of my London cabby. I believe that this is 15-minute fast charge to allow a three-hour drive.

One of the biggest areas of new tech demos and announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas last week, was automotive. The announcements related to both autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles. It’s undeniably a hot area right now.

As with all new areas of technology, there is a proliferation of designers and manufacturers who have spotted the same market potential and aim to supply the needs of a relatively new sector. The multiplicity of participants brings a need for standards to allow interoperability across that sector and to allow their individual products to work with other participants.

By way of an example of that need, a standard plug would be the ideal, if a variety of charge point companies were to manufacture and install their different charge points. Across a given location, a variety of vehicles will to try to plug into those charge points. Ideally to make as many of these as possible usable by the largest number of EV vehicle drivers, there would only be one socket type.

Tesla, one of the biggest EV manufacturers, already has its own design of plug which is not shared with other manufacturers. That means that even with a single format or standard for the rest there is a need to allow for each charge point to accept two designs of plug. This issue of a need for standards will grow and grow without collaboration and standards in a number of areas for the charge point environment. Without this there will be consumer confusion and potential disenchantment in the sector.

As Lonneke says, “The automotive industry is a massive industry and the transition to electric vehicles provides a huge market opportunity for new market entrants. There is much at stake for both existing companies and newcomers. It’s not surprising that litigation is one of the ways companies try to ward off the competition. We believe however that in many cases litigation is helping nobody and is only wasting resources and stalling progress. We believe in working together to co-creating the future industry and technology using open source and standards. And luckily, many others do too.”

The automotive sector cannot apparently go this alone. They need utility providers to have electricity suitably available for their vehicles and with the financial sector (and again possibly the utility companies) to allow for payment mechanisms that cross borders and potentially create monthly accounts or allow for micro payments. Or do they?

Late 2018 VW announced that it will spend almost $50 billion on the development of electric vehicles, autonomous driving and new mobility services. VW further announced a potential collaboration with Ford and the possibility that VW’s mass-producing electric cars will significantly reduce the cost of manufacture. Much of the manufacture will be in Europe.

VW’s announcement last week of its launch of an electricity supply division, Elli (short for Electronic Life) from Berlin (www.elli.eco), allows VW’s “entering a strategically relevant, extremely exciting business area that offers considerable opportunities for strengthening ties with existing customers as well as accessing entirely new customer groups.” Elli’s designated CEO, explained that the “company will gradually be building up a portfolio of intelligent power tariffs, Wallboxes and charging stations as well as an IT-based energy management system. We will be creating a seamless, sustainable ecosystem that addresses the main applications and provides answers to all the energy questions raised by electric car users and fleet operators.”

This new venture puts VW squarely at the centre of the EVmarket in both the US and Europe and in Europe at least, demonstrates a strategic decision on it’s part, but does it remove a need for cross manufacturer collaboration in the automotive sector and cross sectoral collaboration with utilities and financial services?

So where does that leave EV Charging in Europe. “Electric vehicles will only be successful if consumers are happy driving them and in order to get consumer support, EV charging in Europe has to improve. Neither one company, nor even one industry can achieve this on its own. Mobility has too many stakeholders and is too important for consumers, businesses and governments. We know from our work over the past decade that this can work but only if there is cooperation.”


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