The challenges of the electric car

One by one, car manufacturers are announcing that they are going electric. It is expected that 2021 will mark a turning point with an acceleration in the growth of market shares captured by so-called zero-emission vehicles. The hill to climb is however steep.

The German Daimler, manufacturer of Mercedes and Smart, entered the dance Thursday by promising investments of 40 billion euros in its transition to all electric before 2030, echoing the will expressed by the European Commission. Brussels has proposed strengthening European standards aiming at a 15% reduction in CO emissions2 in 2025 compared to 2021, by 55% in 2030, then a ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars for 2035.

The Stellantis group, which brings together PSA (Peugeot-Citroën-Opel) and FCA (Fiat-Chrysler), talks of injecting 30 billion euros in the electrification of its ranges by 2025. Volkswagen adds to the bidding by saying want to sell 50% of electric vehicles by 2030 and “almost 100%” in 2040 in its main markets, a shift accompanied by a budget of 73 billion euros including the installation of a network of fast charging stations worldwide.

Volvo plans to withdraw all combustion models, including hybrids, from its catalog by 2030. For its part, Renault is showing its determination to offer “the greenest mix on the European market in 2025”, with more than 65% of vehicles electrified by 2025.

Elsewhere, GM has expressed its intention to no longer manufacture “polluting-emission cars” by 2035, while the world number one, Toyota, plans to achieve 10% of its sales in electric and hydrogen in Europe by there, alongside 70% of hybrids, 10% of plug-in hybrids and 10% of gasoline-powered cars, we can read in a review made by Agence France-Presse.

The change of course is rapid. Globally, Oxford Economics predicts that the market share of hybrid and electric vehicles will reach 16% of new vehicles sold this year, compared to 11% in 2020. On the Old Continent, this share would exceed 30% this year to reach 80% in 2030, believes the research firm. This European impetus would increase the weight of hybrid and electric cars to more than 40% on a global scale by the end of the decade. It would be slightly higher in Asia and China, but below 30% in the United States (against 10% expected in 2021), although the plan of the American president,
Joe Biden, could move that target up.

Sinuous road

Behind these apparently beautiful projections looms a rather winding road. If only in Europe, where the gap created by the price gap between electrics and their gasoline and diesel equivalents is felt despite the presence of generous incentive programs. There is a divide in affordability between Central and Eastern Europe and Western Europe, as well as a North-South divide, amplified by per capita income gaps, concluded in July the CEO of the Association of European Automobile Manufacturers.

Oxford Economics recalls, moreover, that the main challenge remains the production costs of the battery, which can account for 30% of the cost price. But “parity is expected with the cost of manufacturing an internal combustion vehicle around mid-2020, with the cost of the battery dropping from US $ 130 per kWh to less than US $ 100.”

Major challenges

Once this obstacle has been removed, the inclination of the coast to climb to reach carbon neutrality levels respecting the parameters of the Paris Agreement will not be reduced for all that. Taking the example of Canada, the CD Howe Institute reported this week that 7.7 million zero-emission vehicles would need to be on the road by 2030, or the equivalent of 30% of total vehicles, if Ottawa is to meet its targets. targets for reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector. There were 202,000 of them last December.

Among other major challenges, National Bank geopolitical analyst Angelo Katsoras pointed out in an analysis published in June that building an ordinary electric car requires six times more minerals than a car with an internal combustion engine. Not to mention the competition from other energy transition projects. For example, building a wind farm on land uses nine times more resources than a gas plant, he illustrated.

Among the main obstacles, the International Energy Agency has calculated that it takes an average of 16 years to move from discovery to mining production. To the list is added the dominance of China in the processing of necessary minerals. “Chinese companies also have considerable control over mining of these minerals, although the reserves are largely found in other countries. […] If the United States does not manage to make significant progress in enhancing its own national supply capacities, the ecological transition will mean in practice for it to give up its oil and gas independence to become dependent on China for essential products ” , writes the analyst.

There remains the origin of the battery power source and the lack of scientific consensus as to the impact on the climate of the zero-emission vehicle when its entire life cycle is taken into account.

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