Definition of inflexion point: a point on a curve that separates an arc concave upward from one concave downward and vice versa. The term inflexion point was first used by Andy Grove in his book “Only the Paranoids Survive”. An inflexion point can be there in anybody’s life on in the business cycle of the industry. It indicates the total change in the scenario or makes and break situation. The diagram showing the point of inflexion.
I visualise a significant point of inflexion in the automobile industry shortly. Different views are floating regarding when the Electric Cars will be mass produced. The year mentioned fairly regularly is 2030! That’s not really far! Why this is going to happen and whether it will happen at all will be based on many factors. Currently, the volume of Electric cars manufactured the world over is not significant. But Nissan, BMW, Ford, GM, Mahindra in a small way and of course Tesla is already making electric cars. I have heard that Toyota plans to come up with a fully electric car by 2019.
This is the forecast sale of electric cars as a percentage of total car sales, for the year 2016 but I could not get the real figures. Japan at 9.7% is highest in the number of total cars produced and China at 0.9% is the lowest %. France, Great Britain, Germany, USA, South Korea, Spain are there in between.
What will give the boost? What factors are going to push this production? When will the momentum gather for the switch to mass production? When will the point of inflexion be reached? Primary factors considered in the usage of automobiles are its price, fuel cost, car driving range, parts cost and main is the cost of ownership. Besides this battery charging infrastructure is going to be the most important aspect that will make or break this change.
Price factor for electric cars appears to be in reasonable control even without mass production. In the cost of electric cars “Engine & drive train” needs to be brought down; all other things remain the same. When Tesla started producing cars, people looked at it as Elon Musk’s fancy! Tesla is working as a start-up, but it is somehow managing to survive financially. Now they are also coming up with an affordable sedan. Slowly big giants like BMW, GM and others have woken up. The initial experiment started with Toyota’s Prius hybrid. The thinking was to just increase the fuel efficiency of the existing car system, and Prius hybrid was the first successful attempt. But it was definitely a minor change in thinking and not the game changer like fully Electric car. As per current thinking even in India, Government has increased the Tax on hybrids. When asked, the minister said, “When Electric cars are the future why bother about hybrids!” Electric cars will, of course, need Government support by way of lower taxes to make them attractive for buyers. Government support will also be needed for battery charging infrastructure.
The second factor is the cost of fuel. With many shocks offered by Petroleum politics, the world has been looking to go away from fossil fuels. Plus the world has woken up to climate change and is aggressively looking to control pollution. Cars are known to be significant pollutants. Stringent control is being sought on exhausts from cars. But this will happen only in newer cars, old polluting cars cannot be wished away. Volvo has made a statement that the cost of manufacturing car systems to match pollution norms in 2022/23 will be so high that they will stop making diesel engines. To overcome the pollution issue, Germany has declared that by 2030 only electric cars will be manufactured in Germany. To achieve this target, they will really have to work hard, but German car makers have the technology, financial clout, will and wherewithal to achieve this target; they are working very aggressively. Best non-polluting fuel obviously is electricity. But the cost of producing electricity was a major factor hindering its usage in cars using battery banks and of course the cost of batteries. Solar and wind energy seem to be galloping ahead of other sources to make electricity cheap. The classic example is Germany. On a day in 2016, 85% of electricity produced in Germany, was from non-conventional methods.
With the abundance of cheap electricity, on that day the rates of electricity went in negative in tendering process! Recently, California produced 67% of electricity, on a particular day, by non-conventional methods causing serious disruption in electricity pricing mechanism! World over including India, Solar and other non-conventional methods are very aggressively pursued. By 2030 it looks like the world will easily achieve the goal of cheap fuel in the form of electricity!
Currently, when we travel by car, we do not think how much distance we are going to travel. This is because fuel infrastructure is fully established world over. Whenever needed, we just refuel and move ahead. This is not going to be so easy, at least today, in electric cars. There are two major points. First is charging stations and second is charging time. Both need to be vastly improved. Charging time is the evolution of technology, in cell phones, rapid charging technology is already available, so maybe it’s a matter of time when we get this in car battery charging. Charging infra, of course, has to come up, but when the number of electric cars increases, the infra will come up. The range per charge is also a matter of technology, so hopefully, it will rapidly increase. Similar to what we do today while driving long distance, we should be able to stop for coffee and washroom break and get batteries recharged. Lo, we are on the way! 2030 very much possible. But my take is that this will happen faster in Europe, Japan & Korea because such things are national policies and are easier to implement in these areas because of the smaller size of the nations plus most of European nations, are developed nations. In geographically large countries like Uthe S, Canada and China plus India, this change may happen region wise or state wise starting with highways. City limits will adopt faster as people can charge their cars in their own homes.
Replacement parts and cost of ownership are combination factors. In the electric cars, drive train, exhaust systems as we know them today, will simply be not there being replaced by battery packs, motors & drives. Less number of mechanical parts is going to definitely reduce the repairs and servicing cost. This factor has nothing to do with 2030. As the cost of ownership comes down, more people will be interested in driving electric cars.
Another major change is going to be the nature automotive components industry. When major systems like drive trains & exhaust system are not needed, current manufacturers will find in a drastic reduction in parts needed by industry; over a period these will be only needed in old cars. With a mandate to supply parts for ten years, 2040 will be the last straw on the back of the Camel for this industry assuming by 2030 electric cars will be used in large numbers. How will current component manufacturers of these components handle change? Will they start making parts needed for electric cars? Do they have the technology? Only time can tell? How will Bosch’s, Conti’s, Denso’s and Valeo’s of this world handle the situation only time can tell. I am sharing one important information about the change that has already happened. Nvidia Graphics, www.nvidia.com producing chips and cards with their GPU technology are already vendors for Toyota, Mercedes, Audi, Honda, BMW, Volvo. This is because of the rapid increase in usage of onboard computers to perform various functions, including self-driving cars. Five years back, I am not sure if Nvidia name was much known in the automotive world! Point of inflection? Yes my friends this is the point of inflection and in this business jungle, snipers in the form of technology are hiding! You never know when you will get your bullet! Yes, my conclusion,” ELECTRIC CARS ARE COMING IN A BIG WAY BY 2030”!