In my last post, I set the conditions that determine whether the auto market tips from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs). EVs need to either match or exceed ICE vehicles with respect to every car ‘attribute’ at an equivalent cost. Then it’s game over for ICE vehicles.
The attributes of a car give a consumer happiness. That utility comes from a) the mobility a car provides, b) the aesthetic of the car (the pleasure the owner gets in owning the car that is not related to other people) and c) status-signally through displaying ownership of the car to other people (such status signalling is not restricted to investment bankers and their Ferraris; it also covers hippies in their Citroen 2CVs and Green Party members in their Nissan Leafs).
The purchase decisions of consumers are based on their current budgets and future budgets. Current budgets determines how much they are able to pay for cars and future budgets determine how much they can afford to run their cars (fuel, maintenance, depreciation).
If EVs are better with respect to some of these aspects of the purchase decision but worse in others, then taking market share from ICE vehicles will be an uphill slog. That is what Exxon Mobile believes as illustrated in this chart from its latest “Outlook for Energy: 2018”:
If such a projection is correct, around 50 million EVs will be on the road (which includes pure battery and plug-in hybrids) in 2030. That compares with the Tony Seba S curve view of 130 million EV sales alone in that year.
To tease out who is likely to be right, let us think of the physical limits auto makers have to work with. Basically, a car is a three dimensional irregular cuboid shape constrained by such external factors as lane width and parking space size. Certain things are then put into this irregular cuboid shape to provide the mobility, aesthetic and status-signalling attributes we identified before.
Lots of car ‘stuff’ is not a function of whether it is an ICE vehicle or EV. For example, the headlights, wing mirrors, windscreen wipers and so on. We can exclude such items from our analysis since an EV can match the ICE vehicle in these domains. Moreover, there is no reason why an EV can’t match an ICE in terms of aesthetic or status-signalling should its design be good enough and its ability to fulfil the mobility criteria.
The main differentiator between an EV and ICE vehicle when it comes to mobility relates to the drivetrain. Taken, holistically, we can think of this as encompassing a store of energy and a means of converting that energy into motion. We can now compare EVs against ICE vehicles in respect of this broadly defined drivetrain across a series of factors, most importantly:
Given its position as the undoubted pacesetter in cutting edge EV design, performance and production numbers, Tesla’s Model 3 is a worthy champion for the EV camp. The standard Model 3 has a curb weight of 1,610 kg, while the extended range version is 1,730 kg. The crotchety Jack Rickard did a tear down of a wrecked extended-range Tesla Model 3 (warning: it is a long video) and extracted the battery, which weighed 478 kg. So that means the battery weighs roughly 28% of the car.
Let’s choose the BMW 330i Sedan as a typical ICE competitor for Tesla; its specifications taken from BMW’s USA site can be found here. This sedan comes in at 1,610 kg, so the Tesla is 7.5% heavier. Curb weight generally includes a full tank of fuel, which in the BMW’s case is 15.8 gallons or about 45 kg in weight (you can see here the extraordinary energy density of fossil fuels).
So that in a nutshell is the handicap of the battery as an energy source: more than 400 kg of extra weight. On the other side of the ledger is the fact that you wonder where the engine has gone in an EV. Here is the schematic for the Model 3:
First, you notice the radical shrinkage of the actual engine itself. An internal combustion engine is a system of controlled explosions that first translate into lateral movement of the pistons, which in turn has to be translated into circular movement to the wheels. That requires a complex multipart machine.
The video below compares and contrasts the Tesla drivetrain with a traditional ICE (but note it highlights the induction motor in the Model S; the Model 3 motor and electrical motors in other automakers EVs are somewhat different) and emphasises the fact that the electrical engine has radically fewer parts.
And here is a couple of minutes on the Model S engine showing its intrinsic simplicity:
The key differentiator, obviously, is the disappearance of a bunch of ICE components: transmission, exhaust system, fuel pump, fuel injection and spark plugs. An EV does need some kind of cooling system for both the motor and the battery, but this is relatively modest in both weight and volume.
Overall, if we take out the gas tank and the battery from the equation then we get this:
EV drivetrain weight < ICE drivetrain weight
EV drivetrain volume < ICE drivetrain volume
But through adding the battery and gas tank back in, these inequalities reverse:
EV drivetrain weight > ICE drivetrain weight
EV drivetrain volume > ICE drivetrain volume
Now, it’s very difficult to put numbers into these inequalities. But the interesting thing about Tesla’s Model 3 is that it incorporates a large battery in terms of kilowatt hours (kWh) but the car is still in the same ball park weight category as its ICE competitors. Moreover, we are currently going through a period of rapid battery cell shrinkage (weight and volume per kWh). Let’s say Tesla can shrink the 479kg battery that Jack Rickard extracted from the wrecked Model 3 by 25%; that would give a weight saving of 120kg. We are now getting into matching territory. And remember the conditions for tipping. EVs don’t need to exceed ICE vehicles for the market to tip: they just need to match in most areas and excel in a few.
Next we come to flexibility, which really relates to the configuration in our irregular cuboid. So yet again putting the battery to one side, the EV has an instant advantage. The drivetrain units can be arranged more flexibly as they are linked principally by wires, not by a complex transmission mechanism.
Even with the battery, the possibilities of dividing it up and distributing it around the car have yet to be explored. Safety and cooling issues not withstanding, the overall battery is cellular and is just composed of thousands of small batteries. We talk of form factors with mobile phones, and this is ultimately where we will move with cars. With an ICE, you have to design around the drivetrain, with an EV the drivetrain can become subservient to the design.
So then we move to efficiency, with respect to which the EV wins hands down. An electrical motor can deliver instant power and torque. In the US context with imperial units we have this equation.
Which translates into this chart:
As a result of the dynamic in the above chart, Tesla is currently able to deliver supercar type performance at a fraction of the cost of the likes of Porsche, Bugatti or Ferrari (source: here). Note that Tesla’s new Roadster due to be released in 2020 will have a base model that delivers zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds; that will be the first production car ever to break two seconds.
Moreover, such high-end, halo EV performance profiles will trickle down. Ultimately, taking price to price comparisons, the EV will leave the ICE car in the dust when the stop light turns green. For those of a non-macho disposition, you may not care. But to repeat (again) if the EV is equal on all metrics but ahead on just one that you care about (all at an equivalent price), then you will buy the EV.
And yes we still have the constraint of range and price. And yet again this takes us back to the battery. Indeed, the EV battery is like the little Dutch boy Hans Brinker whose finger in the dyke is the only thing stopping the entire neighbourhood being flooded and his family and friends being drowned. But once the battery gets down to a price and efficiency point not far from now, that dike will go and the ICE industry with it. The battery is the subject of my next post.
For those of you coming to this series of posts midway, here is a link to the beginning of the series.