A future where electrified vehicles are more commonplace than combustion engines might not be too far off. The tipping point could be as soon as 2040 and this is a conservative estimate. That’s according to Justin Sim, CEO of QiQ, and Maneesh Tripathi, CEO at Sevak Limited, speaking at a panel on urban mobility at TechNode’s ORIGIN at SWITCH (Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology) 2018.
The industry is set to see an S-shaped curve sometime during the next 10 to 20 years, very much like the television and microwave ovens when they first came out but unlike these household appliances, there’s a specific reason why this boom will happen only in the distant future.
“The transformation from fossil fuel-based vehicles to electric vehicles is slow because whole mobility industry is heavily invested in an economy built on fossil fuels, to the tune of trillions of dollars over decades, and even centuries,” said Tripathi. “Change will only come once players in the economy decide that they have reaped enough returns from fossil fuels and have identified the new money-makers in the clean energy sector.”
Sim set a somber tone for the panel saying that the against a backdrop of optimism and a ‘clean image’, the EV industry has to deal with a looming crisis.
Running into roadblocks
As more electric vehicles hit the road, the batteries ironically become the roadblock to widespread adoption. Current battery technology is heavily reliant on lithium, a rare-earth mineral. However, if the predicted demand for lithium spikes the same way we expect the EV market to spike, the question becomes “Do we have the infrastructure in place for sustainable governance of this limited resource?”
Sim believes the answer is no, and he predicted that Earth’s lithium reserves will run out in 10 to 17 years.
“This issue is the greatest disruptor we have to face and our solutions to this impending problem will shape how the EV industry develops in the near future,” he said.
We also need to consider if the clean energy that we use is truly clean.
“EVs in our minds is always connected to green energy and yes, it’s true that it produces less pollution but that doesn’t mean that there’s no pollution,” Tripathi noted. “As we consume more electricity, we’re just converting the point of pollution inside cities to somewhere out of sight and out of mind. Until we solve this issue, EVs are just a better solution relative to carbon emission vehicles.”
Finding the silver lining
Implementing EVs in the near future will change the way we travel and transport goods. The “global passenger economy” alone could be worth $800 billion by 2035 and $7 trillion by 2050. However, in order to reach those milestones, the industry needs to be able to solve the current challenges. Sim likens it to a chicken-and-egg question: should consumer behaviors be changed before infrastructural support be given? Or is it the other way round?
Broadly speaking, there are 3 ecosystems living within the EV industry, according to Sim: infrastructure, product (technology), and business models. Each segment has its own challenges, but both Sim and Tripathi agreed that the tech is largely mature and ripe for commercialization. Finding that sweet spot is still proving elusive and major players such as Tesla, NIO and others have also yet to crack that puzzle.
Both Sim and Tripathi were optimistic about the future though when asked about the direction the industry is heading. Sim has high hopes for QiQ’s Infinite Variable Transmissions (IVTs) that were in progress, while Tripathi also mentioned the “Vehicle-2-X” (V2X, where X is a variable) that they are already implementing.
“The community is at an inflection point. This is just the beginning of the road for the EV industry,” Tripathi said adding that we should not view players in this space as competitors but as colleagues for innovative technical collaboration.
In the words of Sim, “we’re all just motorheads who keep on developing stuff and someday hope that our work can be implemented in reality.” Amidst a backdrop of a large potential market and an optimistic industry outlook, there is still much work to be done and we hope that our motorheads are up to the task.