Battery Electric Vehicles – Future or Folly?

AutoInformed.com on First EV from "Lagging the Germans" Jaguar Land Rover - I-Pace HybridFirst EV from Lagging the Germans Jaguar Land Rover - I-Pace Hybrid

Smallish automakers are also pursuing platform sharing, but in a unlike way, by developing multi-energy modular platforms used for both ICE and electric versions of the same model.

Electrification of the automobile as viewers are aware is met with some skepticism here: Consider current sales; the investment required in vehicles;  an infrastructure that U.S. politicians have let crumble before charging stations are installed; the doubtful proposition that vehicle owners will pay for the real costs of electrification; and the decidedly dubious and demonstrable folly of letting local, state and federal governments interfere or rig results in allegedly free markets where decisions are “rational.”

Our friends at Consultancy LMC Automotive ask: “What’s next for the automotive industry? A broad question, but the most common answer is likely to be electrification.” (See LMC on – North American Production Up, But Sales Down or Global Light Vehicle Sales Start New Year with a Whimper)

However, James Norris, Senior Analyst LMC notes: “A quick look at the numbers, however, and you would be forgiven for thinking that the reality falls short of the hype, with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) accounting for only 1% of European car sales in 2018. This is unsurprising, given that the industry still faces a number of hurdles before electric vehicles (EVs) can roll out en masse, not least the need to further develop EV technology and infrastructure – most of which come at a cost.”

Norris notes that another important consideration is that the transition period from ICE (internal combustion engine) to EV is expected to be decades long, “meaning that any returns on investment are a number of years away.” To cut exposure, some larger OEMs, such as VW and Ford, as well as BMW and Daimler, are forming partnerships to share costs in other areas, including Vans and Autonomous Vehicles.

More Grimbly Detail from AutoInformed

The biggest potential for lowering costs is OEMs choosing to either be “flexible or focused.” Big well-capitalized automakers with vast production capabilities are adopting “focused” and developing a BEV-dedicated platform. To minimize exposure, some larger automakers – VW and Ford, as well as BMW and Daimler – are forming partnerships to share costs in other areas, including Vans and  that other capital consuming mis-adventure – Autonomous Vehicles.

VW’s strategy in Norris’ view typifies this approach by developing a standalone BEV architecture, called Modular Electric Toolkit (or MEB), at a considerable cost. Volkswagen showed the first fully electric version of a new dune buggy at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month. Never mind the California surfing and hot rod culture wasn’t known for its alpine skiing, the Wolfsburg-based automaker says the concept vehicle is based on its modular electric drive matrix (aka MEB).

Here comes the VW commercial: “The new MEB concept vehicle shows that this fully electric platform can be used for more than just large-scale series production models. Like the Beetle chassis of yesteryear, the MEB has the potential to facilitate the development of low-volume niche vehicles,” VW says. We await any production evidence that this is so. (Chattanooga to Build US VW Electric Vehicles)

This platform is will allow number of models from Audi, SEAT, Škoda and Volkswagen (ID range) with a range of vehicle sizes. But will this  increase economies of scale, allowing the group to offer BEVs for the same price as a comparable diesel car, or as little as US $23,000, thus bringing BEVs to the mass market? VW is also selling the MEB platform to other manufacturers, recently signing up e.GO Mobile as its first partner.

Smallish automakers are also pursuing platform sharing, but in a unlike way, by developing multi-energy modular platforms used for both ICE and BEV versions of the same model.

Norris, “It could be argued that this flexible strategy is a short-term fix as these platforms are unable to optimize BEV design when incorporating ICE features. However, not all manufacturers have the budget to develop, nor the production capability to build, dedicated BEVs and ICE models in tandem. For those OEMs, a multi-energy platform may be the only choice.”

Exemplum gratia: JLR’s future Modular Longitudinal Platform (MLA, not Modern language Association) is based on ICE architecture, which lowers investment and cuts development time. In addition, both ICE and BEV models can be built on the same production line, with the same tools and many of the same components to minimize production costs and disruption.

Place Your Bet

LMC says the combined share of the top 10 platforms will increase in relation to total European Light Vehicle build from 2016 (49%) to 2026 (63%). “This approach also poses the risk that if a fault is found in a component, the manufacturer could have to recall millions of vehicles, rather than thousands, at great expense.”

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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