What’s the biggest challenge for electric vehicles?

As electric vehicles gain in popularity with consumers, car-makers have introduced a number of new energy efficient technologies with a significant focus on advanced engine control systems to offer higher fuel efficiency (including hybrid technology) and near zero emissions.

Another means to ensure we get greater mileage and lower emissions than we’re capable of today, is to make the vehicles lighter in weight. Experts suggest that one solution is to make body components of lighter materials like carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) or polymer. Another method for weight reduction is the wiring harness in the car, the third heaviest component after the chassis and the engine.

Automotive cabling can be heavy, which can have a considerable impact on vehicle performance. The BroadR- Reach automotive Ethernet standard has emerged as a way to significantly reduce cabling weight via a single, unshielded twisted pair wire. By eliminating heavy, shielded cabling, automotive manufacturers can reduce cabling weight by up to 30 percent and connectivity costs by up to 80 percent. The standard also simplifies in-car networking allowing allows multiple in-vehicle systems (such as infotainment, on-board diagnostics and automated driver assistance) to simultaneously access information over a single network.

The OPEN Alliance SIG includes more than 200 automotive and tech industry leaders working together to encourage widespread adoption of automotive Ethernet as the connectivity standard in next generation vehicles. The BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet standard hit the road this year in the BMW X5.

Ed Fontes, Chief Technology Officer, COMSOL

The Fisker Karma was the first plug-in hybrid car that demonstrated that electric vehicles do not necessarily have boring designs. However, it also stressed one of the challenges for the success of electric cars: the ratio of cost to performance.

The process of charging batteries presents a serious limitation for the success of electric vehicles: the length of time it takes to recharge limits their usability. In many cases, we simply cannot wait 20 minutes to recharge 1, especially as this is only enough for a short drive.

All-electric cars are substantially more expensive than combustion cars when the total cost is calculated over the car’s life time 4, 5. Norwegians and residents of Silicon Valley have shown that wealthy communities are prepared to pay to drive Tesla2, 3; but are the rest of us satisfied with a tiny and relatively expensive Nissan Leaf on our family’s weekend trip?

Most developed countries have the infrastructure and grid capacity to switch to electric cars, at least if recharge takes place at night. However, even for developed countries, a larger all-electric car fleet would require substantial investments in infrastructure for power distribution and production, especially in densely populated areas.

Electric cars have a very high efficiency for the conversion of electrical to mechanical energy. However, if the electricity is produced from fossil fuel, then the benefit in efficiency from well to wheel compared to conventional vehicles is small. Countries such as China that have a large fraction of coal-based electricity production have a smaller incentive to replace combustion cars4.

Despite these challenges, there are obvious benefits with the use of electric cars. Even if electricity is produced from fossil fuels, centralized production allows for higher efficiency and less pollution from well to wheel than combustion cars. For example, smog would no longer be a problem in larger cities such as Beijing and L.A. In countries where energy production is based on nuclear power, hydroelectric power, and wind power, the benefits also include substantial reductions in fossil fuel dependency and CO2 emissions.

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