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Electric vehicles – can they go the distance?

November 1, 2017

Today, the milestone of having a million Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) in use is already behind us. Will we see the electric car continue to escalate as a trend, and will it emerge as a serious contender for the place of traditional motor vehicles?

Only a decade ago, the number of electric cars on the road was measured in hundreds. As of 2016, Chinese manufacturer BYD alone shipped over 100,000 units. It cannot be denied that BEVs have come a long way.

Morgan Stanley recently predicted that BEVs would comprise seven percent of the global car market by 2025. Others such as Exane BNP Paribas see that figure as conservative, estimating that their share may even reach 11 percent by this point.

While it has been demonstrated that BEVs can be as practical, safe and affordable as the public expects, the market still lacks the policy support necessary for mainstream adoption. In terms of technology, the pace of progress is somewhat faster – even without the economies of scale that wider adoption would confer – and carmakers have recently announced battery ranges exceeding 300 kilometers.

The environmental angle

The sustainability of BEVs in relation to their petrol-powered counterparts is another interesting question. Are they the definitively greener alternative?

While detractors have pointed to the manufacturing footprint (typically higher), such a black and white argument fails to state the case accurately.

After taking the undeniably larger emissions due to manufacture into account, and counting them as a cost spread across the life cycle of a BEV, what remains depends entirely upon the electricity used to charge the vehicle, the emissions data of which will reflect the electricity source used. In other words, positive developments in energy production more generally will also accrue with this category of vehicle. Globally, as energy producers enable emission reductions in the energy mix, electric cars will benefit statistically from the same advances.

Morgan Stanley predicts that electric cars will comprise seven percent of the global car market by 2025. Others such as Exane BNP Paribas estimate that their share may reach 11 percent by that point.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars as an alternative

While there has been media interest in the hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered car as a competing alternative to BEVs, recent studies have tended to come out in favor of BEVs of emissions reductions.

According to a study conducted by scientists at Stanford University and the Technical University of Munich, the hydrogen vehicle infrastructure provides few additional energy benefits for the community besides clean transportation, despite claims that the technology could extend more widely into other areas of use to society.

In terms of overall costs, the study maintains that BEVs are superior to fuel cell vehicles for reducing emissions, and that to be competitive, hydrogen cars would have to be priced much lower – an unlikely scenario as the prohibitive manufacturing footprint currently stands.

The manufacturing outlook

With confidence growing in BEV solutions, but legislative support for the necessary infrastructure still perhaps a way off, the ball appears to be in the manufacturers’ court. Indeed, public commitments to the cause have been numerous and bold, and a variety of ambitious developments have hit the headlines in the past year.

One of particular interest is the forthcoming announcement of Tesla’s so-called Gigafactory Europe, due in 2017. The company’s Buffalo site has already established itself as the largest production facility for electric battery cells in the western hemisphere, and with a colossal investment at stake, a number of countries, including France, Finland, Portugal and Spain have been actively campaigning to have the new factory located within their jurisdictions.

In Finland, representatives of the western coastal city of Vaasa have been working to convince Tesla Motors of the viability of establishing Europe's first Gigafactory in the Ostrobothnia region.

Vaasa’s officials have pointed the city’s strong energy-tech presence, and to its location in relation to the rich lithium deposits of the nearby Kaustinen and Kokkola municipalities. With competing bids from several diverse manufacturing centers across Europe, victory is hardly assured, but success in this initiative would not be the first surprise blow struck by the dynamic Finnish industrial sector.


Text: Ian Fenton
Illustration: Riikka Uhmavaara

Konecranes AGVs

Konecranes Gottwald automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are unmanned, software-controlled container transporters, which provide an efficient link between the harbor quay and the stackyard in large container terminals.

Having introduced Konecranes Gottwald AGV technology to the market over 25 years ago, the company has been developing the concept continuously ever since. With a constant focus on improving electrical drive power, simplifying construction and reducing vehicle weight while providing higher load capacities, the offering has latterly been refined to provide low fuel consumption, high cost-effectiveness and environmentally friendly operation.

The same technology used in electric cars has also been employed in Konecranes range of AGVs, with diesel-electric or battery-powered drive systems both available.