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E-mobility revolution: challenges and the road ahead

The future of mobility is electric. From autonomous cars to e-bikes, e-trucks, e-scooters, and e-verything in between, the automotive industry is quickly accelerating away from fossil fuels and toward an all-electric future. But there are still many roadblocks along the way, and the challenges to get there are as varied as the vehicles themselves.


E-mobility revolution: challenges and the road ahead

The future of mobility is electric. From autonomous cars to e-bikes, e-trucks, e-scooters, and e-verything in between, the automotive industry is quickly accelerating away from fossil fuels and toward an all-electric future. But there are still many roadblocks along the way, and the challenges to get there are as varied as the vehicles themselves.

Lavinia Aparaschivei
| Linkedin
| Content Manager

Full charge ahead!

It may be hard to imagine right now, but one day city streets will be almost silent again as the hushed hums of electric cars replaces the revving of noisy engines. This complete shift to e-mobility is already happening.

In 2023, electric cars (both fully electric and plug-in hybrids) made up a quarter of all sales worldwide. Norway came out on top with a whopping 93%. If you’ve noticed lately that every car commercial is about an electric vehicle (EV), there’s a good reason for it. Sales are surging, especially in China and the EU. In fact, global EV sales, including buses and trucks, are expected to reach 17 million by the end of 2024.

Now, think about all the other types of electric personal transportation vehicles, from scooters of all shapes and sizes, bikes such as motorcycles, bicycles, and unicycles, skateboards, riding lawnmowers, and more. It’s clear what road we’re all on, especially with many of today’s car manufacturers stating they will go fully electric in the coming years.

But we’re not quite there yet. The technical, cultural, and political challenges to achieving this fossil-free future are many. Not just for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), but for a wide range of stakeholders. Software developers, national infrastructures, energy providers, and even everyday consumers all have a role to play, and hurdles to overcome, in creating this electric future.

So, what are some of the biggest challenges? Let’s start at a high level before taking a deeper dive into some of the issues OEMs, in particular, face.

Technology still needs to get up to speed

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You may be wowed by your new EV’s futuristic interior and its huge dashboard screen, but there’s one big issue that you’ll rarely ever see. The car’s battery.

While battery range is improving (especially with high-end brands), electric vehicles typically can’t go as far on a single charge as a gasoline-powered car. Enhancing the energy density of batteries and optimizing vehicle efficiency are ongoing challenges in extending EV range. Also, charging an electric vehicle can take much longer than filling up a gas tank.

And if that’s not enough, temperature can have a significant impact on an EV’s performance. EVs tend to work best in moderate temperatures, but if it’s too hot or too cold, their performance is compromised. Range decreases, charging times increase, and the battery may struggle to provide adequate acceleration. Then consider that you’re probably using your heater or air conditioner at the same time. While battery thermal management systems and pre-conditioning features are being developed to mitigate this challenge, a potential breakthrough is in solid-state batteries, which promise to be lighter, safer, more powerful, chargeable in minutes, and significantly extend driving distances.

Another good aspect is that they are likely to use other materials (from salt to ceramics) to replace lithium, which is environmentally damaging to mine and (since virtually all batteries today use it) is in short supply. Speaking of that, the supply chain for key components of EVs, such as batteries and rare earth metals, isn’t fully developed or sustainable. For the long-term viability of e-mobility, a stable and ethical supply of these materials is essential.

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue

Now that Eddie Grant’s song is stuck in your head for the rest of the day, it’s worth mentioning another huge challenge. Infrastructure. Right now, there just aren’t enough slow or fast electric vehicle charging stations, especially for long-distance travel. This can lead to what’s called “range anxiety” for drivers, who worry about running out of juice before they can find a place to plug in.

However, there are clear signs that this is improving around the world, with 600,000 slow charging points and 330,000 fast chargers installed in 2022 alone, but it’s still not enough to support the growing number of EVs entering the market. As the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted, in the US the ratio of EVs per charger is 24 while in Norway it’s 30 – this can only increase if more chargers aren’t installed and/or alternatives such as battery swapping aren’t widely adopted. Many are also not universal with different EV brands using different standards (usually for fast charging) and drivers may even need a specific app to even access the station.

What’s more, it’s likely that many national infrastructures will need to be upgraded to handle the increased demand for electricity.

While every avenue won’t be electric, people will need to see a lot more ‘on-the-go’ stations that deliver an exceptional experience before swapping their gas-powered ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles for EVs.

People need to feel they’re in the driver’s seat

For e-mobility to really take off, it needs to win hearts and minds, not just wallets. People need to feel comfortable and confident about switching to electric vehicles, and that means addressing a number of concerns. It’s also about people letting go of something they’re used to – the sound of a traditional car, the way it drives, the manual shifting, the overall sensory experience. Think about racetracks. Can you imagine a racetrack with super-fast cars, but no sound? But don’t worry, people are already developing solutions for this lack of noise!

But it’s “range anxiety” that will be a real barrier to adoption. Consumers need to be confident that they can take a road trip or complete their daily commute without worrying about running out of power. In cities and more urban areas, that’s not such a concern. You know you can plug in at home or at the office, and there will certainly be more EV charging stations around, but it’s when you’re out on the long, empty highways that the fear kicks in. Whether rational or not, it’s there.

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While the average range of an EV is about 349 kilometers (they also can also lose a good 30% of that on average in winter – something they don’t tell you in all those commercials), it’s still far short of a diesel or gas engine with some vehicles reaching over 1100 kilometers on a single tank. Smaller EVs with smaller batteries can have a significantly shorter range overall.

Even if you’re confident you can go the distance, there are still cost considerations. The initial purchase price of EVs is still higher than that of gasoline-powered cars, mainly due to battery costs. While prices are coming down, achieving cost parity with traditional vehicles is critical for wider consumer acceptance.

The power of policy and perception

Several external factors can also influence consumer behavior and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles:

  • Regulations: Government policies that discourage the use of fossil fuels and incentivize EVs can play a significant role in driving adoption. Examples include stricter emissions standards, tax breaks for EV purchases, and investments in charging infrastructure (such as the EU’s proposed alternative fuel infrastructure regulation).
  • Long-term cost savings: While upfront costs may be higher, EVs offer lower operating costs for electricity compared to gasoline. Factoring in potential savings on gas prices and maintenance can make EVs a more attractive option over time.
  • Environmental impact: Consumers are increasingly concerned with sustainability. The environmental benefits of electric vehicles, from reduced emissions to cleaner air, are an important selling point.
  • The ripple effect: As more EVs hit the road, the perception of electric mobility will continue to change. Seeing friends, neighbors, and businesses adopt EVs can normalize the technology and make it a more appealing choice.

But this is all the big picture, for developers of EVs and the systems that go into them, what are the challenges that need to be overcome?

The road ahead

While it’s been a good 190 years since the first electric vehicle was invented, it’s only been in the last decade or so that things have really taken off and EVs have gone into mass production. But today’s OEMs are facing some unique challenges. On a broader scale, there are supply chain disruptions, increased global competition, and difficulties in sourcing key minerals for batteries. However, let’s take a look at some of the more specific challenges that need to be overcome.

Many OEMs have a long history of building gasoline-powered vehicles, and the transition to EVs requires significant changes to production lines, supply chains, and workforce skills. Then there are the costs of retooling and the ongoing struggle for profitability. While EVs are the future, they aren’t necessarily as profitable for manufacturers in the short term. Increased competition and the high cost of batteries, design, and development can squeeze margins, and OEMs must find ways to streamline production and reduce costs to make EVs more profitable.

Everything is further complicated by an overall increase in complexity. Electric vehicles require a whole new set of technologies compared to traditional gasoline vehicles. From vehicle control systems to infotainment systems for navigation, music, and phone connectivity, the need for over-the-air updates, battery management systems, software to manage the charging process, a vast array of connectivity features, cybersecurity, and even AI-enabled autonomous driving.

This means OEMs need to develop expertise in battery technology, electric motors, power electronics, and software control systems – not to ignore the need to comprehensively test everything.

But it’s the need to truly understand customer preferences and concerns that may be the biggest challenge. Only then can EV design and development match customer expectations. For OEMs, this means putting, as noted by Siemens ‘the needs and desires of human beings at the center of their designs, not the technology. They should keep focusing on consumers’ needs and expectations and adequately address their concerns.’ One potential way to do this is through crowd surveys of users and potential customers.

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This also means knowing who is buying them – a recent McKinsey survey noted that compared with ICE-vehicle buyers, EV buyers were ‘On average five years younger, are more likely to live in urban areas, have a 23 percent longer commute time, earn 30 percent more, and are six times more likely to have bought their last car online’.

Basically, that clearly shows that EV buyers have different needs and priorities than traditional car buyers. OEMs need to conduct thorough market research and develop targeted marketing strategies to reach these new customer segments.

One other thing that also can’t be ignored is the use of artificial intelligence within EVs.

Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

Would you believe the car itself? While largely used for various tasks such as lane keeping, self-parking, driver behavior monitoring, and predictive maintenance, AI is being used heavily within self-driving EVs. Not only does this provide the obvious benefit of helping drivers do the driving, but AI can help find the best places for charging stations, and plan routes with charging times and wait times in mind. It could also help develop more efficient charging algorithms and monitor battery health.

There are (naturally) a few challenges, though.

AI systems need a lot of data to learn and make decisions. When it comes to safety-critical applications like self-driving cars, the data used to train the AI has to be accurate and comprehensive. If the data the AI is working with is biased or incomplete, it could make poor decisions in real-world situations.

Self-driving cars and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) features also rely on a bunch of sensors, like cameras, radar, and LiDAR. These sensors can be affected by weather, poor lighting, or even dirt or debris. The AI software needs to be able to account for these limitations and make safe decisions even when the sensor data isn’t perfect.

There are also some pretty serious ethical considerations. Self-driving cars will inevitably have accidents. The AI needs to be programmed to make ethical decisions about who or what to protect in these split-second scenarios. These ethical considerations are pretty complex, and there’s no simple answer.

And let’s be honest, it’s going to take a lot of testing and a long stretch of accident-free driving before most people will be okay with letting the car do all the driving. If you’d like to read more about how AI is transforming the e-mobility industry, click here!

Taking the road less traveled

E-mobility isn’t just about replacing gasoline-powered vehicles. It’s about a complete transformation of transportation, with the potential for cleaner air, quieter cities, and smarter infrastructure. By overcoming the challenges and embracing innovation, it will pave the way for a more sustainable and electric future.

And the thing is, e-mobility is here to stay. This is good for everyone and especially the environment. The IEA says that if two-thirds of vehicles sold are electric by 2035, it would avoid 12 million barrels of oil being used per day. That’s nearly twice the current use of oil for road transport in the United States. Wouldn’t that be great on a global scale? But also importantly, the transition to an e-mobility future will also create new jobs and stimulate innovation.

While challenges remain, the potential benefits are undeniable.


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