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  • The Future of Battery-Electric Automobiles
     
    On September 23, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom, the 2021 poster-boy for “electile dysfunction,” announced an executive order to ban the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. This implies his apparent belief he has the power to change the lifestyles of all California residents and reshape that society’s transportation priorities.

    At this point, the only mass-produced alternative to automobiles powered by internal combustion engines (or ICEs) are battery-electric vehicles (or BEVs) and the widespread assumption is that actions such as those in California will make their universal adoption inevitable.

    But to anyone not living in a green fantasyland, meeting the world’s need for automobiles with battery-electric vehicles by 2035 or even 2050, appears preposterous. Just consider the facts.
     
    Today only 8% of American car owners either own or lease a battery-electric vehicle. And electric vehicles represent about 1% of light vehicles on the roads, worldwide. Furthermore, optimistic forecasts from Bloomberg New Energy Futures say that annual electric vehicle (or EV) sales will represent only about half of all the cars sold by 2039 or 2040, which is about 60 million vehicles a year. And even then, 66% of the vehicles actually on the roads will still have Internal Combustion Engines (or ICEs).

    That’s a big leap for just 20 years, when you consider that half the electric vehicles in the United States are registered in California, and even there, warning signs related to demand are already emerging. Four key statistics from California demonstrate that:

    1. Highly educated and financially well-off consumers are currently the primary owners of EVs and adoption is not diffusing to the rest of the population. In other words, it’s likely that many of these battery-electric cars simply serve as “status symbols,” rather than practical transportation alternatives. Admittedly, “virtue-signaling” works when selling items to elites, but the general public needs to be more practical.

    2. EV usage averages slightly more than 5000 miles a year indicating that most battery-electric vehicles are used primarlly as secondary vehicles, not as the family’s workhorse vehicle. That means there is a natural ceiling on the market share held by EVs.
    3. A growing percentage of EV owners is switching back to gasoline cars. This tells us that EVs are not universally preferred once the novelty wears off. And, 4. Larger, heavier SUVs currently constitute half of all new car sales. Many of these are hybrids, but almost none are battery-electrics.

    More importantly, in states without virtue-signaling incentives, battery-electric vehicles are not rapidly seizing market share. Specifically, 88% of Americans live outside California, but they collectively make up the just 50 percent the EV owners in America.

    We suspect that this is largely because those rational Americans who don’t own EVs have been discouraged by one or more of the following nineteen ownership factors related to battery-electric EVs:

    EV Ownership Factor #19: Short Range Anxiety. “Range anxiety” is the number-one factor cited when it comes to EV downsides. Simply put, modern electric vehicles are still range-limited due to their small capacity batteries. Most of the affordable electric cars on the market have a bit more than a 130-milerange.

    EV Ownership Factor #18: Long Charging Times. Even though Tesla and Porsche have made significant improvements, charging is still far slower than filling a gas tank. Putting fuel in a traditional car only takes a couple of minutes; that’s fast compared to charging your battery-electric vehicle overnight.

    EV Ownership Factor #17: Trip Planning Problems. Short ranges and long charging times can put a strain on any road trip plans . You cannot plan a fast trip in an electric car without knowing the location of charging stations. You will also need to know the estimated duration of charging or “supercharging” your vehicle at each stop.

    EV Ownership Factor #16: They Are Mostly Good for Urban Use. There are two reasons for this: (1) the EVs range is longer if you drive in the city and (2) there are far more charging stations in metropolitan areas.

    EV Ownership Factor #15: They Are Not All That Environmentally Friendly. Few people understand or question what it takes to make just one battery-electric vehicle? Notably, the process of making lithium-ion batteries from exotic minerals and metals mined in foreign countries, as well as their disposal, is polluting since they are largely nonrecyclable. That’s why the weakest link in the chain related to EV industry growth is the material supply chain. If demand becomes as great as some forecasters expect, there may not be enough minerals and metals in the world to achieve the planned growth of battery-electric vehicles. Furthermore, generating and delivering all of that electricity will exceed available capacity unless the grid is substantially upgraded. In addition, generating the additional electricity has drawbacks: fossil fuel electric plants produce CO2, nuclear is problematic for most EV advocates, and both wind & solar have their own drawbacks. Until something huge changes, Teslas, Chevy Bolts, Nissan Leafs, and other electric cars will be powered chiefly by natural gas, uranium and coal. Renewables, including hydroelectric generated just 20% percent of US electricity in 2020, while Natural gas generated 41 percent; Nuclear generated 20 percent and coal generated 19%.

    EV Ownership Factor #14: They Are Still Too Expensive. There is a growing range of battery-electric cars for sale on the U. S. market, with the highend models going for well over $100,000. Although there are affordable models like the Volkswagen Golf E or Nissan Leaf, electric vehicles still cost significantly more than equivalent models that run on fossil fuels. Today, the “total life-cycle cost to own” narrows somewhat because of government subsidies and avoiding the gasoline-tax ear-marked for road construction; however, consumers know those incentive will not last forever.

    EV Ownership Factor #13: Repair Difficulties. If you own an electric car, you can forget going to a local independent garage and fixing it inexpensively. Regardless of the type and the model, all-electric vehicles require proprietary maintenance and service procedures to meet safety standards.

    EV Ownership Factor #12: They Are Too Heavy. In some of the high-end models, like the Tesla Model X, the battery pack weighs in at over 1,000 pounds. And the car itself can weigh over 4600 lbs. Heavy vehicles mean more tire wear, more energy consumption, and more maintenance.

    EV Ownership Factor #11: Cold Temperature Issues. Where the winters are cold and snowy, cold weather battery drain can be a big problem for everyday use. Owners report “reduced range” and even “failure to operate” in especially harsh winter conditions. That could become life-threatening under extreme weather circumstances.

    EV Ownership Factor#10: Low Top-Speeds. Most regular everyday EVs are relatively slow. For instance, the top speed of the VW Golf E or Kia Soul EV is limited to below 100 mph. This may or may not be a problem for the mass market.

    EV Ownership Factor #9: Relatively High Energy Consumption During Highway Driving. The advertised range that many manufacturers brag about is the average figure or the city driving figure. On the other hand, the highway range is much lower, sometimes up to 50 percent lower.

    EV Ownership Factor #8: High Energy Consumption Under Heavy Loads. No matter how strong or big your battery pack is, the energy consumption under heavy load conditions will drain it quickly.

    EV Ownership Factor #7: Poor Aesthetics. Obviously, there are some battery-electric vehicles that are stunning beauties, but most of them are ordinary at best. This is something that needs to be addressed if EVs ever hope to supplant fossil fuel vehicles.

    EV Ownership Factor #6: Mass Adoption of Battery-Electric Vehicles Would Disrupt an Array of Industries Beyond Automobiles. The scenario implied by extending California’s target of eliminating fossil-fueled automobiles by 2035 to a national or global scale, would disrupt a broad swathe of the economy with little, if any, net benefits to the impacted workers or to consumers and the environment. For example, all the companies that make fossil fuels as well as fuel-related products, such as engine parts, fuel injection systems, transmissions, and drivetrain components would be disrupted. The result would be millions of people out of a job, which would put further strain on the social safety net and undermine the self-worth of these individuals. So, as the novelty of battery-electric technology wears offs, policymakers can expect to be questioned about whether this societal disruption is warranted by the payoffs from EVs.

    EV Ownership Factor #5: The Major Auto Companies Seem Unwilling to Commit the Resources Required to Support a Battery-Electric Automotive Future. Although almost all the major car manufacturers have at least one electric vehicle in their lineup, most of their CEOs do not appear fully convinced that battery-electric cars are the future of the industry. Their boards of directors and theirmarketing people have observed how problematic the EV segment is, so they hesitate to go all-in on battery-electric cars. And without that commitment, only a minority of consumers will see a reason to move away from ICE-powered cars.
    EV Ownership Factor #4: EVs Are Practically Unusable in Third World Countries and Markets. That’s why the EV-craze has been limited to just a few “first world” countries and markets. Beyond that, battery-electric vehicles are practically nonexistent. Even China, the world’s biggest and most “topdown” market, has had a hard time implementing initiatives to drive adoption of battery-electric cars.

    EV Ownership Factor #3: Buyers Still Consider Them A Gimmick. Most car buyers still consider EVs to be “exotic.” Their specific operational procedures, limited usability and unfamiliar driving dynamics make these cars ideal for tech geeks but not for ordinary consumers looking for a regular transport device.

    EV Ownership Factor #2: For Most Families a Battery-Electric Vehicle Cannot Be the Only Car in the Household. Even if you own one or are seriously looking to acquire one, you probably recognize that an EV cannot fulfill all your “ground transportation” needs. That is especially true if you have a family and need dependable transportation for your family. And,

    EV Ownership Factor #1: EVs are Hard to Sell. Most EV drivers leasethe Biden Administration plans to address the biggest barrier to adoption by funding 500,000 charging stations in the United States. Other barriers are likely harder to overcome. For example, maintaining tax incentives and rebates will become more difficult as their electric cars and then return them to the dealer after a few years to get a new model. Therefore, both the people who actually buy electric vehicles or the leasing companies which hold title to the cars could experience great difficulty selling them on the used car market or trading them in. This means the residual value will be very low compared to the MSRP.
     
    Collectively these factors continue to create a great deal of inertia when it comes to achieving deep market penetration for battery-electric EVs. Nevertheless, EV production keeps creeping up and policymakers are increasingly eager to make them attractive. Obviously, EVs in some form are here to stay, but the role they’ll play is still unclear.

    Given this trend, we offer the following forecasts for your consideration.

    First, some combination of electric vehicle types will represent over 25% of U.S. new car sales by 2030. A recent survey of American car owners by CarGurus indicates that 30% of respondents expect to own one or more electric vehicles within five years and 52% expect to own one within 10 years. Global market share growth will be slower. Why American car owners are younger than car owners in most other affluent countries. Therefore, reaching global targets will be a stretch unless the demographics change dramatically.

    Second, realizing the industry’s sales goals will depend on overcoming a number of barriers related to cost, long-term reliability, logistics of ownership and environmental impact. In the United States, “the 2021 infrastructure bill” proposed by the Biden Administration plans to address the biggest barrier to adoption by funding 500,000 charging stations in the United States. Other barriers are likely harder to overcome. For example, maintaining tax incentives and rebates will become more difficult as the pool of infrastructure funds provided by the gastax begins to shrink.
     
    Third, over next two decades, the biggest barrier to achieving market penetration goals for battery-electric vehicles will be extracting the materials required for battery production. Based on the work of Cambridge University Emeritus Professor of Technology Michael Kelly, producing the 60 million next-generation EVs forecast to be sold worldwide in the year 2040 would require the following huge quantities of materials just to manufacture the EV batteries: „ more than 100 percent of the world’s annual production of copper.

    - 400 percent of the world’s annual cobalt production.
    - 150 percent of the world’s yearly lithium carbonate output; and
    - nearly 200 percent of its entire annual worldwide production of neodymium.

    When we consider the fact that today:

    - Combined worldwide car sales in 2019 totaled 65 million vehicles annually growing to 120 million by 2040, and
    - There are 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads today with projections of 1.6 billion by 2040,

    one can easily see that the world may not have enough minable mineral deposits to support ever replacing all ICE cars with BEVs.

    Today, there are less than 8 million EV’s operating on the world’s highways. If Bloomberg’s battery-electric EV projections becomes reality by 2040, 33% percent of the 1.6 billion vehicles will be battery-electric EVs. That would mean 528 million battery-electric EV’s on the world’s roads. And while there might be enough material in the world to build batteries for 528 million vehicles, there is certainly not enough materials in the world to finish the planned conversion of all 1.6 billion to battery-electric EVs.

    Fourth, replacing even one-third of the world’s cars with 528 million battery-electric EVs by 2040 will create an unprecedented waste disposal crisis. The 528 billion pounds of lithium-ion batteries powering these 528 million EV’s will need to be disposed of in the decades ahead. Furthermore, each 1,000-pound battery requires mining about 500,000 pounds of ore. Therefore, 528 billion pounds of finished batteries will require mining an almost inconceivable 120 billion metric tons of ore. The ecological impact on countries like the Congo would be unimaginable. And,

    Fifth, given their adverse environmental impact and limited benefits, battery-electric vehicles (or BEVs) will be largely supplanted by superior solutions including Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicles (or FCEVs) by 2030. Like analog mobile phones of the 80s BEVs are simply preparing the marketplace for better solutions to come. That’s because BEVs are ill-suited for replacing the world’s fleet of Internal Combustion Engine vehicles. Until now, FCEVs have had limited acceptance because they used difficult to handle pressurized hydrogen or polluting methanol. But now, as explained our April 2021 issue, major breakthroughs in efficiently manufacturing and using carbon-free liquid ammonia have paved the way to a better solution.

    Ammonia is clean, easy to transport, and largely compatible with today’s gasoline infrastructure. Meanwhile, new fuel cell catalysts are eliminating the high costs and environmental issues associated with traditional platinum catalysts. Land Rover is creating a FCEV version of it’s Defender SUV, while Honda offers the Clarity, Hyundai sells the Nexo, and Toyota has its long-running Mirai that offers a class-leading 76 mpg equivalent. Except for the Defender prototype, all of these FCEVs can be purchased as a brand-new, current-year vehicles. But with only 49 hydrogen fueling stations operating in the US., they don’t really solve the BEV problem. Fortunately, the recent breakthroughs in ammonia technology could allow FCEVs to dominate the mass market by the late 2020s, eliminating the need for battery-electric vehicles.

    Reference:
    1. CFACT. May 21st, 2021. Ronald Stein. A bust to the EV growth projections may be in the making.

    2. BloombergNEF. 2021. Colin McKerracher, et al. Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021.

    3. CarGurus. March, 2021. CarGurus. Electric Vehicle Sentiment Survey – United States.

    4. RealClearEnergy.com. February 10, 2021. David Ferris. Study Reveals EV Secret: They’re Driven Less.

    5. OilPrice.com. May 03, 2021. Irina Slav. 18% Of EV Drivers In California Switched Back To Gasoline Cars.

    6. Repairer Driven News. January 6, 2021. John Huetter. IHS Markit: SUVs, crossovers likely reached 50% market share; trucks probably hit 20%.

    7. CAPX. 8 June 2020. Professor Michael J Kelly. Until we Get a Proper Roadmap, Net-Zero is a Goel Without a Plan.