Public interest in finding alternatives to Diesel continues to grow. People are becoming more and more aware of their own health in cities – and less and less tolerant of harmful emissions. In ten years’ time, 2015 will be seen to have been a watershed moment in the progression toward zero-emissions transport. In our interview, Lukas Neckermann, an entrepreneur and strategy advisor explains how vehicle electrification will impact other industries and explains the roadmap towards zero-emissions transportation.
Do you think electric vehicles are disruptive? Are they transformative? Why?
Electric vehicles themselves are not new – they have existed for over 120 years and in fact were part of Thomas Edison’s original vision for electrification. What is new and disruptive, however, is the confluence of battery and charging technologies that are enabling a driving range in-line with our expectations, and giving rise to countless automotive and mobility start-ups. It is these start-ups that are disrupting a certain stasis that has existed among automotive brands and companies for decades.
What is genuinely transformative, however, is the effect that vehicle electrification will have on other fields – oil, energy, construction, financial services, retail, urban planning and architecture are all impacted as our cities and suburban areas are reimagined and rebuilt for electric vehicles, as well as carsharing.
How can electric cars be made more affordable and attractive to consumers?
For fleet buyers, it is always a rational choice, wherein emotion succumbs to logic. The relevant measure there is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). When considering parking, road-taxes, congestion charges, fuel cost, reduced maintenance costs and downtime, as well as government incentives and residual value, hybrid and electric vehicles already are the most economical choice. This can already be seen in the countless city taxi and urban logistics fleets that are adopting hybrid vehicles, rather than traditional (and now unfavorable) Diesels.
For individual buyers, who are still very much led by design and emotion in their purchase decision, it is simply a question of having enough vehicle choice, and not having to compromise substantially. It is also a question of raising awareness on the wider choice and attractiveness of hybrid and electric vehicles that offer clear space, design, cost and performance benefits in comparison to their petrol and diesel counterparts.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that almost 80 percent of automobiles sold in 2050 will be plug-in hybrids, electrics, or will be powered by fuel cells? What do you think?
They are much too conservative in their estimate. Over 80 percent of new vehicles will be electric or hybrid at least 20 years before their target date. It will take a bit longer, however, to replace the rolling stock, bearing in mind that the average age of vehicles on the road can be over 10 years, depending on the country, but therein lies the scale of the opportunity: there are over 1 Billion vehicles on the road today, all of which will eventually need to be replaced.
How will electric mobility compensate for the scarcity of fossil fuels and how does it positively impact the environment?
It has been said before, but bears repeating: the Stone Age did not end for a lack of stones; the oil age will not end because the Earth runs out of oil. Regardless how much there is left in the ground, using fossil fuels for ground transportation will end well before it runs out.
Electric mobility will simply evolve as a vastly superior, more efficient, and ultimately more environmentally compatible method of propulsion when compared to petrol or oil. What is important, however, is that we progressively generate more and more of the energy for electric vehicles from renewable sources. A number of countries, cities and companies are already addressing this, with aggressive commitments to sourcing only renewable energy.
What role does electric mobility play in the world of shared economy or collaborative consumption? Can you give us some examples?
Electric mobility and shared mobility go hand-in hand, in particular in urban environments, where residents are increasingly giving up car-ownership in favor of shared-use models. In some cities, the number of charging stations is already greater than the number of petrol stations, so it seems a natural fit to match charging stations with carsharing pick-up points. Expect a wave of fully-electric shared mobility concepts roll-out in cities – with both two and four wheels, by the way!
It is not restricted to cities, however. There is a decrease in the number of people who apply for driving tests and driving licenses, but sometimes city-dwellers want to go on longer trips, too. So, there is ample opportunity for collaborative transport over long distances. Ride-sharing will grow as an alternative to buses and trains, just as it already provides an alternative to taxis today.
How does electric mobility impact the future of public transportation?
There is a long history of transport electrification in cities already – starting with trains and subways, continuing to trams and buses. This is continuing, as cities recognize health risks for their residents associated with particulate and NOX (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions. Progressive cities are beginning to focus on quality of life as a key differentiator. Countless cities are already committing to buy either hybrid (as an interim step) or fully-electric buses. Some, like London, are imposing that even taxi fleets become electrified.
How else will electric and shared mobility change cities?
In general, electric and shared mobility makes cities cleaner, quieter, more efficient and therefore more livable. We are already seeing cities making private vehicle use more and more unattractive – with less parking available and more tolls and charges. This is a conscious effort to reduce inner-city emissions and congestion, and increase use of public transportation. It will ultimately also release infrastructure space for redevelopment.
For example, New York has shut down a part of Broadway near Times Square for traffic and turned it into a pedestrian zone, Mexico City is taking a 10-lane highway and turning it into a park, and London intends to build a bicycle superhighway. As private vehicles in cities are reduced, we will also see parking lots be infilled with attractive new residential and retail buildings.
What else do you see on the horizon?
In terms of further breakthroughs, inductive charging will become a true enabler to allow for range-unlimited electric fleets – both within cities and for long-range applications. Several countries – notably, the UK – have already run tests and evaluated the feasibility and risks associated with electrifying streets, with very promising results. It is reasonable to assume that energy will become as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi within the next decade or two.
Do you think electric mobility will play a key role in ensuring sustainable transportation? Tell us your reasons in the comment section.