The auto market has come to a point where it’s now difficult to deny that electric vehicles will be the dominant form of transportation in the near future. With companies like Tesla pushing the envelope for what electric cars can do and events such as Battery Day previewing technology that could bring EVs even closer to the mass market, it is starting to become evident that the age of electric cars is coming ahead of schedule.
The electric vehicle segment has shown remarkable strength, with EVs in Europe growing even as the rest of the automotive segment collapses under the pandemic. Part of this is due to the prices of electric cars coming closer to the cost of their internal combustion-powered counterparts. Vehicles such as the Tesla Model 3 have also proven that there is a legitimate demand for well-designed, reasonably-priced electric vehicles.
Electric cars have transitioned from niche vehicles into mass-market family cars in the span of about 12 years, and over this time, EVs and the cost of producing them have decreased significantly. This is most evident in the production costs of electric cars’ batteries. Current battery packs for EVs today are estimated to cost around $150-$200 per kWh. That’s about 80% lower than the cost of batteries since 2008.
With electric vehicles expanding into the mainstream market, the automobile industry is now approaching a tipping point when EVs could become as cheap as their fossil fuel-powered counterparts, even without government subsidies. And just as it is with any disruptive shift, the carmaker that reaches or exceeds price parity with the internal combustion engine first will be poised to dominate the segment.
Thanks to the efforts of companies like Tesla, electric vehicle technology is progressing faster than expected. As noted in a New York Times report, industry experts a few years ago were estimating that the turning point for EVs and their tech would come in 2025. But with automakers like Tesla pushing the envelope and events such as Battery Day potentially revealing technology that could push electric cars past the internal combustion engine, this 2025 estimate may end up being conservative.
Carnegie Mellon University associate professor Venkat Viswanathan, who closely follows the battery industry, described how the electric vehicle market is on an accelerated timeframe. “We are already on a very accelerated timeline. If you asked anyone in 2010 whether we would have price parity by 2025, they would have said that was impossible,” the professor said.
Perhaps what is truly remarkable about the rapid pace of the electric car market is the fact that EVs are still pretty much open to innovation. Batteries and electric powertrains still have a lot of room to grow, and companies like Tesla have proven that they will push the available technology as far as it could go to create the best EVs possible. This could be quite scary for traditional automakers that rely on fossil fuel-powered vehicles, since the internal combustion engine has already fully matured.
For now, the EV segment is turning into a race aimed at catching Tesla, which stands as the undisputed leader in electric cars today. The company may be a young carmaker, but its experience in electric car development is vast. Events such as Battery Day, which is expected to discuss the EV maker’s next-generation cells, have the potential to widen the gap between Tesla and its competitors even further. For traditional carmakers, it is now a matter of catching up to Tesla as fast as they could. But it won’t be easy.
In a statement to the Times, Jürgen Fleischer, a professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in southwestern Germany who is working on battery manufacturing research, noted that there will be a steep learning curve for veteran automakers that are dipping their feet into electric cars. “We have been mass-producing internal combustion vehicles since Henry Ford. We don’t have that for battery vehicles. It’s a very new technology. The question will be how fast can we can get through this learning curve?” he said.