Research firm Automotive Insight's latest report 'Electric Vehicles: Energy, Infrastructure and the Mobility Market in the Real World', says that even as the global car population doubles to over two billion (with countries such as China becoming motorized), the proportion that electric cars will account for remains unclear.

This 242-page report suggests that moving from oil to electricity could represent one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Yet, little thinking to date has tried to find solutions to meet the enormous challenges ahead, if electric vehicles (EVs) are to fulfill their promise and break out of a tiny niche of high-income suburban commuters with home charging facilities.

Challenges discussed in this report include:

  • To compete with petrol/diesel engines, EV traction batteries have to be much more than twice as energy dense as lithium ion ever will be, at least three times cheaper, and last much longer before replacement
  • For EVs to take off, conventional cars have to become less and less attractive - but in fact they're still getting better, cheaper to buy, and cheaper to run, thanks to the same emissions legislation that seeks to privilege EVs.
  • Massive petroleum tax revenues need to be replaced if mobility goes electric - but how?
  • Costly EVs require heavy subsidies to attract even affluent early adopters - typically, governments are offering €5,000 or more to second-car buyers, installing free charging points at upwards of €10,000/unit, providing free power, and slashing ownership taxes. Will governments have to turn off the tap before such subsidies have created sustained market momentum?
  • Smart grids and more storage will be essential to managing more intermittent renewable energy supply and extra power demand from EVs. Can EVs truly contribute to grid balancing?
  • With radically reduced parts consumption and probable high depreciation, EVs represent a strategic threat to the standard automotive industry business model. Meanwhile, alternative new powertrain technologies are fragmenting vehicle production and markets.

The report's lead author, Toby Procter, says these challenges must be met, or, given the longevity of cars, the swelling global car population will remain oil-dependent after oil has become too scarce and/or too expensive to fuel it. Arguably we need to electrify transport, or mobility at the end of the 'Oil Age' will be so severely compromised that whole economies will collapse.