Power brokers: An update on the electric vehicle market

Less than a decade ago, electric cars were generally seen – at best – as average vehicles which neither had the power nor the range to be considered seriously as a viable, mass-market alternative to petrol-driven cars. 

But now, with ongoing and accelerating technological advances in battery power, combined with big investments in the pipeline to construct charging networks, attitudes are changing. 

Public perceptions have also been influenced by the battery-powered supercars that have been on the roads for many years now, alongside the ordinary-looking electric vehicles. 

Most automakers now see the next decade as being one in which electric cars are at least as popular with consumers as their petrol-driven models, so they have been releasing electric vehicle models, partly to test attitudes in the wider market, but also because a lot of people already buy electric vehicles. 

According to a website called EV-Vehicles.com, these are the best-selling electric vehicles in the third quarter of 2016: 

  1. Tesla Model S 
  2. Nissan Leaf 
  3. Zhidou D1 / D2 
  4. BYD Qin 
  5. Tesla Model X 
  6. BMW i3 
  7. Chevrolet Volt 

Tesla was said by EV Volumes to have sold approximately 17,000 units of the Model S, but that figure is likely to have increased significantly by now. 

In fact, Tesla is said to be dealing with manufacturing struggles in keep up with huge orders for its new Model 3. The company says it is on course to sell 100,000 vehicles this year for the first time in its 14-year history. 

Meanwhile, in China, the world’s largest auto market, sales of “new energy vehicles” could reach 7 million units a year by 2025, according to business analyst Gao Feng. 

By “new energy” they mean electric and hybrid vehicles. 

The increase in demand for electric vehicles will also turbo-charge the lithium mining sector. The global market for lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications is expected to grow from $7.8 billion in 2015 to $30.6 billion in 2024. 

As well as the public, some governments are strongly supportive of electric vehicles and are considering banning petrol-driven cars from some of their cities within the next decade or two. 

Some governments might not even allow new, petrol-driven cars to be registered at all in future, which means they won’t be allowed on any of the roads at all. 

In anticipation of this, automakers and engineering companies, along with big oil, are stepping up their efforts to create the infrastructure that will be required for electric cars. 

Energy mix 

This is probably the first time the private sector can consider the electric vehicle sector as not only a safe investment, it’s largely a new market which could bring massive financial rewards for companies which get it right. 

Big oil companies are generally thought of as the world’s largest companies, with their petrol stations all over the world. 

According to the World Atlas, the world consumes 30 billion barrels of oil annually. And such is oil’s vital importance and wide range of applications in the economy that, even if motorists were to stop buying petrol, oil companies will have little trouble selling it to the industrial sector. 

World Atlas published a list of the largest oil companies in the world by revenue. Here is their top 10, along with their revenue for 2015. 

Rank Company 2015 Revenue ($ billion) 
1. Saudi Aramco $478 billion
2. Sinopec $456 billion
3. China National Petroleum Corporation $429 billion
4. PetroChina $368 billion
5. Exxon Mobil $269 billion
6. Royal Dutch Shell $265 billion
7. Kuwait Petroleum Corporation $252 billion
8. BP $223 billion
9. Total $212 billion
10. Lukoil $144 billion

Most of the above list of names may be familiar to motorists who may have stopped at one more of their petrol stations. 

Within a decade, not only will many – or even most – of those petrol stations include electric charging points, an entirely separate network, or ecosystem, of electric vehicle charging stations may emerge. 

This means entirely companies could be competing directly against the oil majors, although probably only in the filling or charging stations segment, not across the board. 

This, of course, has a much wider significance for the oil companies, since the structural change in the economy – with fewer motorists buying petrol – could mean diminishing revenues from petrol stations and motoring in general. 

Consuming new energy 

Rather than big oil companies leaving the petrol station business, though, it’s more likely that they will simply install more electric charging points. 

And while many companies are busy developing electric charging technologies, and showcasing them as standalone solutions in real-world settings, they may simply sell those technologies to the big oil companies, which will then place them in their petrol stations. 

The automakers themselves have never shown a great interest in managing a network of petrol or charging stations, so it remains to be seen whether engineering companies are any different. 

But the thing about electric charging points is that they can be placed anywhere, as single machines, just like a parking pay meter, which, as most drivers know all too well, are absolutely everywhere.  

Whatever happens, the potential revenue from the electric charging points and infrastructure is massive. 

However, one of the problems with making projections in this market is the idea that most if not all electric car owners will mostly charge their vehicles at home, by simply plugging it into the wall. 

And they won’t even have to do that is they choose a wireless charging system like the ones being developed by Mercedes and others. 

Nonetheless, both ABB and Siemens have been showcasing their technologies for the electric vehicle charging infrastructure of the future. 

And numerous companies, including automakers and chipmakers, have joined a variety of consortia which aim to develop charging points, networks and technologies. 

One is a joint venture which includes BMW, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen, which owns the Audi and Porsche brands. 

The group says it will build a direct current network of approximately 400 charging points for battery electric vehicles across Europe.

At the moment, the country with the highest number of charging points is the United States, followed by the Netherlands and Germany.

This is according to OpenChargeMap.org, which says there are approximately 80,000 charging stations across more than 40,000 locations around the world. 

But with home charging units costing between $500 to $1,000 it’s likely that many drivers will only look for a public charging point occasionally. 

A website called Wirecutter says it reviewed more than 70 charging points and chose five, if you’re interested in finding out more about these devices. 

Meanwhile, all-electric vehicle sales have increased by almost 50 per cent,according to a story CleanTechnica.com. The total number of units sold so far this year is said to be more than 100,000. 

This is, of course, is a tiny number compared with petrol car sales, but if it keeps growing at that rate, the electric car market will likely overtake the petrol car market within a couple of decades.