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EVs reaching lift-off

The coming year will bring the arrival of new EVs and new infrastructure, fuelling the transition

Far faster than anybody thought, the revolution in electric vehicles (EVs) from family cars to buses, trucks and even short-haul ferries is making deep inroads into a transport world that has been powered for well over a century by the internal combustion engine (Ice).

In 2018, mainstream EVs will break the 200-mile barrier on a single charge. Their prices will fall to an affordable $30,000 or even lower. Sales will rise quickly on the back of more alluring vehicles. And, supporting it all, roadside charging installations will sprout at the rate thousands a year in Europe and North America.

Three main factors influence this new transport era. Under pressure from increasingly powerful green lobby groups, governments have set deadlines for the electrification of transport. Buyers increasingly see EVs as attractive symbols of a more enlightened future. And in the background, scientists are achieving rapid technological advantages in battery power.

Important questions still hang over the electrification of transport, not least the adequacy of renewable energy supplies needed to keep a rapidly growing fleet of EVs on the road. The answers won't all come in 2018. And the Ice-powered vehicles, including diesel, are improving so rapidly in terms of fuel economy and emissions that they may yet remain an environmentally friendly form of transport for longer than predicted.

Still, here are 10 big developments to watch for in 2018.

  • The Jaguar I-Pace, the 400-horsepower, all-electric supercar that will start rolling off the assembly line from late 2017, is a symbol of Jaguar Land Rover's game-changing announcement that from 2020 on it will produce only vehicles equipped with electric motors and batteries.
  • Tesla's Model 3 will crash the 200-mile barrier for the first time at a sticker price of just $35,000. More than 400,000 EV-believers have paid a $1,000 deposit apiece against delivery. Production for the non-American market begins in 2018.
  • Porsche may have the drop on the rest of the automotive industry with its Mission E. Not only will it be able to accelerate to 60 miles an hour in 3.5 seconds, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer claims it will cover 300 miles on a single charge by virtue of a secret battery system and can be 80% charged within a quarter of an hour.
  • More all-electric buses will be seen on the roads—and they'll stay there longer. "Large-road vehicles can run effectively on electricity," reckons Siemens, whose technology is recharging buses equipped with lithium-ferrite batteries within 15 minutes at the end of each run.
  • The first e-trucks will start rolling in late 2018 on an e-highway near Frankfurt airport. Sweden's Scania is testing a system that works like the overhead conductor technology used for electric trains. Now that heavily loaded all-electric ferries are plying the Baltic, the era of the battery-powered truck is drawing in.
  • Governments are falling over themselves to phase out Ice vehicles. The Netherlands, already Europe's number two in electromobility, has set a target of eliminating all fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2025. China has put the bar even higher with a target of 5m EVs as soon as 2020. And the EU has made 2021 the year when all new cars must be 40% less pollutant than now, a gold-standard deadline that currently only EVs can meet.
  • In the race for "energy density"—the ability to store more power for less weight—Toyota's solid electrolyte technology, replacing the conventional semi-liquid standard, could be installed in its EVs by 2020. These batteries would be smaller, lighter and more durable. Next up, say scientists, will be the 800-volt battery that allows much faster charging times.
  • Charging rates are already accelerating. In Europe, direct-current stations are being installed by the thousands, enabling EVs to be repowered in a time not much faster than it takes to fill up with gasoline. And researchers will soon come with the next breakthrough, the 350kW ultra-fast charger.
  • Power in the driveway. From 2019 every newly built house, including refurbished ones, in the EU must by law be equipped with an EV charging station. However remote, every region will have to comply with the directive, even Lapland.
  • America's ChargePoint, the world's largest EV-charging network, expects to add thousands more top-up spots worldwide in 2018 to the 35,500 it has already installed. ChargePoint has developed a system that, says engineer Pasquale Romano, "can charge EVs three times faster than today's fastest chargers". That's enough to add hundreds of miles of range in 15 minutes.

This article is part of Outlook 2018, our annual book looking at energy market trends for the year ahead. To purchase a copy, click here

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