Electric vehicles poised to overhaul auto industry
Amid the accelerating global trend toward decarbonization, competition is heating up in many fields, including automobile manufacturing and resource development, and even in the process of crafting rules to fight global warming. This is the first installment of a series that takes a close look at some of those situations.
Colorfully painted vehicles sped through the desert in northwestern Saudi Arabia. “Whirr!” The sounds of motors and inverters could be heard from amid swirling clouds of sand.
The Extreme E endurance auto racing series for electric vehicles started on April 3. It is the world’s first full-fledged, off-road race for all-electric SUVs. Nine racing teams from North America and Europe, established by the likes of last year’s Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, are competing in the series. By December, the participating teams are to compete in a total of five races, including an Arctic race in Greenland, and one through a tropical rain forest in Brazil.
“The goal of the races is to draw public attention to climate change, thus encouraging people to take action to open the way to a future decarbonized society,” said Alejandro Agag, CEO of the overall managing entity for the Extreme E series.
Sponsored by major European and North American companies, the races are to be broadcast live around the world. The future potential of automotive electrification has attracted funds.
Countries and regions around the world are pressing ahead with the electrification of automobiles. Britain plans to ban the sale of gasoline-fueled cars, including hybrid vehicles, in 2035. The U.S. state of California has made it obligatory for all new cars sold in the state to be zero-emission vehicles by the same year.
Volvo Car Corp. of Sweden has announced a policy of only making and selling all-electric vehicles by 2030. Martin Persson, president of Volvo Car Japan Ltd., said vehicles relying entirely on fossil fuels are definitely on the way out.
Since the debut of the gasoline-fueled Ford Model T in the United States in the early 20th century, the world’s automakers have devoted nearly all their energy to the development of internal combustion engines.
As internal combustion technology grew ever more complex, the leading automakers of Japan, the United States, and Europe, such as General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp., and Mercedes Benz AG, came to hold dominant positions in the development of the engines.
■ It’s all outsourceable
The heart of an automobile used to be the engine, but it will be replaced by batteries and an electric motor. Simply procuring the needed components and outsourcing the assembly would be enough to manufacture an electric vehicle.
Automakers, subsidiaries and suppliers have built up complex relationships in interlocking corporate groupings. Can these arrangements survive in the electrified era? Electric vehicle manufacturing may turn out to be game-changing and make the conventional system unworkable.
When will U.S. information technology giant Apple Inc. announce its entry into the electric vehicle market? Automotive officials around the world are watching for this development. Apple’s total market value is estimated to be ¥230 trillion, making it the world’s most valuable company. With its enormous funding ability and powerful brand, Apple draws other firms into its orbit. Several leading automakers have already been talked about as possible business partners, which lends credence to the view Apple will really do it.
If Japan’s automotive industry fails to respond to the shift toward electrification, the employment of its 5.5 million workers could be shaken.
Electrified vehicles — vehicles that run using electricity, including hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles — accounted for 40% of total new car sales in Japan in 2019. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced in January that all new car sales in Japan would be only electrified vehicles by 2035.
Even with a rapid battery charger, an electric vehicle is said to have a range of only about 80 kilometers after a 15-minute charge and 160 kilometers after a 30-minute charge. But there is no need to charge a hybrid. There is a prevailing view among Japanese automakers that hybrid vehicles are the mainstream of electrified vehicles.
An enormous amount of electricity is needed to fully charge an electric vehicle. Japan depends on fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas and coal for about 80% of its total electric power supply. To promote EVs, while at the same time advancing decarbonization, it is necessary to change its energy mix, through such means as a massive introduction of renewables.
There are similar concerns in newly emerging economies in such regions as Southeast Asia, where Japanese automakers enjoy a high market share. That is why Toyota Motor is moving ahead with its “full lineup” strategy of producing all sorts of vehicles including gasoline-fueled cars and hybrids as well as electric vehicles, in line with the actual situation in these markets.
China is the world’s largest automobile market, with annual new car sales exceeding 25 million units. Last November, the Chinese government unveiled a development plan for its “new energy vehicle” (NEV) industry, in which the targeted introduction of purely electric vehicles has been scaled back. The target for the percentage of new vehicle sales accounted for by NEVs, mainly electric vehicles, was previously set at around 25% in 2025, but has been lowered to around 20%. Nor does the plan go so far as to ban the sale of new gasoline-fueled vehicles, as European countries have said they will do.
China depends on coal-burning thermal power generation for 60% of its total energy supply. The country is poised to adopt a “realistic approach” of holding down greenhouse gas emissions by utilizing hybrids and the like as well as electric vehicles.
Also, in the United States, there is a high hurdle to overcome before promoting electrified vehicles even after the administration of President Joe Biden has shifted toward decarbonization. Only about 2% of all newly registered vehicles are fully electric. Americans, living in a vast nation where long-distance drives are common, are strongly attached to gasoline-fueled cars.