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The Electric Car Revolution Is Real, But Won't Be Here Until 2025

Representational purpose  only (Image: AFP Relaxnews)

Representational purpose only (Image: AFP Relaxnews)

Electric Cars are all the rage nowadays, but how far are they to becoming an everyday reality?

Though the future of personal mobility will be electrically driven, don't expect to see traditional gas stations disappearing into the automotive history books anytime soon.

"There will be no such thing as a 'one-size-fits-all' solution," said Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management at BMW AG, Development. "We see the approach of using myriad [drivetrain] technologies continuing for many years."

By the end of 2016, there will be 2 million electric vehicles on the world's roads. Between January and June alone, a record 312,000 plug-in cars were sold globally – that's a 49% increase on the same period in 2015. Little wonder that many industry experts are forecasting that battery-powered car sales are set to hit the 1 million mark by December.

In isolation, those numbers may signify that a new age of greener motoring is here, as would even a cursory glance at the pure-electric concept cars from the likes of Mercedes and VW on show at this month's Paris Motor Show.

But the reality is that there are 1 billion+ cars already on the world's road network. Just 0.2% of them are battery propelled. The above figures include all cars that use a plug-in battery system so represent combined electric/gasoline hybrid and pure electric car sales.

What's more, every year, 70 to 80 million cars are sold globally, and, currently, pure electric cars represent just 0.6% of that figure.

The tipping point in view?

Still, according to Jürgen Schenk, the head of Mercedes-Benz electric car unit, a tipping point is coming very soon. When EV sales hit 1% of all sales in mid-2017, the electric car will be here to stay and that's when the technology will be more aggressively marketed and breakthroughs in areas such as range will come quicker.

Fröhlich points out that current EVs are already good enough for people who cover fewer than 100km a day and only require a small-to-medium sized car. But for those that need more space and greater range, the only practical green option is a plug-in hybrid that gives emissions-free motoring in urban areas and gasoline range on the open road. It's also why all car companies, not just BMW, are going to continue actively investing in internal combustion engine technology. In the short-to-medium term, gasoline engines are going to be "vital," in Fröhlich's words.

Mercedes thinks it will take a decade until pure electric cars make up 25% of its total annual sales. And in 2025, the hydrogen fuel cell car could also be ready for mass consumption. On paper, hydrogen is the perfect replacement for gasoline. But the reality is that massive infrastructure investment is needed first.

"BMW will enter the fuel cell market early in the next decade, starting with very small production runs. However, until 2025 at least costs will remain too high and the hydrogen infrastructure too sparse to allow broad-based market penetration. By the time the fundamentals are in place, the BMW Group will also have marketable products ready that are attractive to customers," Fröhlich said.

first published:October 15, 2016, 12:53 IST