Problems in transition to electric vehicles - GulfToday

Problems in transition to electric vehicles

Tesla Model X electric cars recharge their batteries in Berlin, Germany. Reuters

Tesla Model X electric cars recharge their batteries in Berlin, Germany. Reuters

It is interesting that two of the world’s big automakers reveal the problems involved in switching to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as a way of reducing carbon emission through the use of fossil fuels and contributing to the climate change goal of keeping the global temperature from rising more than the stipulated 1.5 degrees Celsius.

 Toyota, the Japanese automaker, has objected to the idea of EVs solving the problem of carbon emissions. It also said that the EVs cannot be the only option to combat climate change, and that there is need to go for hybrid cars as well. General Motors (GM), the American automaker, has pointed out that it would not be able to produce one million EVs as it had planned by 2025 because the infrastructural backing making and charging the batteries would not be in place before 2025, and that this would bring down the production target of one million EVs to 600,000.

It has said that the global supply chain needed to produce EVs and the charging facilities that go with it are not going to be an easy target. Each in its own way, the two automakers have made the point that the transition to EVs is not an easy one, both at the level of the concept of turning all vehicles into EVs, or that of setting up the global chain required to make EVs a workable proposition.

The climate activists are sure to object to Toyota’s position and GM’s production problems as a way of dragging feet and that the auto industry does not recognise the urgency of the deteriorating climate situation. There might be truth in what they say, but it cannot be denied that it would not be right to provide a single solution in a blinkered manner. Conceptually and practically, questions have to be considered about the feasibility of EVs as the only mode of surface transport. And even if the change to EVs is to happen it will take a longer time than the deadlines now established.

Toyota Research Institute’s chief executive Gill Pratt told reporters in Hiroshima in the runup to the G7 summit, “Battery materials and renewable charging infrastructure will eventually be plentiful. But it’s going to take decades for battery material mines, renewable power generation, transmission lines and seasonal energy-storage facilities to scale up.” Toyota wants to sell 1.5 million battery-powered cars by 2026 and put out 10 models of electric vehicles.

The problem is illustrated by the challenge faced by GM. According to industry analyst AutoForecast Solutions (AFS), GM will not be able to produce more than half-a-million EVs by 2025 because there is no matching capacity for battery production at GM’s three battery production plants in Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan. GM’s Ultium Cells, a joint venture with South Korea’s LG Energy Solution, though slated to produce 135 Giga Watt-hours (GWh) to enable the production of 1.35 million EVs a year would not be a reasonable target. The three battery production units will only be able to generate only 58 GWh worth of cells that can support only 550,000 EVs.

The problem is a straight and simple one. It is easier to manufacture EVs but much harder to run them because you have to find sustainable mines that provide the material for making batteries, and the production of batteries and the power needed to run the EVs will not always meet the production capacity of making the EVs. There are problems of storing battery power and making them available as well. These issues need to be worked out. There are no readymade solutions. Toyota’s objection to the EVs as the single solution is fundamental. Do not depend on a single option. Keep the hybrid fuel car option on the table, which is more workable.

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