Are Battery Electric Vehicles Headed for the Same Fate as Concorde?

Throughout history, there have been technological marvels that captured our imaginations but failed to stand the test of time. One such example is the Concorde, the world’s first commercial supersonic airliner. Its story serves as a cautionary tale for battery electric vehicles (BEVs), signaling a possible future for this emerging technology.

In the 1960s and 1970s, extensive investments were made by governments in France and Britain to develop Concorde, with the aim of providing supersonic flight for the masses. However, even though the Soviet Union also built its own supersonic airliner, the Tupolev-144, the United States canceled its own supersonic project early on due to a lack of commercial viability.

Once Concorde started operating commercially, it encountered environmental problems such as disruptive take-off noise and the invasive sonic boom generated during supersonic flight. These challenges forced the aircraft to slow down over land or stick to routes primarily over the oceans, causing significant setbacks to its economic viability. Ultimately, Concorde’s service lifetime lasted only 27 years, and it was deemed too costly for the average consumer.

Similarly, the story of BEVs mirrors the early days of Concorde. Billions of dollars have been invested by car manufacturers worldwide, often with government subsidies, to propel the development and adoption of BEVs. Initially, these vehicles were mostly purchased by the wealthy as a second car, while more recent sales have been driven by company car fleets and generous tax incentives.

However, despite efforts to phase out internal combustion engines (ICE) in favor of BEVs, sales have stalled in many parts of the world, leaving unsold stock accumulating at ports and sales forecourts. The cost of BEVs remains a major barrier for the average consumer, with an additional expense of approximately £10,000 per vehicle compared to traditional ICE cars. Furthermore, range anxiety and the lack of convenient recharging infrastructure contribute to consumer hesitation.

Insurance costs for BEVs are also high due to concerns over battery-related incidents, leading to potential fires. While BEVs may catch fire less frequently than ICE vehicles, lithium-ion battery fires are intense and challenging to extinguish. This poses a significant risk, especially in densely-packed parking lots, and insurers often replace damaged batteries at great expense to avoid potential catastrophes.

Furthermore, BEVs face other cost pressures, including limited supplies of key battery materials controlled by China and the need to expand the electricity supply industry to meet the growing demand for electric transportation and heating. Despite advancements in battery technology, experts predict only incremental improvements in energy density over the next 50 years.

Given these challenges and the emerging evidence of car manufacturers questioning their involvement in the BEV sector, it appears that BEVs may follow in the footsteps of Concorde, becoming a short-lived luxury for the wealthy few. While governments may compel the public to adopt BEVs, resistance and public skepticism, as seen in Cuba’s long-standing reliance on old ICE vehicles, may hinder widespread acceptance.

Ultimately, the future of BEVs remains uncertain, and it is crucial to address the barriers of cost, infrastructure, and technology to pave the way for sustainable and widespread adoption.

FAQ

Q: Why are BEVs not gaining widespread acceptance?

A: The high cost of BEVs compared to traditional ICE cars, range anxiety, the lack of convenient recharging infrastructure, and concerns over battery-related incidents are major factors hindering their widespread acceptance.

Q: What are the challenges in insuring BEVs?

A: Insurers face high costs due to concerns that even minor damage to batteries could lead to spontaneous combustion. Lithium-ion battery fires are intense and challenging to extinguish, posing significant risks in parking areas with tightly packed vehicles.

Q: Why are car manufacturers having second thoughts about BEVs?

A: There is emerging evidence that car manufacturers are questioning their involvement in the BEV sector, possibly due to sales stagnation, costly production, and the complex challenges associated with BEV technology.

Q: Can advancements in battery technology overcome the challenges faced by BEVs?

A: While advancements in battery technology have the potential to address some challenges, such as improving range and energy density, experts suggest that significant improvements may take several decades to materialize.

Q: What is the likely outcome for BEVs?

A: BEVs may follow a similar fate as Concorde, remaining a luxury for the wealthy few, as cost barriers, infrastructure limitations, technological limitations, and public resistance might hinder their broader adoption and commercial success.