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Return to: 2016 Feature Stories

CLIENT: IDTECHEX

Oct. 31, 2016: EE Times

EVs Will Innovate on Land, Sea, Air

Hybrid and pure electric land, water and air vehicles are becoming one business increasingly served by the same companies, but the vehicles and their components are changing out of all recognition.

Almost everything written about EVs focuses on cars, but the industrial and commercial sector is the largest and most profitable and will stay that way, according to our 2016-2026 forecast of electric vehicles.

Cars are a huge business, but soon 70% of us will soon live in cities where cars are either banned or severely limited. The $14 billion order book for the Tesla 3 car shows that the on-road end game is definitely pure electric when range, price, resale price, charging and charisma fit the bill. Unlikely to be profitable, it does at least show the way.

Tesla is going into pickups, buses and trucks. Land-based industrial and commercial vehicles will be more than half of the market value and profit of electric vehicles.

Half a million people die yearly from traffic air pollution in China, so the government encourages pure electric buses in particular. This means orders of one billion dollars are placed for them with local suppliers when bus companies elsewhere are grateful for orders one hundredth of that size.

China's BYD and others may flood the world with pure electric buses at less than half the cost of ones sourced elsewhere. But industrial, commercial and military electric vehicles can fund a lot of innovation. For them, the upfront cost is less important than cost over a vehicle's life, lowest emissions and special functions.

One autonomous taxi or bus will replace 20 to 100 cars because cars are only used 3% of the time. The escape route for the car industry will include industrial and commercial EVs where autonomy has no downward influence on sales. In addition, car companies are getting involved in electric boats, ships and aircraft, vehicles for the disabled and other robust sectors.

The ultimate end game of energy-independent electric vehicles (EIVs) can be seen dramatically with the Solar Impulse, a single-person plane that circumnavigated the world on sunshine alone. Military and civilian fixed wing planes and airships will stay at 60,000 feet for five to ten years on sunshine alone. They will be used to carry out military surveillance and beam the Internet to the 4.5 billion people currently denied it.

Agriculture, already moving into such places as the skyscrapers of Tokyo, will become totally automated. Thanks to the precision of agrodrones and agrobots, one hundredth of the amount of fertiliser, herbicide and fungicide will be needed--in some cases none at all because some agrobots beat a weed to death!

EV technology will combine with robotics because electrical systems are more controllable, precise and increasingly more cost-effective than hydraulics and pneumatics. Drones for leisure and agriculture have become a multibillion dollar business in no time. Some EVs are delicately picking grapes and recording soil and crop data more carefully than a human can. Increasingly, internal combustion engines are banned in orchards.

Five technological megatrends of this century are coming together across all land, water and air vehicles. Electrification, autonomy, mobile robotics, structural electronics and energy independent vehicles will massively leverage electric vehicle technology.

When Solar Impulse recently flew around the world on sunshine it demonstrated structural electronics -- the wings were integrated photovoltaics. Monitoring robots wandering vineyards have similarly integrated solar structures.

Hanergy in China recently announced it will sell cars in 2020 using its GaAs integrated solar skin with panels that extend when the car is parked -- one even has a wind turbine. A commercial pizza van already sports a mast that extends telescopically and unfurls a wind turbine when parked. The van also uses solar panels, creating an energy independent vehicle for travel as well as running on-board ovens.

Long distance pure electric trucks are in trials in Germany, Sweden and the U.S. They use intermittent charging on the move via stretches of overhead catenary. High efficiency silicon carbide and gallium nitride power semiconductors needing little or no liquid cooling are appearing first in large military, industrial and commercial electric vehicles. Vehicles powered by supercapacitors not batteries are increasingly popular.

The biggest EV business will still be on land ten years from now followed by marine then aircraft. The biggest on-land vehicle sectors will remain cars, buses and forklifts but a helicopter view would see industrial and commercial vehicles expanding share.

More dramatically, in about ten years, 48V mild hybrids, having added pure electric modes will peak at up to $500 billion in sales then collapse. Plug-in hybrids having grown fast will die fast. Pure electric vehicles will take over with a strong showing of EIV and mobile robot versions among them gaining share.

Predictions that the trend to pure electric vehicles will wipe out 30% of the components industry are wide of the mark. There is already a strong trend to use of two reversing motors and controllers per vehicle instead of one, increasing complexity and cost. The best-selling pure electric large bus, the BYD K9, has two in-wheel motors and the Nicola truck will have six. Performance cars often have three motors and controllers nowadays.

Among other areas expanding electronics in cars, autonomy sensors and electronics for navigation and task performance are coming in. Add to that vehicle-to-house, vehicle-to-grid, inductive charging, dynamic charging and other systems.

Regeneration will make powertrains more efficient. Technologies are under development for making electricity from car tires and suspension systems. Today both create and waste heat, but in the future they will produce electricity.

There will be harvesting of sun, infrared, heat difference, wind, unwanted motion and more. Smart bodywork may incorporate sensing, transceiving, energy harvesting and storage.

Battery management systems and motor controllers will get more complex following a trend to more electrics and electronics. On-board chargers will become more capable but only occasionally can these systems be merged.

Simpler vehicles ahead? No, not really, but the business of building them will become much more a materials than a components-in-a-box play.

--Peter Harrop is chairman of IDTechEx and host of the IDTechEx! Show Nov. 16-17 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Return to: 2016 Feature Stories