The electric vehicle era is arriving. Manufacturers are already transitioning their business models in anticipation of the full global adoption of EVs, hybrids, and new client service models. Not since the invention of onboard computers has the automotive industry taken such a transformational leap.
Yet the mobility industry is facing several lingering challenges at the dawn of the electric vehicle age. What infrastructure issues will we face as we transition from a combustion-engine world? How will EV manufacturers be affected on the local and regional level? How will customer needs evolve in the next 10 years? Technology may provide insights that can answer these questions and help create new EV ecosystems.
A whole new world
Before society can fully enjoy the benefits of EVs, several changes are needed in the EV ecosystem. Like many other such networks, the EV ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts; when adequately supported by charging infrastructure, technology partners, and customers, the benefits include cleaner air, improved mobility, and greater accessibility and convenience.
The first step in developing that support is to reexamine and fortify our entire transportation infrastructure. That includes launching projects to retrofit streetscapes that were designed with combustion engines in mind and addressing the significant hurdle of making EV charging stations widespread. How will roads change? What will happen to gas stations? Will we see a 50-50 split, with traditional pumps sharing space with charging stations? These transitions will not be easy and will require significant investments upfront.
There is also the challenge of adequate consumer demand. Asia and the European Union continue to show promising signs of full-scale consumer adoption, but the United States—arguably the largest auto market in the world—is still lagging. To further complicate matters, the current automotive industry relies on a patchwork of supply chains, many of which are isolated in just a handful of regions and are vulnerable to global and regional disruptions. Recent supply chain troubles continue to ripple throughout the manufacturing sector, threatening the viability of large-scale EV production.
Another EV challenge is consumers’ anxiety around whether a vehicle will be able to complete a long trip or whether there is sufficient charging infrastructure across the whole journey. Governments and manufacturers alike have a role in making major investments in both rapid charging technologies and greater EV range before these vehicles become commonplace.
EV interoperability with infrastructure is another significant concern. With many emerging technologies, accessories often don’t “play nicely” across brands. Think of consumers’ frustration with smartphones and tablets using different charging cables depending on the brand. Now imagine their hesitation when considering a five-figure investment. Establishing a universal standard for charging will go a long way toward global consumer adoption.
As modern cars more and more resemble computers—packed with sensors, systems, and other technological augmentations—consumers will increasingly demand EV interoperability across apps and platforms. As vehicles become smart devices, drivers will expect seamless compatibility with their smartphone, whether to use their preferred navigation app or to stream entertainment from their favorite platform. It will be interesting to see how newer vehicles rolling off the factory floor will handle that demand.
Tech advances are not only taking us closer to a future with self-driving vehicles, but also spurring entirely new ways of thinking about transportation. Technologies such as augmented reality and haptic displays will continue to find their way into the auto industry, especially as more and more drivers take their hands off the wheel.
Some auto manufacturers have already introduced head-up displays (HUDs) for GPS or touchless entertainment systems. As cars become more connected, digital, and computerized, we will see even greater adoption and evolution of these futuristic technologies. Already, some companies are experimenting with putting GPS devices in motorcycle helmets. In the future, haptics or HUDs may become available in motorcycle helmet visors, sunglasses lenses, or even bicycle helmets. Coupled with predictive technology, these advances could lead to wearable technology that helps motorcyclists and bicyclists avoid accidents.
Businesses that can develop automotive-focused solutions and then apply them across other industries will likely be able to tap into myriad new opportunities in this tech-driven landscape.
A new model
The technology itself is not the only revolutionary aspect of EVs. Some companies are exploring the use of subscription-based models for leasing or buying EVs, and this has raised some eyebrows. However, consumers have become accustomed to an on-demand, software-as-a-service digital model for many products. This is how we pay for our video entertainment, shop online, and order restaurant takeout, and it has made us accustomed to being able to order anything we want at the click of a button. One potential hurdle in using this model for vehicles is that modern consumers crave customization, which might be challenging to deliver.
Ultimately, we expect demand will catch up to the massive expectations we have placed on EVs. Until then, the industry has its work cut out for it. However, one thing auto manufacturers have always done well is repackage an existing product in a more streamlined, efficient, and technologically advanced manner to catch consumers’ attention. It may take five years, or 10, or even 20, but the day will come when the fossil fuel vehicle is the exception, not the rule.