Electric Vehicles: “It’s Almost an Intelligence Test”

As delegates begin week two of negotiations, a panel of scientists and businesspeople opened a dialogue on electric vehicles (EV). These impressive individuals appeared at Le Bourget to discuss needed developments in automotive technology, consumer behavior, available infrastructure, and existing energy systems in the field of electro-mobility.


Today’s Panel

Moderator Nigel Topping opened with an image of New York City in 1906. He painted a picture of horses and buggies crowding the busy streets, with one automobile in the corner. By 1930, he said, this picture is “completely reversed” after a shift from horse-drawn carriages to Ford Model Ts. The question for the panel today was whether it is going to take seven years for the EV revolution, or 17 years. While most models today are closer to 17, “we think it can be done much faster.”

The panelists included:


Electric Charging Station in Paris

Pasquale Romano identified the most prominent barrier in electro-mobility: cost. Romano also examined the phenomenon of charging stations at the workplace. ChargePoint found that when employers offer EV charging at work, employees are 20 times more likely to purchase an EV. “You feel like you’re visiting the future when you visit these lots,” he says. While EV charging stations in cities like Paris help, they are not as effective. Romano says, “next to a cat, [a car] is your most restful asset,” so it is most beneficial to have an EV charger at home and/or at work.

Steve Howard conveyed IKEA’s dedication to an “all-in” approach to transformational change. Howard said that when IKEA began selling LED light bulbs, it needed to change its business, customer base, and value proposition because “people would still just see a light bulb.” The new and improved LED bulb needs to be “outstanding” for people to make the change. The company will soon announce its commitment to selling 500 million by the end of 2020. He is in awe at today’s products compared to several years ago, and said we are leaving yesterday’s technology behind.

IKEA provides extensive international transport to its customers, which is still largely linked to fossil fuel transit. IKEA locations also receive millions of visitors who travel via mass transit. In response to consumer-driven traffic, the company now has 120 stores with charging capabilities. Howard is surveying the vans IKEA customers can hire to transfer large purchases. He plans to exchange these vans for high utilization EV options. Howard’s goal for IKEA is to have universal charging at every store, and this “needs to be the same for every other retailer out there…so let’s go all in.”

There are 80,000 EVs on the road today, so Dr. Philippe Schulz has no doubt that the technology revolution will sweep the international community even faster by creating a mass market. Renault SAS polled that 98% of its customers are satisfied with their EVs. Schulz attributed this success to the production of “sexy products” that also happen to be energy efficient.

Schulz predicted that the parity between electric and conventional vehicles has almost been reached. Batteries have become affordable, and customers cannot ignore the obvious appeal of EVs. Romano chimed in, arguing that we are at “sticker parity” right now because EVs involve no maintenance and require essentially zero cost. He stated that purchasing an EV is such a clear choice that it is “almost an intelligence test.”


Electrically Charged BMW i8 Model

Ursula Mathar affirmed there is both a revolution and evolution; the revolution involves making combustion engine cars more sustainable, while the evolution involves the ground-breaking concept for the BMWi EV series. To ensure that the future of mobility is connected and sustainable, BMW addresses both the customer’s “brain” (the rationale behind electric mobility) and his “heart” (the emotional desire to own a premium car) by convincing the public that EVs are “really fun to drive.” BMW conveys to customers that they receive an additional benefit—rather than losing something—by driving an EV.

BMW is working on integrating the i3 model into car sharing so that the public can experience EVs. Mathar addressed the generational shift of the sharing economy; EVs are more attractive to young people who cannot yet invest in a premium car. Millennials are more flexible and open to experiencing new technologies.

The panelists concluded by discussing various remaining obstacles. Schulz reiterated the issue of affordability, and the need for strong companies that are willing to invest in quick-charging technologies. Howard wanted to make clear that this is a revolution, that every single stake holder is “part of the game,” and that the infrastructure either exists or will exist very soon. The bottom line is that EVs must be affordable and attractive to the average customer, and as the panelists say, “we’re getting there.”