The rise of the electric vehicles

By George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 1 Apr 2021, 6:08 PM

Everything in the automobile has been slowly, but gradually been electrified. About a century ago, one had to crank start the motor by hand, until the electric starter was introduced. Then came electrically operated windows and now even things like the hydraulic steering rack and traditional handbrake, have been replaced by the Electric Power Steering (EPS) and e-brake respectively.

Yet, Electric Vehicles (EVs) haven’t made significant entries into the automotive market. Some say it probably was because manufacturers feared its acceptance amongst consumers and others, the lack of research in the technology. So for the past two decades, the public have been offered ‘hybrids’ instead — the hallowed middle ground between gasoline-powered vehicles and EVs — like the Toyota Prius. But now, the time has finally arrived for the EV.

Tesla Motors and Elon Musk

In the last decade, the Nissan Leaf has silently become the largest-selling mass-produced electric vehicle, yet it is Tesla that has become the poster boy of the EV market. All thanks to the very flamboyant and now exceedingly wealthy Elon Musk, who many would agree is the “Steve Jobs” of this era. His genius lies in cutting red tape in a significant way. He goes from considering a suggestive tweet from a customer to an implemented solution in weeks. Before him and his baby Tesla Motors, EVs were just another industry fad, but he single-handedly made them cool.

When the first Tesla Roadster came out in 2006, videos of it outrunning Ferraris on the drag strip caught the attention of the media. Skip a decade and we are looking at a comprehensive range of four legitimate EVs, which are soon to be joined by the ambitious and outrageously designed Cybertruck and the second-generation Roadster, which claimed to hit the magic 100 kmph in two seconds.

That is where some of the cool factor comes in! With gasoline-powered vehicles, you need to rev up the engine to a meteoric number to get most power, but with EVs, you have maximum and instant torque at launch. Who doesn’t want that kind of fun! And Tesla continues to push the limits of physics. In their latest Plaid edition for the Model S “family car” — with its three motors and 4-wheel drive — you can do the quarter mile in a claimed 9.23 seconds. This isn’t just fast, this is quicker than the Dodge Demon, which was built for this kind of shenanigans. Even the slowest cars in the Tesla range can get to 60 mph in under six seconds.

Tesla has also ensured their cars are incredibly practical. The Model S Plaid has a remarkable range of 628 km — that’s a Dubai-Muscat drive in under one charge. Again, even the cheapest Model 3 does a respectable 423 kms. And in case you wanted to have it charged, rest assured! In Dubai alone, DEWA has successfully installed 240 electric charging stations in different offices, airports, petrol stations, shopping malls, hospitals, residential complexes, etc.

The other disadvantage EVs faced against regular vehicles is the fuel-up or charging duration. Yes, it is true using a standard home connection, it would take a few hours to fully charge a Tesla or any other EV for that matter. But with every generation and/or update Tesla has been making positive changes to their charging stations. They also have the high-output Supercharger stations, which allows you to rack up a hundred kilometres of range in just a few minutes. As of today, Tesla has installed 20,000+ of these Superchargers globally. And the number grows by 6 or so every week.

Speaking of charging stations, it is not just on road. Jeep is launching a Level 2 Charging Network to facilitate EV Off-Roading over the next year in the US and this trend is sure make its way to the Middle East too.

Also, what is cool about Tesla vehicles, in an understated way, is that the interiors are clean and geometric, placing your focus on their gigantic infotainment screens. The Model S has a 17-inch variety, while the cheaper Model 3 has a 15-inch — still gargantuan by regular car standards.

Adding to all this pizzazz is the Autopilot feature on Tesla vehicles. This technology allows one to travel across states and even making parking manoeuvres without significant driver input is nothing short of a marvel. And every other manufacturer is learning from them.

There is more good news! The incredibly flat battery architecture allows for a low centre of gravity which translates to better handling characteristics. It also creates a spacious interior, allowing a 7-seater configuration on some sedan models.

Now the one issue we face with Tesla in the UAE, is that demand is high, and supply is low. If you order yourself a Plaid edition, it would take till mid-2022 to have it delivered. The cheaper model takes one to 13 weeks. Still, this is no competition for its gasoline-powered brethren, some of which you can drive out of the showroom on the same day.

The Growing Community

Now that Tesla has established that EV market is a genuinely large and lucrative one, we are seeing more established brands come on board.

Porsche was quick to respond with the introduction of the incredibly sporty Taycan. And that “German quality” is something you don’t get with American cars, not even Tesla. Mercedes plans to introduce 10 new EVs through its EQ brand by the end of the year. The superfluous Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan, with its mega 56-inch-wide screen, is expected to be unveiled on April 15 2021. And by 2025, Audi plans to have 30 electrified vehicles in their range, of which 20 models are destined to be EVs; Ford says it will invest $29 billion in EVs and even Jaguar has pledged to go all electric by then.

The Sustainability Quotient

The question remains — are EVs sustainable? Truth be told, there are far too many variables involved and only time will tell if they are boon or bane.

If you live a city where the grid’s electricity is sourced from a coal or natural gas plant, your sustainability scores of driving an EV may be higher than driving a gasoline-powered vehicle, but they are still low. This is because emissions were generated not at the tail pipe, but at the power-plant level. However, in countries like Canada and some parts of Europe where you have hydro-electric power or other sustainable sources like windmills, this may work rather well.

Sustainability also relates to how these vehicles are manufactured, where these raw materials are sourced from and what percentage of the vehicles are recyclable? These are some of the questions that EV manufacturers have to find answers too. In the interim, we must ask ourselves, do we really need a 2-ton vehicle to move from point A to B? Probably not!

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