THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
“The death of the internal combustion engine”

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(Jon Berkeley, The Economist)



By Chuck Dapoz

The cover of this week’s Economist is a drawing of a car engine as a dead animal, on its back, legs in the air.

The headline: “Roadkill.”

The lead story in the magazine – “The death of the internal combustion engine” – says the internal combustion engine (ICE) had a good run and soon will be supplanted by electric vehicles (EVs).

The article cites info and data that favor electric, including the rapidly falling cost of batteries, low cost of ownership, and environmental and health benefits.

Many auto industry pundits, including members of the LA Car staff, scoff at the imminent demise of the ICE.

But the facts are compelling. The cost of lithium-ion batteries is plummeting, dropping 20 to 25 percent per year. The article says:
• The cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130 to $200 today. That’s remarkable.
• GM is paying $145 per kWh for the 60kWh battery in the Bolt.
• Tesla claims its cost for Model 3 batteries is even lower.

Batteries used to represent 50 percent of the cost of an EV. Today GM boasts, from the above figures, batteries account for 25 percent of the cost of the Bolt.

At the rate battery prices are falling, they’ll decline by half from today’s prices within three years – and 90 percent by 2026. This is similar to the computer industry’s exponential increases in performance and decreases in prices, which have run for 60 years.

Battery and EV improvements won’t necessarily be linear, and we could see major technological leaps as we move to an electric future.

For example, news broke a couple weeks ago about a revolutionary solid-state battery developed by Toyota with greater storage capacity than any battery today, and it charges to full in two to three minutes. If this plays out as reported, EV range limitations will be over in, potentially, five years.

A few thoughts beyond the Economist article:
• The cost of electrical generation from solar is falling about as fast as the cost of batteries. California now produces so much electricity from solar that it pays other states to take its surplus to prevent overloading the Golden State’s power grid.
• Today the average ICE vehicle owner pays about $1,500 per year for gasoline. Imagine paying less than half that for an equivalent amount of electricity.
• As a next step on an imaginary journey a few years into the future, consider paying less for an EV than an ICE vehicle. EVs likely will cost less because they are simpler machines: electric motors in each wheel, no engine, no transmission, no fuel pump, no fuel injectors, no radiator and cooling system, etc. 95 percent fewer moving parts.
• EVs have far lower maintenance costs: no changes of oil, fuel filters, air filters, etc. Reduced brake wear because of regenerative braking.
• Today the average new vehicle in the U.S. costs about $33,000.
• Would you buy an EV for the same price – a vehicle that goes 300 miles on a charge, recharges in three minutes, with fuel and maintenance that cost half of an ICE vehicle?
• What if you could buy that EV for $25,000? It could happen. EVs are getting less expensive, like computers.
• As the Economist says, ICEs are roadkill.

We’re racing to an electric future, but the road will not be smooth or straight.

As EV manufacturing ramps up, engine and transmission production will close down. That could be painful. An enormous supply chain will disappear, including thousands of jobs: blue collar workers, engineers, scientists. The auto industry will write off billions in facilities and equipment.

Auto repair shops and dealer service departments will be fewer and smaller. New jobs will be created to take care of EVs, but a fraction of today’s resources and people will be needed to service EVs.

Gas stations will disappear. Will they be replaced by charging stations? Or will EVs power up at home, work or wherever we park? No one knows. (If there are no charging stations, where will we buy lottery tickets, snacks, beer and Red Bull?)

The shift won’t happen overnight. There are hurdles to high-volume EV production. For example, the world will need dozens of battery plants on the scale of Tesla’s Gigafactory.

We transitioned from tube TVs to LCDs. From film cameras to digital. From vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs to streaming music. From landline phones to mobiles. From talking on phones to texting.

We’ll transition from ICEs to EVs. As with other technological leaps, we’ll get more car for our money.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. I feel fine.

Editor’s note: Recommended book on the electric revolution is Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation: How Silicon Valley Will Make Oil, Nuclear, Natural Gas, Coal, Electric Utilities and Conventional Cars Obsolete by 2030 by Tony Seba. Longer than it should be and repetitive, but it’s a good read packed with info.

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