When automobiles first debuted in the United States, they faced a classic “chicken and egg” problem. On one hand, autos were custom-made luxury items, affordable only to a niche market of affluent individuals. On the other hand, there was little incentive for most people to buy automobiles in the first place, as the system of roads in America was woefully underdeveloped.
Henry Ford managed to solve the “chicken and egg” problem with the Model T, the first product of its kind to reach the mass market. But today, there’s also another auto industry visionary facing a similar challenge in the 21st century: Elon Musk and his company, Tesla.
Ford’s assembly line and uncomplicated design allowed for cheaper pricing, which helped Ford sales to take off. With many new Model Ts hitting the road, the United States government was able to generate enough revenue from gasoline taxes to enable the sustainable development of roads in the United States.
More roads meant a renewed desire for more Model Ts to populate those roads, and so on. This was the start of a trend that sees 253 million cars on American roads a century later.
Cost and Infrastructure: Dueling Priorities
Fast-forward to today, and vehicle buyers have concerns not unlike those of early automobile adopters at the turn of the 20th century. Aside from the price of purchasing a new vehicle, most prospective buyers of electric vehicles cite charging availability and maximum travelling range as their biggest challenges.
Fortunately, EV prices are already falling due to advancements in the production of one of their key components: the lithium-ion battery packs that power them.
At one point, battery packs made up one-third of the costs for a new vehicle, but battery costs have dropped precipitously since 2010. That said, automakers like Tesla will need to continue to make progress here if they hope to match the growth and saturation of their forebears at the turn of the 20th century.
Charging Ahead of Demand
A study by the National Science Foundation’s INSPIRE Project found that the current amount of money disbursed as tax credits to new electric vehicle buyers (currently up to $7,500 per vehicle) would have been sufficient to build 60,000 new charging points nationwide.
The growth of charging station infrastructure is already astonishing. New public outlets have been added at a 65.3% CAGR between 2011 and 2016, and further growth will open even more roads to long-distance EV travel and network effects.
According to the math of the study, new charge stations would have a bigger effect on the EV market than the tax credits, and could have increased EV sales by five times the amount.
In short, charging stations will be to Tesla what roads were to Ford: the means by which they can reach lofty new heights of market dominance. Infrastructure development may be the “push” that electric vehicles need to get them over the early adoption barrier and into the mainstream. Combined with falling costs and improved efficiency, electric vehicles could create a Ford-like transformation within the automotive industry in a very short time.
Visualizing EV Sales Around the World
With global sales hitting new milestones and adoption rates rising, are electric vehicles now becoming a mainstream option for drivers around the world?
It took five years to sell the first million electric cars. In 2018, it took only six months.
The Tesla Model 3 also passed a significant milestone in 2018, becoming the first electric vehicle (EV) to crack the 100,000 sales mark in a single year. The Nissan LEAF and BAIC EC-Series are both likely to surpass the 100,000 this year as well.
Although the electric vehicle market didn’t grow as fast as some experts initially projected, it appears that EV sales are finally hitting their stride around the world. Below are the countries where electric vehicles are a biggest part of the sales mix.
The EV Capital of the World
Norway, after amassing a fortune through oil and gas extraction, made the conscious decision to create incentives for its citizens to purchase electric vehicles. As a result, the country is the undisputed leader in EV adoption.
In 2018, a one-third of all passenger vehicles were fully electric, and that percentage is only expected to increase in the near future. The Norwegian government has even set the ambitious target of requiring all new cars to be zero-emission by 2025.
That enthusiasm for EVs is spilling over to other countries in the region, which are also seeing a high percentage of EV sales. However, the five countries in which EVs are the most popular – Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Finland – only account for 0.5% of the world’s population. For EV adoption to make any real impact on global emissions, drivers in high-growth/high–population countries will need to opt for electric powered vehicles. (Of course power grids will need to get greener as well, but that’s another topic.)
China’s Supercharged Impact
One large economy that is embracing plug-in vehicles is China.
The country leads the world in electric vehicle sales, with over a million new vehicles hitting the roads in 2018. Last year, more EVs were sold in Shenzhen and Shanghai than any country in the world, with the exception of the United States.
China also leads the world in another important metric – charging stations. Not only does China have the highest volume of chargers, many of them allow drivers to charge up faster.
Accelerating from the Slow Lane
In the United States, electric vehicle sales are rising, but they still tend to be highly concentrated in specific areas. In around half of states, EVs account for fewer than 1% of vehicle sales. On the other hand, California is approaching the 10% mark, a significant milestone for the most populous state.
Nationally, EV sales increased throughout 2018, with December registering nearly double the sales volume of the same month in 2017. Part of this surge in sales is driven by the Tesla’s Model 3, which led the market in the last quarter of 2018.
North of the border, in Canada, the situation is similar. EV sales are increasing, but not fast enough to meet targets set by the government. Canada aimed to have half a million EVs on the road by 2018, but missed that target by around 400,000 vehicles.
The big question now is whether the recent surge in sales is a temporary trend driven by government subsidies and showmanship of Elon Musk, or whether EVs are now becoming a mainstream option for drivers around the world.
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Have you ever wondered how much copper is in an electric vehicle? This infographic shows the metal’s properties as well as the quantity of copper used.
How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?
Copper’s special relationship with electricity has been apparent since ship designers first regularly began installing copper to protect the masts of wooden ships from lightning in the early 19th century.
Today, of course, you might be more used to seeing copper’s electrical applications through the use of power lines, telephone wires, and wiring in practically every major home appliance you own.
Millions of tons get used for these applications every year, but it is still early days for copper’s use in electrification. That’s because copper will continue to be a critical component of the green energy revolution, thanks to the rising adoption of battery-powered vehicles.
Today’s visualization comes to us from Canadian Platinum Corp., and it focuses on showing how much copper is in an electric vehicle, along with the properties that make it the ideal choice for an EV-powered future.
Here is why copper is a crucial component to vehicle manufacturers:
Copper costs roughly $0.20 per ounce, compared to silver ($15/oz) and gold ($1200/oz), making it by far the cheapest option for electrical wire.
Copper is nearly as conductive as silver – the most conductive metal – but comes at a fraction of the cost.
Copper can easily be shaped into wire, which is important for most electrical applications.
It’s also important to note that temperature does not affect copper’s conductivity, which makes the metal ideal for automobiles in all climates.
Copper in Gas vs. Electric Vehicles
The UBS Evidence Lab tore apart a traditional gas-powered vehicle as well as an EV to compare the different quantities of raw materials used.
What they found was crucial: there is 80% more copper in a Chevrolet Bolt, in comparison to a similar-sized Volkswagen Golf.
The major reason for this is that at the heart of every EV is an electric motor, which is built with copper, steel, and permanent magnets (rare earths). Electric motors tend to be much simpler than gas-powered engines, which have hundreds of moving parts.
Incredibly, in an electric motor, there can be more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator.
The More Electric, the More Copper
According to Copper.org, along the scale from gas-powered cars to fully electrical vehicles, copper use increases dramatically.
Conventional gas-powered cars contain 18 to 49 lbs. of copper while a battery-powered EV contains 183 lbs. Meanwhile, for a fully electrical bus, a whopping 814 lbs. of copper is needed.
With the rapidly increasing adoption of electric vehicles, copper will be an essential material for the coming electrification of all forms of ground transport.
Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle and the world will need more. By 2027, copper demand stemming from EVs is expected to increase by 1.7 million tonnes, which is a number just shy of China’s entire copper production in 2017.
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