EVs key to sustainable individual transportation

Electrification is central to the future of transportation

By Morand Fachot

Worldwide concerns about diminishing oil supplies and rising oil prices, and the adverse environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels, are leading the quest for more sustainable transportation models in many countries. This applies in particular to the road transport sector, which is still almost entirely dependent on ICEs (internal combustion engines) and consumes more than half of the world's crude oil production.

Lohner-Porsche hybrid 1900, rebuilt in 2011
Lohner-Porsche hybrid 1900, rebuilt in 2011

Transport overall uses 1 % of the electricity produced today, yet electric motors are more efficient than ICEs. They convert some 80 % of stored energy into powering a vehicle, against 15 % for ICEs; they also have a higher power-to-weight ratio and far fewer moving parts. Electrification of road transport is therefore an attractive solution to ensure sustainable transportation in the future. In this perspective EVs (electric vehicles) are set to play an important role.

EV revival

EVs designed for personal transport were common early in the 20th century before being superseded by vehicles powered by ICEs burning petroleum-based fuels.

Personal EVs have been making a strong comeback under many forms since the turn of the 21st century. All global automobile manufacturers now offer a variety of EVs based on different technologies.

With the share of electrical and electronics systems in motor vehicles growing steadily over the years, the IEC's work is vitally important to the automobile industry. In addition to its IEC TC (Technical Committee) 69: Electric road vehicles and electric industrial trucks, other IEC TCs and SCs (Subcommittee), such as IEC SC 23H: Industrial plugs and socket-outlets, are involved in the preparation of relevant International Standards. These apply to cables, connectors, relays, batteries, displays and countless other electrical and electronic devices and systems. The mass rollout of EVs is set to expand the IEC's involvement in the automotive sector.

EV expansion – a worldwide trend

The nature of car markets varies greatly throughout the world. Mature markets, such as those found in the US (United States), Europe, Japan and some other countries or regions where automobile ownership is very widespread, face significantly different issues from those found in fast-developing but still under-equipped countries such as China or India. Yet, there is a worldwide trend for a wider adoption of EVs.

The EU (European Union), for instance, aims at achieving an 80-95 % reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, compared to the 1990 level, in particular through the use of renewable sources of energy. The electrification of transport and substitution of oil as transport fuel are central to this decarbonization effort. Estimates on the future market share of EVs in the EU vary between 450 000 and 1 500 000 units by 2020-2025.

In his January 2011 State of the Union Address, US President Barack Obama called for a million EVs on American roads by 2015.

The Asia-Pacific region is another major area of future growth for EVs, with environmental concerns and oil prices key drivers for the electrification of transport. The sale of EVs in this region is expected to exceed 1.2 million units in 2015.

In Japan, METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) issued new goals for EVs domestic sales in April 2010. METI wants sales of these to account for 50 % of all new car sales by 2020.

In China, the 90 million or so cars on the roads at the end of 2010 accounted for 40 % of national oil consumption. With 15 to 25 million vehicles expected to be added every year between 2010 and 2020, China may have in excess of 200 million cars by 2020, “causing serious energy security and environmental issues”, according to Wang Fuchang, director of China's Department of Equipment Industry. As a result, EV production is being strongly promoted as a cornerstone of China’s 12th five-year plan (2011-2015). In September 2010, Beijing announced that it was providing 15 billion US dollars in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry.The sale of EVs in the country is projected to exceed 550 000 units in 2015.

Worldwide estimates vary, but EVs are expected to make up 5 % to 10 % of the global car market by 2020.

Expanding offer

Confirmation of the expansion of the EV market globally and its economic potential has been given by the very substantial presence of new models from all the world’s leading car manufacturers at recent international car shows.

At the March 2011 Geneva International Motor Show, where new models are frequently unveiled, vehicles presented by major manufacturers ranged from tiny urban two-seaters, to electric versions of current models or new designs of sedans, sports cars and small vans, and even an experimental all-electric Rolls Royce Phantom saloon.

EVs are currently available in a number of different configurations and powertrains:

  • HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle), using a combination of an electric motor and ICE, with regenerative braking providing energy to charge the battery.
  • PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), using the same powertrain as HEVs, but with the possibility of charging the battery by plugging it to the electricity grid.
  • REV (Range-extender Vehicle) another type of HEV, with propulsion from an electric motor, and charging of the battery by plugging it to the electricity grid or by an on-board ICE.
  • BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), all-electric propulsion only with charging of the battery from the electricity grid.
  • HFCV (Hydrogen/Fuel Cell Vehicle), with electric propulsion only, the external energy being provided by an on-board hydrogen tank, a technology that is still at an early stage and not yet commercially available.


The mass roll-out of EVs faces a number of challenges mainly linked to cost, range and charging. But signs are that these obstacles will be gradually overcome in a not- too-distant future.

The price of EVs is still higher than that of similar ICE-powered vehicles, in particular for all-electric cars, with batteries representing the lion's share of the additional cost. New battery technologies and larger production volumes mean that the price of batteries will eventually come down.

Various schemes are under consideration or applied in many countries to encourage the purchase of EVs. These include government incentives and new business models. Government or local authorities in a number of countries offer tax rebates, one-off grants or subsidies for the purchase of EVs to offset the price difference with ICE-powered vehicles. Manufacturers, dealers or dedicated companies are offering leasing plans to encourage consumer adoption of EVs.

Range represents another factor limiting consumer adoption of all-electric vehicles. However, it is often essentially down to perception. So-called range anxiety on the part of drivers is not as severe as often reported, especially as many users drive relatively short distances, mainly to work. Yet the limited range of EVs is still seen by some as a drawback. Rapid charging and quick battery swap can help reduce the range limitations of current full-electric vehicles.

The EV charging infrastructure, still practically non-existent in many countries, can also be seen still as slowing the mass adoption of EVs. However, surveys of EV owners show that most find the range of plug-in EVs adequate and prefer charging these at home and avoiding public charging. Such findings were confirmed in Berlin, Germany, where the public charging network's chargers were largely unused by EV drivers.


In the longer term, EVs are seen as having a significant role to play in the future smart electrification plans under development in many countries. Under such plans, plug-in EVs using two-way digital communications will be integrated in the Smart Grids that are being developed in many countries to replace electricity networks that were built 50 or more years ago.

These EVs will help regulate the requirements of the electricity network. They can favour the integration of renewables like solar and wind energy by helping balance their intermittent supply.

New business and policy models

Electrification of individual transportation is vital for the future of transport in general and essential to cut dependence on dwindling oil supplies and mitigate the adverse environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels. There are undoubtedly significant challenges, but solutions will be found to meet these.

Automotive industry experts agree that the appeal of EVs will grow as their range increases and their cost drops with improvements in battery and other technologies. These are domains where the IEC will play a central role. Innovative business and public policy models will also be needed to favour mass take-up of EVs.

Lohner-Porsche hybrid 1900, rebuilt in 2011 Lohner-Porsche hybrid 1900, rebuilt in 2011
Prius PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid) Prius PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)
Porsche Panamera S Hybrid 2011 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid 2011