Electric vehicles (EVs) are nothing new. In fact, they first appeared in the late 19th century, but their high cost, low top speed and short range led to a worldwide decline in their use when the internal combustion engine was introduced. EVs have been attracting renewed interest since the start of this century, however, and recent figures show a clear upswing in consumer adoption. It seems that electric vehicles are finally here to stay. According to the Economic and Market Report on the EU Automotive Industry by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), in the 2nd quarter of 2020 the market share of electrically chargeable vehicles (ECVs) increased to 7.2% of total EU car sales, compared to a 2.4% share during the same period last year. From April to June 2020, EU registrations of electrically-chargeable vehicles (ECV) rose by 53.3%, which is an impressive increase). So why is the tipping point occurring now?
“Several factors have combined to bring us to this point, and not least environmental legislation,” says Vincent Roes, Vice President Strategic Development and E-mobility Lead in DEKRA’s Product Testing division. “In Europe, for example, the EU mandatory emission reduction targets for new cars are forcing OEMs to introduce more full-electric vehicle lines in order to avoid exceeding the increasingly stringent CO2 targets across their total fleet. In parallel, consumers are increasingly environmentally aware – there is a growing ‘sustainability mindset’. And then of course there have been advancements in the vehicle technology: energy density in batteries has increased, expanding the range, and battery prices are falling. Also the continued growth of the network of charging points supports acceptance of EV’s. This is enabling OEMs to launch electric models that can compete with mid-range car segments, rather than EVs being limited to the high-end segment due to the high technology costs.”
“In order to meet consumer needs by increasing the range of electric cars, manufacturers are turning to larger battery packs, which are inevitably heavier too – they can weigh up to 600 kg! From the point of view of both good vehicle dynamics and optimal protection, the battery pack is included as an integral part of the car design and is positioned as centrally and as low down as possible. This has considerable safety implications, of course, because any source of energy is a potential hazard,” explains Vincent. “A battery pack is made up of several modules containing large numbers of battery cells. The battery cells are often produced by external companies, but the battery pack assembly is usually done by the OEM. Battery cells and battery packs are each subject to different testing requirements, but testing is not only a crucial part of the development of the battery pack. Automotive manufacturers also have to complete testing for homologation – at both full-vehicle and component level – before a vehicle is allowed to be sold. At DEKRA we already offer both types of services, with all the accreditations in place, and we’re focusing strongly on expanding our EV testing activities in the near future.”
Countless EV models in the pipeline
As a result of this combination of legislative requirements, consumer demand and technological advancements, car manufacturers have little choice but to develop new hybrid and full-EV models. Over 30 new and improved BEV & PHEV models were introduced in Europe in the 2nd half of 2019. Also ECV production increased to a high level despite a 1-2 months production stop due to the Covid-19 lockdown. “In the coming years, over 300 new full-EV models are expected to be launched in Europe alone,” he continues. “But all of those vehicles will have to be charged. This will put pressure on the charging infrastructure.” This pressure will be felt differently in different regions, because the density of charging station coverage still varies widely from country to country. ACEA research shows that 76% of all EV charging points are located in just 4 countries (Netherlands, Germany, France, UK). According to Roland Berger’s Automotive Disruption Radar report (September 2019), the Netherlands leads the way globally with a network of around 41,000 charging stations (which equates to 29.3 per 100 km of roadways). With just 16,000 charging stations (1.9 per 100 km), Germany has a relatively low coverage but is gearing up fast, with a growth rate of 458% from January 2017 to January 2019. Significant growth is also evident in the United Kingdom (128%) and France (75%). Although China currently has just 8.3 charging stations per 100 km, it is by far the largest EV market globally and is growing at an impressive rate of 274%. The USA has some catching up to do, however, with a density of just 0.3 and relatively slow growth (42%).
The fast-charging future
Needless to say, the charging infrastructure has a big impact on consumer adoption, which is why AC charging stations are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in residential areas, in city centers and at places of work. But many people are still concerned about recharging issues. “The battery range and charging time are still seen as limiting factors by many consumers,” comments Vincent. “But we’re now seeing a rise in the number of fast-charging systems, also known as DC charging stations.” This was pioneered by Tesla, which developed its own infrastructure of proprietary Supercharger fast-charging stations. “The rest of the car industry has since realized that a fast-charging infrastructure is essential to the adoption of EVs. Therefore, the major OEMs and charging infrastructure providers are working together within consortia to develop networks of generic DC charging stations along the main motorway corridors in Europe with high power charging stations operating up to 350 kW.. This will help to relieve ‘range anxiety’ among consumers,” he continues. “In fact, a short charging time is becoming a new focus; Porsche is actively promoting the fact that its new Taycan model can be recharged to 80% full in roughly 20 minutes as a major unique selling point. This speed is achieved thanks to a new 800V system architecture. Also other manufactures are working on 800V platforms. As such short charging times become the norm, we will see another shift in consumer mindset resulting in the further uptake of EVs.”
Interoperability is key
The emerging charging infrastructure market is made up of various operators. In this fragmented market, interoperability is key. “All makes and models of EVs need to be able to communicate with the various types of charging stations, including with their back-office systems that support roaming, invoicing and so on,” explains Vincent. Needless to say, charging stations are highly complex electrical and technological systems. “A growing number of them also enable vehicle-to-grid or ‘smart’ charging, which uses EVs as a kind of ‘buffer’ to optimally balance the electricity supply and demand, for example. So from a standards perspective, the e-mobility trend is causing two previously separate worlds to ‘collide’: the automotive industry, which works with ISO standards, and the electrical world, where IEC standards are used,” he adds.
Bridging the gap
“As DEKRA, we are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between those two industries,” Vincent continues. “DEKRA has been around for nearly a hundred years, not only in the automotive sector but also in the electrical world through its acquisition history. It’s thanks to this strong heritage that we can nowadays award the KEMA-KEUR certification mark to EV charging stations in addition to electrical components such as plugs, cables, connectors, wiring and switches. We’re not only closely monitoring the latest legislative requirements and industry standards, but are actually helping to drive them forward to keep pace with technology by participating in various standardization committees and industry consortia consisting of OEMs, suppliers, engineering partners, providers of charging infrastructure and other test houses.” DEKRA is also further developing and expanding its existing network of technical laboratories and testing facilities around the world – such as in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, the USA, China and Taiwan. “We are continuously pursuing our goal of becoming the leading company in terms of EV testing services for manufacturers and suppliers globally, whether they need to test vehicles, components or charging systems,” concludes Vincent.