Cars, buses, motorcycles, trucks, helicopters and even ships.
Electric vehicles are slowly but surely making inroads into the transportation industry, but is this enough to actually change the way we travel?
Here in Singapore, there were more than 930,000 vehicles on the road in 2018. Only 707 of them were electric. That doesn’t sound like much, but just 5 years before that, there were only seven electric vehicles.
That’s a 10,000 percent increase!
Now, we’re seeing more charging points and electric car-sharing services popping up all around the island.
But what about the rest of the world? Well, China, Europe and the United States led in electric vehicle – or EV – sales in 2018, with nearly two million electric cars bought between them.
But they make up only a tiny fraction of the world’s automobiles as a whole.
In the Nordic countries however, EVs are starting to command a sizeable market share.
Nearly 50 percent of Norway’s cars are electric.
Traditional automakers, start-ups and even unlikely brands are hungry for a share of what they hope will be a lucrative market.
In 2018, the top sellers were Tesla, Beijing Electric Vehicles, BYD and Nissan, but the electric drive isn’t confined to personal vehicles.
Electric tuk-tuks and mini-cabs are also popping up all over the world.
Not to mention hoverboards, segways and even laptop-sized super cars that you can carry in your bag.
But with more electric vehicles, you’re going to need the infrastructure to charge them.
Countries like the USA, China and India are all laying out milestone targets for the electric-car industry, whether by providing more charging points or phasing out carbon-emission cars altogether.
But that is only one part of the equation.
As the electric vehicle industry grows, more talent and resources will be required.
So in a place like Singapore, the government is more inclined to let the private sector lead.
In other countries around the world, where there is an over-arching commitment towards the environment, the city has been more than willing to provide the charging infrastructure.
As of today, EVs are much more expensive than a conventional petrol car.
However, in the next 5 years, it is predicted that the cost of an EV will equal the cost of a petrol-driven vehicle.
At that point, it will be a no-brainer for people to switch to an EV car.
The main draw for a switch to electric transport is of course, reducing our carbon footprint. But electricity still needs to be drawn from somewhere, and power plants aren’t exactly pollution-free.
38 percent of the world’s electricity still comes from burning coal, the source of energy that causes the most pollution.
Americans still depend on coal to generate more than a quarter of its power, while it makes up about 60 percent of China’s energy mix.
With more electric vehicles and charging stations being built, demand for electricity will also increase.
According to future projections, electric vehicles will cause global electricity consumption to rise 6.8 percent by 2040.
This brings up the question of whether any positive environmental impact of an electric transportation system will be significant enough.
If the savings just aren’t there, will a global adoption be worth it?
The switch from a petrol vehicle to a hybrid or a full electric, will really save emissions by at least 20 – 30 percent.
Singapore has put more focus on electrification of public transport, so you’ll see first buses which are hybrid, and then buses which are electric vehicles.
And that will probably be the most sustainable form of transport that we’ll see going into the future.
But there might be other factors hindering the mass adoption of electric vehicles. It would be impractical to build charging infrastructure in countries with mountainous terrain or incompatible electrical grids, like Nepal or Pakistan.
And let’s face it, the range of electric passenger vehicles available on the market now remains modest.
The motorcycle scene is also buzzing for a slice of the electric pie, with an array of dirt bikes, scooters, and mopeds.
Established marquees like BMW, Vespa and Harley-Davidson are also joining the game.
But just 11 months after the debut of Harley’s fully electric motorcycle, the LiveWire, the company has halted production after it discovered a problem with its charging mechanism.
And Dyson, more famous for its vacuum cleaners and fans, has also abruptly cancelled its electric car project, citing difficulties in making it commercially viable.
Despite Dyson’s exit, traditional auto manufacturers and new players are pushing ahead with their plans. The list includes Apple, with its rumored electric car project, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It might mean that we can expect a few surprises in technological innovations.
As interesting as it would be to watch heritage brands marry their distinct styles with electric capabilities, a loyal customer base might not be enough leverage for a foray into the electric industry, given the difficulties companies are now facing.
But it’s not just the consumers who will need to be won over.
New electric car manufacturers have more barriers to entry, such as forming a network of suppliers and sales, which gives traditional automakers an edge.
Electric transport has taken to the skies as well.
I’m here at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, surrounded by the latest revolutionary products in transportation, like this ‘vertiport’ infrastructure for electric sky taxis.
It may seem farfetched. But not when you consider that there are already working electric aircraft.
Flying cars, flying taxis, have been talked about for ages.
And we looked across the technology spectrum and said, OK, what’s changed to make this a reality now.
And we looked at batteries, we looked at carbon fiber and how you can mold carbon fiber.
And we thought actually, now this is becoming a reality, the technology is there, it’s available.
We see so much progression in a number of technologies, that are all coming together.
You have this tipping point where suddenly, we are now able to build a vehicle like the Volocopter, which individually, wasn’t possible you know, 5 years ago.
Volocopter, in collaboration with Skyports, aims to develop a commercial air taxi service in Singapore.
There’s a, I would say, global will to make this happen in order to enable CO2 or emission-free transportation. I think we have no choice but to become emission-free. And the only technological possibility that we currently have is to go electric.
We are absolutely convinced that it’s going to be a meaningful way of moving around cities. It’s not going to be the solution and all cars come off the road immediately. We see this very much as an integrated part of the transport network.
Back on the roads, electric vehicles still make up less than 1 percent of the billion vehicles being driven today. Disrupting that will take a bit of time. But now that there are more players and more solutions, we can expect more innovation, diversity and infrastructure in the scene.
Which means you might be plugging into an electric city of the future sooner than you think.