On ResearchGate: Forecasting e-mobility in an online industry report

The general sentiment about electric cars was hopeful to hyperbolic a few years ago. One researcher wanted to give a more realistic outlook.

The general sentiment about electric cars was hopeful to hyperbolic a few years ago. In 2011, Nissan projected they’d sell 500,000 of their all-electric car Leaf within two years. According to the company, it’s now the world’s best-selling all-electric cars with 158,000 vehicles sold globally to date, but severely failed to meet initial expectations.

The same year Leaf went to market, the chair for automotive technology at the Technical University Munich, Markus Lienkamp, wanted to paint a more realistic picture on the future of electrical mobility. He wrote a book and chose to work with a traditional publisher. But when the report finally got to the stands in 2012, parts were already outdated. On top of that, he wanted his students and everyone else interested in the topic to be able to read it free of charge. That’s why, when it was time for an update of the book, Lienkamp decided to take the publishing part in his own hands and put the report on ResearchGate.

The mechanical engineer has spent the past five years developing a cost efficient full-electric second car with a range of 100 miles – more than what most people need for their daily routine, Lienkamp says. He knows that the concept is fool-proof, so in his “Status of electrical mobility 2014,” he foresees a bright future for electrical cars.

“My main hypothesis is that price rules above everything else,” says Lienkamp in an interview with ResearchGate. Electric vehicles may still be less convenient than fuel-powered cars, but when current and planned subsidies and fines for Co2 emissions are taken into account, the price will become the ruling argument. “I believe the tipping point will be sometime between 2020 and 2025,” Lienkamp says.

New policies will accelerate the development in Europe. This past year, the European parliament agreed on new standards that foresee a reduction of carbon emissions for new cars by a quarter in 2020 and even stricter rules by 2025. “Then we’ll easily see more than 20 percent of electronic vehicles among new registrations. Otherwise we won’t be able to meet these restrictions and that would come at a high price,” Lienkamp says.

As for other regions, the engineer thinks China will be on Europe’s heels, because electric cars may be part of the solution to the country’s problem with smog.  Shenzhen, the densely populated industrial hub north of Hong Kong, already restricted car sales for this reason in December 2014. Lienkamp says: “There’s no significant local technology for combustion engine vehicles in China but there’s a significant local market. So if the Chinese manage to build electric vehicles at a reasonable price, the motivation to ban combustion engines will be high.”

In the West though, Lienkamp thinks today’s big players will stay on top. The current leaders for fuel powered cars will most likely rule the e-mobility market, with Tesla as an exception: “The automobile industry is capital intensive. You would need about two billion dollars just to get started.”

Only time will tell what the future of electric mobility will actually look like, but people definitely are interested in reading about it. In the summer of 2014 Lienkamp published both the English and German version of his book on his ResarchGate profile. Since then it’s been downloaded more than 1000 times and he’s happy with his readership: “I’ve even been asked by car company executives whether they could pass it on to others.”

Image: Visio M, the electric car Liemkamp and his team developed at Technical University Munich. Image courtesy of Florian Lehmann.

This story was also published in Car Talk. You can check it out here.