But for now, they are staying focused on the bottom line. “We can imagine a world [by 2030] where the majority of cars will be plugged in, and some form of hybridisation will be the dominant technology,” Ayoul Grouvel, head of Peugeot electric vehicles projects, told EurActiv.
Peter Mock, an environmental scientist at the International Council for Clean Transportation, agreed. “By 2030 we’ll all be driving hybrids,” he said. “We will already be in the phase where you go one step further, [with] an increasing number of electric cars in Europe.”
“The advantages of hybrids are obvious,” Grouvel said. “You can go where you want with zero emissions in city centre. It is the best of both worlds but the drawback is cost. We have 10 years to reduce that.”
Within 20 years, emerging markets in India and Africa are expected to be driving major growth in the world’s car industry, while new mobility operators in mega-cities will sprout, offering multiplatform transport packages that utilise electric cars, bikes and public transport.
Today’s electric vehicles can only run at top speed for short periods of time before over-heating, but a European Commission report last year predicted that their performance - and range - would soon increase.
Smaller, lighter, more heterogeneous
After 2015, electric vehicles chassis will become lighter than today’s cars, the report by the consultants CE Delft said.
There will also be “a trend towards smaller cars” and a more “heterogeneous” fleet with electrified city cruisers, pedelucs, racing and off-road motorbikes, trucks and vans.
“When you’re bringing out new products, you have the advantage of being the first mover,” said Gunnar Lorenz, the head of Networks at Europe’s electricity association Eurelectric.
“But you have to do it the hard way,” he added. “Some companies are more laid back and say once all the mistakes are done, we’ll come up with a better product and take the market, so you have different strategies.”
Auto-manufacturers are aready racing to market new electric products like the crossover Renault two-seated Twizy and Peugeot Metropolis, which they believe will create new possibilities for car sharing.
“It is not a threat for the industry because the people who will be sharing cars tomorrow are not using them today,” Grouvel said.
Peugeot sees potential for such schemes at the top and bottom ends of the market – among harried professionals and those who can’t afford to buy a car.
Several young environmental and energy researchers working in the electric vehicles field told EurActiv that they were already using car sharing schemes. “It’s a generation thing,” one said. “I don’t think my father will ever change his view.”
Industry associations privately estimate that a change in social attitudes will hike car pooling rates in cities to as much as 50% by 2030, but caution that public authorities will need to incentivise this.
Certainly, a transfer to electrified transport is unlikely to brown out the grid. Figures from Eurelectric suggest that even if all EU citizens switched to electric cars tomorrow, it would only increase electricity consumption by 15%.
Ninety two percent of cars are parked at any one time, and futuristic-minded policymakers often wax lyrical about how electric vehicle-owning ‘prosumers’ (a mix of producers and consumers) could one day level out grid peaks and troughs by keeping their vehicles plugged in to a super-grid.
More prosaically, car owners could turn a profit by charging their vehicles overnight, when electricity rates are low, and selling back unused energy to the grid at peak times. Grouvel said that it was an interesting issue for Peugeot, but “still quite far away as a business model”.
“It would increase your battery cost and charging points cost,” he said. “The technology for the charger in the car would become more expensive because you’d need a two-way charger so the economics should be seen just not from the point of view of energy companies which have an interest, but from the car manufacturers [side].”
Without this “phase one" of creating an electric vehicles market, there would be no smart grid market, Grouvel argued. “We’re not dreaming of electric vehicles, we are selling them, and that makes us realistic,” he expanded.
Wolf Jäcklein, a policy advisor for the IndustriALL union said that efforts by EU countries and employers to reskill auto-workers for the shift to electric cars so far were “not sufficient”.
But the vehicles-to-grid model will “certainly need to happen for electric vehicles to be optimally integrated into a clean energy system,” Tali Trigg, an analyst at the International Energy Agency, told EurActiv. “Some cities and countries are doing trials to gather data and see how it works right now.”
Over the next decade, such trials would continue, he said. Clusters of renewable energy-rich infrastructure for electric cars would be “a good idea” - and so would greater stakeholder coordination and planning.
“If you look at targets that countries and manufacturers have set for each other and stack them together, you have a huge gap that starts appearing after 2014,” he said.
“National governments have set targets much higher than manufacturers believe [possible] right now so there is a need to manage expectations, and decrease what is missing,” he added.