Ahe electric car is experiencing a new resurgence starting in 2010. While there are several reasons for this return, the great motivation for this rebirth is, more than ever, the fight against global warming.
The latter is accompanied by logical measures to reduce CO2 with, as a global high point, at the end of COP 21 held in Paris in the autumn of 2015, an objective of limiting global warming to between 1.5°C and 2°C by 2100, an agreement signed by all but seven countries in the world. This binding agreement should make it possible to "effectively combat climate change and to drive/accelerate the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies".
After the warning of the 1990s - the Kyoto Protocol or COP3 of 1997 and the introduction of corresponding measures to reduce greenhouse gases - particulate emissions are falling, but concentrations are stable. However, in the analysis made possible with historical hindsight, the first so-called Stockholm Climate Conference took place 45 years ago (1972), i.e. already nearly two generations ago, it appears that the concentrations of pollutants are more important than the emissions. Road traffic and the number of motorized vehicles are constantly increasing all over the world, with the industry of the main producers adding to that of emerging countries (China, India and Brazil) to create an undeniable scourge. Concentrations of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds are not declining despite unit emission reductions from new gasoline and diesel vehicles equipped with third resurgence (1990) technologies, injection engines, catalytic converters and on-board emission control indicators.
Despite four identified obstacles - price, range (distance travelled) and charging time, and availability of charging stations - which at the same time continue to penalise EVs at present, their development seems irreversible. The ecological reality is inescapable, requiring the mobilization of all manufacturers, urgently calling for considerable technological progress and combined initiatives by public services.
The thermal car could become the archaic symbol of unconscious pollution. For, if ecology arbitrates the best balance between man and the environment, greenhouse gases are the planetary cancer against which we must protect ourselves.
Combined with the recent marketing techniques of the new digital economy, which put the consumer at the centre of the decision-making and action processes, the effort to participate in environmental protection necessarily has stimulating effects on the choices made by motorists. But this EV revolution cannot happen overnight. It goes beyond the simple fact of driving and traveling because, more globally, it involves a profound, almost generational change in mentalities and behaviors and the ability to practice responsible eco-driving.
At the same time, in a strategic concern to adapt to the new modalities, manufacturers are turning to intermediate resilience solutions, including hybrid vehicle engines, which will allow a smooth transition to all-electric vehicles over the years, while at the same time ensuring low carbon emissions.
Different mechanizations are offered, the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (PHEV) or, in English, the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Plug-in (PHEV) when both engines act together to propel the vehicle - version Mild(Stop and Go) and Full House, or the Extended Range Electric Vehicles (EREV) when only the electric motor powers the wheels, with the combustion engine acting only as a generator to recharge the battery.
While Toyota launched itself on the hybrid market at the end of the 1990s with its Prius (1997), European Car of the Year in 2005, the manufacturer is now on its fourth model integrating rechargeable batteries for a record hybrid sales figure of ten million in twenty years. Its outstanding reliability makes it the best second-hand vehicle today. According to Toyota (2016), the use of these millions of vehicles would have enabled the company to emit some sixty-seven million tonnes of CO2 than with similarly sized classic cars. For Toyota, the use of the "Prius" has saved "25 million kilolitres of fuel compared to the amount that would have been used by gasoline-powered vehicles in the same segment". In short, a very good ecosystem model.
In conjunction with hybrid engines, conventional vehicle manufacturers are also responding to the environmental crisis by offering various solutions.
Mercedes-Benz, aware that cities and conurbations will receive two-thirds of the world's traffic, designed (2006) the second generation of its very small EV, the "Smart" (2009) and offered to lease its fleet to companies in several European cities including London, Berlin, Bern, Rome and Milan with incentives, exemption from parking tolls and free battery recharging, and in 2010, launches its "BlueZero" electrified prototype, whose high and aerodynamic design competes with that of conventional vehicles, which is considered more aesthetic and therefore more desirable.
Mercedes BlueZero Concept
Mitsubishi launches iMiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) the same year. Its ingenious design frees up the interior and stabilises the vehicle thanks to the positioning of the batteries at the rear, under the luggage compartment.
The Franco-Italian alliance Bolloré Pininfarina is designing a design car with innovations (B.O Blue Odour)The super-capacitor, which ensures both better energy storage and restitution and a battery placed between the axles to lower its centre of gravity. But the Bolloré Pininfarina association is best known for the launch of the "Autolib'", a concept initiated by the mayor of Paris in the B period. Delanoé in 2008 and put into service in 2011. The "Autolib'" public service, which referred to self-service car sharing, used the "Bluecar", an EV built by the Italian company Cecomp. Equipped with lithium-metal-polymer batteries and synchronous motors with magnets, it had a range of two hundred and fifty km in town, for an average recharge in four hours (subscription per card of €10/month + 0.23/minute, i.e. €4.66 for twenty minutes). This revolutionary concept has been taken up by many cities, testifying to the urban character of EVs, the use of which dates back to its beginnings.
Tesla Model "S
But other manufacturers are helping to raise the EV's image, with attractive prototypes, albeit for a limited segment, sports and luxury, Piffaretti, Fisher Karma and of course Tesla. Its "S model" is flawless in many ways, except for its price. Its boss, Elon Musk, who is very committed to EVs, is tackling the problem of production costs with a project to manufacture five hundred thousand batteries in 2018, or as many as the world production in 2013.
In this selective register, let us finally note the performances of the firm Venturi (EV speed record with the "VBB": 495.526 km/h in 2010), and the design of the "Astrolab" (2006), an electro-solar vehicle made up of solar panels over its entire surface, the first vehicle built and operating without fossil energy.
The consumer vehicle market is served by BYD (Build Your Dream), the Chinese manufacturer, the world's second largest EV manufacturer since the Nissan-Renault alliance (October 2016), the Japanese manufacturers already mentioned, notably Nissan with the "Leaf" (best-selling EV), some Americans (GM with the "Volt" and its high-performance battery recharging system on braking) and the French with initiatives at PSA, which plans to electrify 80 % of its models by 2023, and Renault with the "Zoe", which rivals the conventional "Clio" and now offers the second-hand "Zoe" for less than ten thousand euros.
Convergence - 2020s
The fluctuation of the current EV market is still highly dependent on the price of oil. In 2015, due to the low price per barrel, the sale of internal combustion vehicles jumped by 10 % while that of EVs fell by 4 %, indicating the fragility of the EV market.
But the energy transition is very real. And fortunately, renewables contribute much more to the global growth in electricity generation than fossil fuels. BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) has therefore projected that about 70 % of new electricity generation in 2030 will come from wind, solar and other clean non-nuclear energy sources.
Some European countries are announcing radical measures in favour of this development in order to accelerate the emergence of the electricity model. Germany, for example, aims to produce 100 % of new electric cars by 2030, and is campaigning for a ban on fossil-fuel vehicles within the European Union. From experiment to experiment, over the years, technical innovations, road infrastructures and competitiveness will overcome the various obstacles to EVs. It will eventually become the vehicle of choice in a suffocating environment, where pollution peaks are increasingly frequent, combined with the increase in natural disasters with dramatic consequences.
Economy of sharing and collective responsibility are practically the opposite of the concepts used in the early days of the automobile. At the end of the 19th centuryth In the 19th century, it was a question of having autonomy and mobility regardless of means. Following the industrial revolution, the XXth century is indeed the century of sovereign capitalism, of excessive consumption, regardless of the effects on the environment. Energy expenditure is motivated by the continuous growth of production, which was then largely relayed by the new producing countries at the global level. The end of the XXth The other major problem of the 21st century is that of harmful atmospheric emissions, harmful organic waste, energy waste and, finally, widespread pollution leading to the slow destruction of the ecosystem that guarantees the principle of life inherent to all species on the planet.
The XXIth The 21st century must first of all correct this evolution - an energy transition must be made - and jointly adapt its energy production to sustainable alternatives. EV remains the major challenge of this period.
The convergence of thermal/electric costs over the next decade means that the tariffs between EVs and internal combustion vehicles will be equivalent. With equal technology, the electric car should offer the same economic advantages as the conventional car, i.e., beyond mechanical reliability, material autonomy and favourable economic conditions.
In absolute terms, over fifteen years, the gap of two thousand euros in 2015 would be reduced to around one hundred euros in 2030. The first factor in this convergence is the expected fall in battery prices. However, the unit cost of electric accumulators can only be lowered if they are produced on a large scale, which requires a considerable effort on the part of the public authorities. Therefore, by 2030, one hundred thousand recharging stations of different powers will be installed in France, half of which will be financed by the state. However, the infrastructure required for such an installation requires the adaptation of the electricity network for ultra-fast recharging, but also its capacity to withstand overloading.
On the other hand, given that currently in France 75 % of electricity production is nuclear, this increase requires the transition from the conventional energy model to alternative energy in order to comply with energy regulations. At the international level, the requirements are identical for all countries. In China, for example, the main country responsible for carbon emissions at the international level with more than 70 % of its electricity coming from coal, the energy transition is accelerating given the critical situation of urban agglomerations, and since 2015 it has become the leading wind energy producing country.
As a general rule, any technical innovation requires a guarantee of energy autonomy, in terms of operation but also in terms of manufacturing, otherwise the innovation is inoperative and cannot find an application.
While the successive abandonments of EVs during its epic period can be explained economically, the EV market has not been able to hold its own against the business as usual, EV rebounds are all linked to crises, first political, then ecological. Automotive history shows the priority of economic choices at different times and their impact on the evolution of EVs. While the production of the internal combustion vehicle has almost always followed an upward curve, the electric vehicle remained only experimental until its last resurgence, its carbon-free technology before any regulation has not allowed it to benefit from a stable, reliable and profitable energy model. The development of electric mechanization, largely dependent on electro-technical and chemical innovations, has remained on the sidelines of the industrial concerns of automobile-producing countries that favour fossil fuels, which are reputed to be in tune with the market for inventions.
The French automotive company is still at the top of the list of patent applications in France. By leveraging technology to differentiate themselves from each other, carmakers are spending a lot of money on a new concept of EVs, connected cars and autonomous driving. In addition to increasingly stringent regulatory pressure to limit polluting emissions, the industry is optimizing its internal combustion engines, developing hybrid and electric powertrains, as well as fuel efficiency by reducing vehicle weight.
The model " Link and go Renault's "Clean Electric Vehicle", which will be marketed in the 2020s, is undoubtedly a response to the convergence projected for the new decade: a clean EV, with an electric engine that is autonomous for long journeys, but also autonomous because it is driverless, connected to the environment and intelligent.
The connected car is always a little more autonomy, and intelligent travel. The energy transition marks a new relationship between man and machine, with the car largely influencing this transition - Zen and serene, the new EV is plugged in, connected, as would be the trend for many objects today.
And the titans of the digital economy (Google and Apple in particular) have already entered the connected EV market to meet this new challenge. But can we trust the electronic brain of this type of EV today? In any case, this will not be an argument for not seducing and persisting, and this time reigning in resilience in the face of its thermal rival, which is undoubtedly starting a new cycle of demonization.
Finally, the recent Macron government has given VE a big boost by appointing Nicolas Hulot to the new Ministry of "Ecological and Solidarity Transition". The latter thus arrived at the very first council of ministers in VE, once his counterpart in the previous government Ségolène Royal also used an EV, but forty-three years after A. Jarrot. Is this a sign of lasting change after two generations of uncertainty?
Frank Pecquet, Lecturer: Digital Art - Researcher: Aesthetics/Creation and Sound Design - University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
Header photo : Swedish Uniti small electric car to be launched in 2019