Can electric vehicles lead us to a emissions free future?

Can electric vehicles lead us to a emissions free future?

20 Nov

By Gwyn Fennell

Did you know that September 2018 figures indicate that more than 178,000 plug-in electric cars and over 6,000 vans were registered in the UK? That’s another increase on EV – electric vehicle – take up. While there’s still a long way to go, the gradual switch from combustion engines to zero emission electric motors is gathering pace.

The government’s “Road to Zero” plan – created in an attempt to reduce vehicle emissions – is aiming for half of all new car sales to be either hybrid or fully electric by 2030. A total ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans is intended by 2040. The roll out of smart-ready charging point installations across the UK’s extensive motorway service area network is to be increased. Large petrol stations, local government sites, private offices, and retail outlets are installing EV charging points on their land, providing the opportunity for electric vehicles to be recharged at times when traditionally parked and left idling.

Globally, automotive and electrification companies are investing massively on the development of new technologies that will be essential for the sustainability and affordability of EVs. The same is true of the essential infrastructure that electric vehicles require for recharging. At the last count, more than 18,000 charging points were available to EV drivers in the UK. This ongoing expansion of infrastructure, in tandem with the increased installation of electric vehicle home charging points – along with EV battery capacities going up, and charge times coming down – is starting to reshape the future of motoring.

You can’t avoid the electric vehicle conversation. Well known brands, such as Elon Musk’s Tesla, regularly feature in the news regarding all things electric. Tesla are now synonymous with the drive towards the full electrification of motoring. Now, all of the world’s leading high volume car makers offer fully electric or hybrid vehicles, with the range of available models on the increase. Even small volume supercar manufacturers, like Ferrari, are now developing electric-powered alternatives to their traditional, gas guzzling sports cars.  


We’re living in an age of disruptive innovation that will redefine motoring

Just as Tesla is transforming attitudes in the car industry, so too is the emergence of Uber, the global private hire company. They’re challenging the ways we all consume personal travel. Now firmly established in the UK’s capital, they’ve recently announced their intention to raise fares in London, specifically to help drivers finance the purchase of EVs. Uber anticipates that the new clean air charge will raise in the region of £200m, contributing towards approximately 20,000 drivers being able to switch to fully electric vehicles by 2021. It’s hoped that every vehicle providing services under the Uber brand will be fully electric by 2025.

This is a huge step forward, following the initial introduction of hybrid-powered vehicles at the end of 20th century. The extremely popular Toyota Prius marked the beginning of a change in attitude for what many of us choose to drive. Uber’s strategy signals the next step in a societal shift away from petrol and diesel engines towards solely electric motor vehicles. Not so long ago this would have seemed impossible – an electric dream. Today, it’s much closer to reality, because – more significantly than anything else – more and more people around the world have an increasing appetite to either drive – or be driven in – electric vehicles.

How has this come to pass? In part, it’s because of the negative impact fossil fuels are having on the environment – as most notably experienced in the nation’s built up urban landscapes through air polution. The switch to electric vehicles will make a huge contribution to reducing carbon emissions. This, along with the perceived volatility of future oil supply – many oil producing regions continue to be problematic – and the knock-on effect of increased costs at the petrol pump have together resulted in a climate that is now right to finally commit to the full electrification of personal transport. The dawn of a cleaner, cheaper driving age has begun.

The future of EVs is being shaped by Continental

The world’s leading premium tyre manufacturer, Continental, is front and centre of the electric vehicle revolution. Better known by most of us for their range of award winning premium tyres, in fact they’re actually a global automotive safety technology company. For nearly 150 years, Continental have been at the forefront of groundbreaking automotive innovation, developing both mechanical and electronic technology systems for all kinds of vehicles, as well as their better known tyres. Only Continental knows the entire braking process in every detail – from pedal to tyre.

The electric vehicle you drive – or will drive in the not so distant future – is dependent on an ever expanding range of new technologies and innovations. Continental’s electricfication solutions – designed for both hybrid and EVs – include power electronics, axle drives, smart actuator platforms, and thermal management. Without these kinds of technologies, you wouldn’t be able to drive an electric vehicle.

There’s also their contribution to the essential technology required to integrate the electric vehicle’s propulsion system with its power source, such as high voltage battery boxes and management systems, converters, inverters, and powertrain domain control units.

And of course there are dedicated tyres for EVs. Why? Because the unique characteristic of electric-powered vehicles over traditional petrol-powered ones – their infinitely superior torque – means that a specialist, purpose built tyre is vital. With so much more power passing from the electric motor to the ground so quickly, developing a tyre that is not only able cope with increased rotations but also harness this power effectively was essential.

Unveiled in 2012, Continental’s superb Conti.eContact™ was the world’s first dedicated e-car tyre, not only harnessing and controlling the additional torque superbly, but also providing EV drivers with improved rolling resistance (which offers the possibility of much higher mileage), excellent braking performance, and noticeably lower noise emissions (as anyone who’s driven on a motorway will already know, this is essential for silent driving e-cars).

Looking ahead, is the future of driving electric, connected and autonomous?

Some in the automotive industry think so. It’s highly possible that in the not so distant future, personal transport vehicles will not only have switched to fully electric and emissions free, but also be part of a vast connected network and autonomous.

If you think this sounds as realistic as a Hollywood sci-fi movie – à la I, Robot – think again. The initial foundations for a hands-free, driverless future are already being laid. One possible future is already being created. Why? Because, in the main, the need to get from one place to another is simply a necessary function towards achieving a given goal – nothing more.

We’re typically motivated to undertake a journey from one place to another because we want to do a specific activity once we reach our destination. Whether we travel for business or leisure reasons, doesn’t it make sense for this journey be as stress and hassle free as possible? In the 21st century, is it reasonable for us to waste precious time with such an unnecessary task? Couldn’t this time be put to better use – such as for something more enjoyable? Autonomous, connected driving will make this vision a reality. Continental are at the forefront of this mobility revolution.

Leading the connected, autonomous transformation

Some of Continental’s many initiatives, like BEE – their “Balanced Economy and Ecology mobility concept” – anticipate a future where vehicle ownership is an outdated concept. Instead, society may consume personal transport only as and when it’s needed – without ownership, and the associated hassles and expenses, such as parking, insurance and day to day running costs. A connected network of electrified autonomous vehicles could be available to everyone, accessed via an app, as and when required, and in constant use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round.

The social and environmental benefits are potentially tremendous. Instead of only being used for a fraction of the day, and otherwise left idling while parked, a network of connected cars could instead be much more productive. Continuous use could mean the need for less vehicles, as well as potentially doing away with the need for expensive, space-consuming parking in built up urban centres. A connected network of autonomous vehicles also means that traffic flow could be better managed, doing away with congestion and the possibility of accidents.

This final point is particularly important to Continental. Department of Transport figures reveal that there were 170,993 casualties and 1,793 fatalities on the UK’s roads in 2017. This is a devastating, shocking, and – ultimately – avoidable level of pain and suffering. Continental – through their global Vision Zero driver safety initiative – are absolutely determined to bring road accidents to an end. A connected, autonomous vehicle network – removing the possibility of human error – may significantly contribute to a reduction in road accidents and fatalities on the world’s roads – and perhaps ultimately end them all together. Now isn’t that a future we all want?

Continental are collaborating with Vodafone on 5G, V2X, mobile edge computing, and artificial intelligence in their quest to make our roads safer.

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