Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming increasingly popular due to their cost effectiveness, eco-friendliness, and plain ol’ fun. As battery technology continues to advance and the demand for sustainable transportation options increases, the EV market is expected to grow even more rapidly over the coming years.
Here are some things to get excited about in the next five years.
The current state of EV battery technology (and cost!) is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was just five or ten years ago, with many modern EV ranges exceeding 300 miles. However, in the next five years, we can expect to see further advancement – and not just in range. Charging speeds will improve, as will the adoption of battery chemistries that are “happier” at higher states of charge. While most NCA- and NMC-based lithium batteries on the market today prefer being charged to 80% on a habitual basis, manufacturers such as Tesla and Ford are phasing in new chemistries like Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) – and these batteries don’t mind being charged to 100% every day. They are also more resistant to frequent fast charging, since the LFP chemistry is less sensitive to high voltage. Researchers are also eager to develop entirely new electrolytes that perform better in extreme temperatures, with the goal of negating some of the current issues encountered in such conditions.
Several pilot programs are also underway to explore and test new battery technologies that could potentially revolutionize the industry. For instance, solid-state batteries are one of the most promising alternatives to traditional lithium-ion batteries, offering higher energy density and faster charging times. A number of automakers, including Toyota and BMW, are currently investing in research and development of solid-state batteries, with plans to introduce them in their vehicles as soon as 2025.
Autonomous driving and driver assistance
Autonomous driving and driver assist features have already made significant strides in recent years, with many modern vehicles coming equipped with features such as lane departure warnings, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. However, most cars are still limited to level 2 autonomy, which means the driver has to be engaged and hands-on. But, Mercedes-Benz recently received the first official level 3 certificate, which is an exciting development; it means that its autonomous driving system can allow the driver to do things like use the infotainment system while the car is driving.
Over the next five years, advancements in these technologies are expected to improve safety features and introduce more advanced driver assist features. While it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to catch up on the news or read Aunt Sally’s latest blog post as your car drives you to work, drivers will be saddled with progressively less work while driving, and cars will offer a safer road experience for everyone. Will cars in 2028 be able to drop us off and park without our help? I hope so.
Companies such as Waymo, Cruise and Tesla had long been at the forefront of the movement, although with differing levels of success. Cruise, a GM-backed company, has offered fully autonomous rides in San Francisco since 2021. Waymo, which is owned by Alphabet, has had autonomous rideshare services in Arizona since 2020, San Francisco since 2022, and near-term plans in Los Angeles. On the other hand, Tesla’s “full self driving” system, long the technology’s vanguard, was officially censored by the NHTSA this year due to safety concerns, and there are now petitions to force the company to change the name to something that better reflects its level 2 limitations.
Newer developments into automated driving software abound. Ford, after shuttering its autonomous driving bid in 2022, recently announced a reinvestment into the technology with Latitude AI, which will build to level 3 using the current level 2, BlueCruise. GM also announced an upgrade to its level 2 system called Ultima Cruise.
Bidirectional charging is a technology that allows EVs to not only charge from the grid but also to supply power back to your house, a device, or the grid! This technology has the potential to shore up the aging electric grid, allow schools and hospitals to provide their own backup power, and nonprofits to raise funds by selling energy to the grid. These technologies are also known as Vehicle To Home (V2H) and Vehicle To Grid (V2G) or Vehicle to Load (V2L) if you’re powering isolated devices. The tech is still developing, but can already be found in the newest Hyundai Ioniq 5, KIA EV6 and Niro EV, Nissan LEAF, and Ford F-150 Lightning models, to name a few.
If you buy a so-called “transfer switch,” and have it installed by a licensed electrician, you can power parts of your home during power outages. Since EV batteries tend to be so large, your average EV could supply an entire household with power for upwards of 2-3 days if your home is otherwise without power. However, since this technology is still new, it is still cost prohibitive for many people, and there is no standard setup.
Select local utilities already offer incentives for using your vehicle’s battery for balancing the electrical grid’s load during times of high demand or low renewable production; these programs will expand as the technology matures. In 2020, Nissan announced a partnership with EDF Energy and the National Grid in the UK to explore the potential of using Nissan LEAF batteries for grid balancing. In 2022, Duke Energy announced a partnership with Ford to enable consenting owners of Ford EVs to sell energy back to the grid. As the adoption of EVs continues to grow, we can expect to see more utilities and governments incentivizing bidirectional charging technology to encourage the development of a more sustainable and resilient energy system.
Battery swapping technology has the potential to revolutionize the EV industry by addressing one of the key concerns of consumers: the time it takes to recharge a battery. With battery swapping, drivers can quickly and easily exchange their depleted battery for a fully charged one, eliminating the need for lengthy charging times and personal charging hardware. However, improvements in public, level 3 charging times have raised questions about the need for battery swapping. There are two use cases that battery swapping may help:
- A mostly untapped market of EV drivers who live in apartments or multi-unit dwellings and do not have access to home charging.
- Electrified buses and trucks, which have strict schedules and larger packs that take much longer to recharge.
Battery swapping has been developed and tested by numerous worldwide manufacturers. Tesla and Renault both tried it and shelved the technology, reportedly due to lack of customer interest. The companies may have also realized that the capital expenditure to build large-scale battery swapping facilities was greater than that to build fast chargers, and that there would be limitations on vehicle design, such as with the Model Y’s planned structural battery pack. Furthermore, in Europe and the US today, most EV drivers do have access to home charging, meaning that it is painless and cheap to recharge overnight.
However, China-based battery and EV manufacturer NIO has been testing the technology; they’ve built over 1,250 battery swapping stations across China and aim to add 1,000 more in 2023. All it takes is thirty dollars o swap a battery out for a freshly-charged one at a NIO battery swap station. In the US, this could be cheaper than a fast charge! A Taiwan-based company, Gogoro, has a similar battery swapping system for electric scooters. There’s a chance a market for this may re-emerge in the US if success is widespread overseas and is seen as an option to further accelerate EV adoption, especially in locations where home charging is not feasible.