The potential future of profitable investments in electric vehicle components and infrastructure hinge on cost-cutting processes and the final price tag, analysts say, but the industry is "losing time" in a race to cut carbon emissions before climate change does irreparable damage.
During a virtual panel discussion about buyers of battery electric vehicles, hosted Sept. 16 by the Center for Automotive Research, Mike Dovorany, vice president of the automotive and mobility market research team at Escalent, said developers should change the way they think about the persona of the future electric vehicle buyer.
"EV is an interesting space given the fact that there's so much energy and resources being put into them, and yet in a lot of ways there's a continued frustration of 'why aren't we seeing the results we would like,'" Dovorany said.
The growth of EVs is important for plastics suppliers making lighter weight parts, electronics and reconfigured interiors.
Escalent recently surveyed 10,000 new vehicle buyers to understand consumers' interest level in an electrified future in transportation.
"There's some pretty good human behavior lessons to bring to the table," Dovorany said.
With about 80 percent of respondents saying they believe EVs are either "the future" or "an interesting idea," he said, "there's basically been a coalescent in the consumers' minds around the fact that electrification is the future. … That shows a lot of the work getting done is actually resonating with people."
"There's a number of people who don't need necessarily to be convinced," he said.
About 15 percent of respondents said they want an EV but are "just waiting for the right product," Dovorany said.
And those vehicle varieties are coming, Dovorany said, with the auto industry "on the cusp" of having dozens of new kinds of EVs in production over the next few years. "It's exciting," he said.
But there's "not really time to wait for everyone to get comfortable with technologies," Britta Gross, managing director of Rocky Mountain Institute's mobility practice, said at the event. "We've got to start this acceleration of adoption today."
"If we're going to have a meaningful impact on climate and temperature, we've got to get on pace today," Gross said, with more than 50 million EVs on U.S. roads, about one in five vehicles, and about 300,000 fast-charging systems in U.S. infrastructure projected by 2030.
"Consumers aren't rushing to get into a vehicle segment that they don't prefer," she said. "They're waiting to see the products they want in the form and function they want. … It's really important that there are more vehicles on the market."
In 2019, Gross said, about 50 percent of available-for-purchase EVs were cars, about 20 percent were SUVs and crossovers, and none were pickups.
Affordability important, but not to all EV buyers
"Obviously," she said, battery cost and vehicle affordability in mainstream segments are going to be key to seeing that level of EV adoption.
"It depends on who your buyer is— sometimes cost is important and sometimes it's not," Dovorany added.
For about 10 percent of respondents to Escalent's survey, a plug-in hybrid was considered a "logical step" for those interested in electrification but not ready for a full-electric vehicle, Dovorany said. "And there's a really substantial amount that really just don't know enough to make a decision."
Cost and profitability of charging infrastructure are also key to reaching the scale of EV adoption necessary to reduce carbon emissions, Gross said.
"Every utility (company) should be engaged and investing in what's needed for this transformation of transportation," she said. "But alone, utilities can't do it. We've got to find a way to get rid of some of the cost barriers that make it not profitable for private investment to get into these markets."
Gross said debates over short-term issues are wasting time for utility developers looking to invest. Policies and awareness campaigns could help speed up the public education and eventual adoption of new technologies, she added.
Demographically, higher-income and younger EV enthusiasts tend to be influential, Dovorany said, and they play a role in heightening emotion or excitement over the future of electric mobility.
"There's messaging that can happen that isn't just talking about how an EV is less bad than a gasoline vehicle, but how it's exciting in ways that people might not even think about," Dovorany said. "Be more creative with your thinking. Understand that this is, at its core, an emotional purchase on some level for almost every consumer. If you can understand that, it will bring things up and allow things to be accomplished more successfully."