Greater EV adoption requires more innovation

John Denslinger discusses five key areas of innovation opportunity if the electrification of the US vehicle fleet is to match the expectations of consumers, manufacturers and government

March 2023 Gallup poll found four per cent of Americans currently own an electric vehicle, 12 per cent are seriously considering buying one, 43 per cent might consider it in the future and 41 per cent would not buy one. This is now, despite an onslaught of media hype, federal subsidies, state mandated conversion deadlines and environmental evangelism pushing EV adoption.

Nevertheless, sales of EV and plug-in hybrids are growing, albeit slowly. At the current rate, the US will surpass 1M units sold in 2023 but that figure remains less than 10 per cent of new car sales. Reaching the administration’s target of 50 per cent EV market share in 2030 seems quite ambitious without plenty of breakthroughs. Seven years is not a lot of time to change perceptions.

The average consumer understands the need to move forward with electrification. At the same time, their pocketbook seeks greater assurances and more innovation. Consider the following: 

Perceived cost: In May the average price for a new EV was $55,488 vs a similar combustion engine car at $48,528 according to Cox Automotive. Batteries are the most expensive component, so battery innovation is the focus. Investigations into lithium sulfur and sodium ion alternatives could reduce overall battery material costs by up to 60 per cent but there are substantial technological issues. Sulfur tends to corrode quickly, while sodium lacks the same energy storage capacity as lithium ion. 

Range anxiety: A stat by Mobility Monitor suggests 40 per cent of potential EV buyers worry about the ability to charge their car on the road. It might be an unnecessary fear as the average US driver travels less than 40 miles/day. The top five longest EV ranges available today vary between 350 and 450 miles. Weather conditions affect range. Innovation in battery efficiency and further reducing weight/size, are keys to longer ranges.

Charging times: Base-line expectation is the gas pump. EV charging is not better, faster, cheaper. A June 2023 WSJ article identified the government’s current definition of fast charging at 15-40 minutes. Innovation needs to focus on 10 minutes or less charge time. Toyota is working on a solid-state battery with 750-mile range and 10-minute charge time, planned for 2027.

Charging access: There are an estimated 126,000 Level 2, 20,000 Level 3 and 17,000 Tesla Supercharger public charging ports in the US. If the goal is 50 per cent EV market share by 2030, McKinsey & Company estimates a need for 1.2M public and 28M private charging stations. To date, the administration has dedicated just $7.5B for 500,000 EV charging stations. That is a substantial disconnect in capacity.

Grid reliability: While not specific to EV, consumers worry about the overall reliability of the electrical grid itself. The DOE’s Building a Better Grid initiative dated January 2022 cites a need to expand electricity transmission systems by 60 per cent by 2030 and triple that again by 2050 with full electrification of society, but noticeably absent is a national electricity generation plan by source, by year, that fully supports the 2050 electrification goals. 

Consumers have reason to be cautious, but innovation can remove the uncertainty. Innovation is the pathway to greater EV adoption.

Picture of John Denslinger
John Denslinger is a former executive VP Murata, president SyChip Wireless, and president/CEO ECIA, the industry’s trade association. His career spans 40 years in electronics