Electric Vehicles: The next - generation vehicle

In early April this year, the 17th Asia Pacific Automotive Engineering Conference (APAC) was held in Bangkok in conjunction with the 34th Bangkok International Motor Show 2013. Under the theme “Innovative Technology for Next Generation Mobility”, the conference was attended by some of the major leading experts in automotive engineering across the globe, as well as local Thai academics, policy makers, and industry representatives. Mr Keiichi Yamamoto, Chairman of JAMA’s Electric Vehicle Expert Group, was invited as keynote speaker, alongside with representatives from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and the Thai Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) to a panel discussion to share views on the trend of electrified vehicles (EV). This article gives a snapshot of this event and insights shared by the JAMA expert.

The panel discussion facilitated by Dr Yossapong Laoonaual, from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, saw an audience of around a hundred people, with majority of them from the Thai local auto industry, academics and research institutes. The discussion was opened with JAMA’s presentation detailing Japan’s motivation in promoting the development and sales of next-generation vehicles. These include gas-hybrid electric vehicles (Gas-HEV), plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), fuel cell vehicles (FCV) and other low emission and fuel-efficient vehicle designs that are less dependent on conventional fuels.

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The main drivers came from the social need to tackle energy security and climate change issues, which have caught the nation’s attention since the 1990s. The draining of oil resources, and rising of fuel consumption in the transportation sector in concomitant, has pushed automakers to develop vehicles less dependent on conventional fuels. According to the JAMA expert, the global projected rate of vehicle possession in year 2050 is expected to reach around 3000 million, 3 times the figure in 2005. Although this period foresees a golden opportunity for automobile business expansion, the expert reminded automobile manufacturers the heavy social responsibility they need to bear as well. Japan contributes to about 4% of Co2 emission in the world, of which 20% comes from the transport sector, and 90% of the transport sector’s emission comes from automobiles (see fig.1). As a result, it is pertinent that the government works hand-in-hand with its local industry to reduce Co2 emission and global warming in Japan.

Some policies introduced by the government of Japan since the 1990s include the Fuel Efficiency (FE) standard on passenger cars (1999) and heavy-duty vehicles (2006), Next-Generation Vehicle Plan (2010), subsidies for EV and clean energy vehicles or "eco-cars" which includes tax rebates and tax exemption for hybrid vehicles (2009 - 2011). The implementation of these policies has led to an increase of 15% in aggregate sales of next-generation vehicles from 2008 to 2011. Moreover, technology boost was also evidenced by the extension of hybrid technology in small sedan to compact class mid-sedan and mini-van, the installation of fuel mileage performance equivalent to hybrids in internal combustion engine vehicles, and developments of new zero emission vehicles such as those under the EV category.

Moving forward, Japan will be implementing the FY2015 FE standard for passenger cars and trucks/small buses, and the FY 2020 FE standard for new passenger cars. It is noteworthy that new vehicles certified to have complied with FE standard can be identified with appropriately coded stickers ─ a strategy to promote widespread public awareness of vehicles with advanced fuel efficiency. Also, the FY2020 FE standard, which is to be imposed on automobile makers in Japan, is stricter than the FY2015 by 19.6% on average, and said to be one of the highest standards in the world.

However, small volume produced models, such as the EV and PHEV models, are exempted from FE standards. This is because models produced in small quantities are unable to provide data substantial enough to ascertain the appropriate target value. Nonetheless, to promote the development of EV and PHEV as "next-generation vehicles", a preferential measure to convert electric efficiency to fuel efficiency using simple energy conversion has been developed. Although a substantial volume of EV production is still required to finalize an appropriate FE standard for EV, the introduction of this measure is expected to facilitate easier setting of target values for EV, and hence increase the likelihood of having it included in the next FE standard.
More explicit measures have also been developed to promote EV on top of strengthening FE standard. For instance, in the 2012 budget, about US$440 million (JPY 400 billion) worth of tax subsidy has been allocated to EV and clean energy vehicles. Additionally, a supplementary budget of around US$1 billion (JPY100 billion) has been allocated to the installation of 35,000 EV charging stations. Furthermore, to prevent power supply issues of electrical grids to EV, social experiments have been carried out (and are still ongoing) in four cities in Japan – Keihana Science City in Kyoto prefecture, Yokohama in Kanagawa prefecture, Kitakyushu in Fukuoka prefecture and Toyota (city) in Aichi-prefecture.

When it comes to challenges in promoting EV, the high cost of development, low EV range per charge and infrastructure to support the vehicles remain to be common issues shared by all speakers in the discussion. Due to these reasons, the demand for EV has been low. “The change in demand for conventional vehicles to EV is not expected to happen before 2016. In this period, internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) will be the mainstream,” said Mr Yamamoto. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) forecast, EV and FCV will only become mainstream in 2030, and gasoline engine will only become obsolete around 2040 (see fig. 2).

Pretty close to the forecasted year of 2030 for widespread usage of EV by IEA, the Thai authority PEA presented its Smart Grid development roadmap to be completed in 2026. According to the Thai authority, the roadmap will be implemented in 3 stages: (1) Planning and Pilot Project (2012 - 2017), (2) Large scale expansion (2017 - 2022), and (3) Power quality and service improvement nationwide (2022 - 2026). At the moment a pilot project has already commenced in Pattaya, and will be expanded gradually to other parts of Thailand and finally nationwide by 2026.

For the widespread usage of EV to take place, the price gap between EV and conventional vehicles has to be closer, to attract more demand for electric propelled vehicles. For that to happen, laws, incentives, and infrastructure that promote better environment for EV have to be instilled by the government, and awareness programs to create demand for EV have to be campaigned as well. Continuous effort in collaboration between government and industry is necessary. Though it is forecasted that the age of EV will at least require another 15 more years, the moderator concluded that "It’s not a faraway future, at least not for Thailand."
1An electrical grid is an interconnected network for delivering electricity from suppliers to consumers, which consists of generating stations that produce electrical power, high-voltage transmission lines that carry power from distant sources to demand centers, and distribution lines that connect individual customers.



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