Electric cars: prone to disruption by something else entirely?

Electric cars: prone to disruption by something else entirely?

It is often suggested that the electric car is on a definitive trajectory to replace the internal combustion engine in the decades ahead. But both political and strategic planning around cleaner mobility and transport planning in the 2020s must not rely on one single solution. It will require a thoughtful balance of different fuels and deep awareness of changing mobility trends including ride-sharing, carbon offsetting, digital connectivity, biofuels, hydrogen and electricity.

A dialogue session with:

Roger Hunter, Vice President, Electric Mobility, Shell



Believe the hype and the internal combustion engine is on course for the end of its reign with the era of electric mobility inevitable.

But the reality is far more nuanced.

Firstly, the world is still far from an EV tipping point. EVs account for just above 2% of the world’s cars[1]. Nearly half (45%) of these are in China, with Europe accounting for 24% and the USA 22%[2]. It will take time before they gain enough traction and market share to substantially reduce emissions from transport.

Secondly, unlike previous generations which saw a clear transition from horse-drawn carriage to internal combustion engine, the next stage in the mobility transition is unlikely to be linear.

Instead Shell expects it to be customer-led with connectivity, automation, sharing and electricity (CASE) playing vital roles in the near-to-medium term. New fuels and technology rooted in these four aspects will have enormous potential to change the way we travel, reduce costs and provide increased reliability for moving goods and people.

Finally, the lower-carbon future is not just about electric-powered cars – but electric car power. For how environmentally-friendly are EVs if they are powered by coal-fired power plants? In countries where the power generation mix is dominated by coal, EVs have actually seen higher emissions than hybrid cars.

All of this means any certitude of electric vehicle uptake in the future should be approached with caution. Instead the world is in a history of mobility in which the customer has control and is no longer a binary “driver” or “passenger” – but a complex consumer, digitally connected with multifarious needs.

So, if not just an electric mobility future, then what? In this dialogue session Roger Hunter, Shell’s Vice President of Electric Mobility will argue that future transport must not be seen as a rivalry to establish one overarching single solution, but a new and evolving balance between different fuels depending on customers’ needs and local availability.

For the world, this means embracing a range of solutions from hydrogen to biofuels, nature-based solutions and shared mobility. It means digital and technical innovation like ride hailing, car sharing and mobility scooters. And it means rapid and urgent government intervention to stimulate faster adoption of new methods.



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