energy insights

End of the ICE Age?

The first Tesla Roadster rolled off the factory floor in 2008, giving the world its first glimpse at what the future of transportation might look like. Judging from their words, reviewers were shocked when they took Tesla’s first car on a test drive. Autoguide Editor Derek Kreindler called the vehicle massively impressive in his review of the car back in 2010.

“The Tesla Roadster 2.5 S is more spacecraft than sports car,” he wrote. “Theories like global warming, peak oil and rising oil prices should no longer bring heart palpitations to car fans,” Kreindler said. “The Tesla shows just how good zero-emissions ‘green’ technology can be. Quite frankly, getting into a normal car at the end of the test drive was a major letdown.”

Fast forward 12 years and Tesla is the top-selling electric vehicle brand in a world where electric vehicles have officially staked their claim on the future of mobility.

The EV transition is well underway, according to an annual long-term electric vehicle outlook published in June by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

“The trends are clear,” Bloomberg editor Nathaniel Bullard wrote in a report summary. “Despite the challenges of a pandemic, supply-chain crunches and trouble sourcing critical minerals, electric vehicles are eating into the transportation system and taking bigger bites every year.”

BNEF predicts there will be more than 27 million EVs on roads worldwide by the end of this year. That percentage is still small compared to the entire global fleet of more than 1 billion vehicles, but BNEF is focused on sales.

“By the end of the next decade, the global fleet of cars with an engine, rather than a battery or fuel cell, will be less than half the size it is today,” BNEF says. “That switch in the source of automotive growth obviously has implications for carmakers, which have already devoted tens of billions of dollars of capital to electrification.”

Most of the world’s biggest car makers are investing more than half their capital expenditures on EV research and development, the research firm says. Meanwhile, there will be at least $1 trillion poured into construction of more than 330 million charging stations worldwide by 2040, but that is not likely to be enough. The EV revolution will require more than $1.4 trillion to build just under a half billion chargers, BNEF says.

And chargers are not the only power issue. EVs could account for between 10% and 13% of global electricity demand in 2040, and between 15% and 21% by 2050. As a result, the world’s power grid will feel the strain, according to the report. Global demand for power could increase by more than 4,700 terawatt-hours. By 2050, the increase could be more than 8,800 terawatt-hours, which is more power than China consumed last year.

While BNEF is predicting the end of ICE vehicles, others say the age of the internal combustion engine is far from over.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘The presumptions of the death of the ICE are greatly exaggerated.’ The ICE will be with us for decades to come and may never disappear from our landscape,” wrote Bob Stanton of Government Fleet magazine.

Federal, state, county and city governments purchase thousands of vehicles each year and EV’s often fall short of the mission profiles they must serve.

The cost of most EVs is still high compared to conventional vehicles, straining the budgets of most government entities, he says. Traditional manufacturers continue to make technological advancements on the internal combustion engine, improving efficiencies and emissions performance, slowing the decline of ICE vehicles even more.

Despite the ongoing debates, automakers around the world are betting on EVs with billion-dollar budgets. But those are long-term wagers.

While General Motors has announced plans to sell only emission-free vehicles by 2035, the vast majority of the company’s revenue still comes from gasoline powered pickups and SUVs, according to CNN Business. Other automakers, such as BMW and Toyota, are committed to EVs, but they’re not saying when their last ICE vehicles will be sold.

Whether the demise of ICE is on the horizon or still far away, one thing is clear. After more than a century of prominence, the internal combustion engine is being replaced by an EV revolution that is sweeping the world in record numbers. And that is great news for the environment and a victory in the fight against climate change.

The EV revolution is bringing positive changes to the future of mobility with a host of technological advances rolling out each year. Also, the revolution is allowing more of us to say goodbye to pain at the pump and focus more on the driving experience. For some models, that can feel like an out-of-this-world experience.

As Derek Kreindler once alluded to: Think spacecraft. Not sports car.