汽车与行业新动力 / 25 April 2019
What the month of April told us about electrification!
Amid double-digit growth rates for electric vehicle (EV) sales, this year’s Shanghai Auto Show has confirmed how seriously China is driving electrification efforts in the auto industry. Indigenous Chinese car companies are churning out ever more electric vehicle offers for the masses, while the international auto makers, apart from a few, mostly German protagonists, still appear rather reserved in showcasing their response to New Energy Vehicles (NEV); only a handful EVs, some more plug-in hybrid offerings, and a few concepts that envision the future of mobility were all foreign brands presented in Shanghai. If one has expected an international offensive to cater to the electrification trend in China, the auto show was disappointing. With Chinese car makers gearing up, it is hard to see how foreign brands altogether can defend their market shares in the next several years.
As much as the current strength of established Chinese car makers in the field of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) was validated, as clearly one could also see that their electrification efforts are to a large extent focused on pure and simple replacement of conventional combustion engines in conventional cars – no particular imagination on how vehicle usage and design could evolve over time. While this will certainly ensure short-term sales, still propped up by government support, the question is how far this can bring them in a dynamic market driven by fast developing consumer demands.
The outlook towards the future BEVs was mostly left to the numerous NEV start-ups, many of whom will probably struggle for survival, though. Among the well-known foreign car makers, the Volkswagen Group was one of the notable exceptions, as they showed a realistic vision of how BEVs could look like in the near future. This may not come as a surprise since Volkswagen appears to be the only international car maker so far who has unconditionally committed to battery electric.
Others, more or less openly, also contemplate a different path to electrification; most prominently Toyota and Hyundai with their push towards fuel cell vehicles (FCV) powered by hydrogen. The Shanghai auto show did not really pick up on this subject, even if there were some scattered FCV showcases.
While battery electric still enjoys an industry consensus as the best way forward into electrification, the hydrogen discussion is likely to be revitalized by the news this month that Toyota has introduced to its Motomachi plant in Japan the first ‘SimpleFuel™’ station for the production and supply of hydrogen from solar energy – to power their forklift fleet.
Just some 15 years ago, who had thought that the automotive battery electric technology would grow into such proportion; if the production of hydrogen can be mastered more safely and efficiently with renewable energy, real zero-emission transportation will be achieved. And perhaps in 15 years we have then a different discussion about electrification!