Electric Vehicles – Cleaner, Greener and... On-Demand?

Electric vehicle sales continue to grow year on year but there’s still a way to go before they overtake combustion engines. Now, though, new electric minivans could provide opportunities for cleaner local transport.  

For many countries, transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) is key to meeting zero emissions vehicle targets. New energy mandates, fiscal incentives and tighter emissions regulations all helped grow global e-car stock from 17,000 in 2010 to 7.2 million in 2019 (though this still represents just 1% of global car stock). Ninety percent of sales are in China, Europe and the US, with China holding 47% of the global total.

Electric micromobility has also exploded in recent years. Shared e-scooters, e-bikes and e-mopeds have mushroomed in over 600 cities and more than 50 countries, representing a healthier 25% market share of two-wheelers globally. China leads the field again here thanks to bans on combustion two-wheelers in many cities. It’s also pioneering bus electrification, with places like Santiago de Chile—which also has poor air quality and a lot of people to move—following suit.

However, significant barriers to mass adoption remain for larger vehicles, such as cost. While EVs are simpler to manufacture than combustion engines, switching to large-scale production means converting plants and reskilling workers, which means investment and a leap of faith. It remains to be seen whether manufacturers use the coming recession to pivot and go electric or dig in and stick to traditional engines. Either way, it’s to be hoped government post-pandemic recovery measures advance, rather than set back, the transition to greater vehicle efficiency and electrification.

After cost, battery capacity, range, charging speed and availability of points are concerns. Currently, most chargers are located at work or home though some governments are working to introduce more public points or mandating their inclusion in new buildings. And while technology and battery capacity continue to improve, the gradual withdrawal of some subsidies may mean consumers bide their time to see whether upcoming models offer more bang for buck.

A recent announcement from PSA—which manufactures for Citroen, Peugeot, DS, Opel, Vauxhall and Toyota—suggests anyone in the market for a minivan would be wise to wait. The company is electrifying its range, with performance to rival combustion versions, including a new maximum range of 330 km with a 75-kWh battery. Since 83% of PSA’s users travel under 200 km a day, it’s confident these new e-vans will—quite literally—deliver.

The company also makes a 9-seater passenger van that we believe has interesting applications for shared microtransit. Shotl is currently providing technology to support the new Carles service in our home town of Sant Cugat, Barcelona: two minivans providing shared, local, on-demand transport. We think public transport is easier to run and more cost-effective when high-capacity vehicles with empty seats are substituted for more frequent, smaller minibusses. We recognize, though, that switching to e-minibusses is still too expensive for some transit authorities. However, if we were to use e-vans instead we could solve the challenge of how to have more shared vehicles in circulation without increasing pollution.

At Shotl we’re clear that the future of mobility is shared, electric and autonomous, which is why we’re also collaborating with Sensible4 to test on-demand, autonomous, electric buses in Finland as part of the FABULOS project. We also believe transport authorities can—and should—lead the way. Public procurement schemes are a great start as they allow authorities to showcase technology for the public while providing industry with bulk orders to improve economies of scale and drive down costs. With this in mind, we’re excited about PSA’s announcement and hope to see Carles and other services switching to electric in the near future.

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