Describing 2021 as a ‘mixed bag’ of a year for European mobility would be a vast oversimplification.
While a degree of post-pandemic normality did return – Auto Futures visited the IAA and MOVE conferences in Munich and London, respectively – for the most part, 2021 was a year spent at home.
However, despite the challenges, 2021 may well be remembered as the year that EVs and mobility went genuinely mainstream.
Tesla, of course, has been banging on the door of general appeal for a while but the company’s erratic production cycles and high prices have often left their cars as the preserve of the slightly more well-heeled.
Instead, in 2020, while UK car sales in total slumped by almost a third, sales of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids were up by more than 10%. This trend was mirrored across the rest of the continent, as well, with new EVs and PHEVs accounting for almost 80% of new car registrations in Norway.
With new electric vehicles coming to market all the time – whether they be competent-but-dull VW ID.4 crossovers or slightly more enticing Polestar 2 luxury saloons – the shift to EVs seems to be well underway in Europe.
But is that the full story? Is Europe marching inexorably towards a green mobility future? There were certainly a lot of new successes in 2021, but there were also some setbacks.
Even more EVs
There are now more EVs than ever before on European roads.
Polestar, VW, BMW, Volvo, Nissan, Renault, Ford, Skoda, Mercedes-Benz, Kia, Citroen, Hyundai, Audi, Tesla, Honda, Mini, and Jaguar all have EVs available in Europe. Plus, while EVs used to be expensive, models are now becoming even cheaper. The Hyundai Kona Electric, for example, starts at just over £17,000 in the UK or around €26,000 in Germany.
However, EVs are becoming genuinely viable alternatives to regular ICE vehicles – rather than a vehicle purchased to make a statement. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5, for example, has received near-universal praise from the motoring press, as well as receiving the German Car of the Year award and being shortlisted for the European Car of the Year gong.
Of course, this is just the beginning, with most major manufacturers committing to electrify their lineups before the end of the decade.
But, while 2021 might be remembered as the year EVs became mainstream, that growth only happened because companies and governments became serious about charging.
The year charging became serious
For years, the public’s main concern around EVs was the availability of charging points. Sure, you could charge your EV at home, if you happened to own your home, so you could install a charging point, and had access to a charging point, so you didn’t need to drape an extension cable across the pavement.
But, even if you did have all of these prerequisites, there was still the issue of travelling. Most EVs couldn’t cover more than 200 miles and the paucity of charging points made extended journeys almost impossible.
However, all that started to change within the last year. Shell, for example, is planning to install 50,000 lamppost charging points across the UK. Similarly, Connected Kerb is building 190,000 public on-street chargers around the UK and Ubitricity is attempting a similar rollout in Germany.
IONITY, the joint venture of BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, VW, Audi, and Porsche is throwing money at the charging problem – investing €700 million to install 7,000 charging points by 2025.
Even small companies are seriously committing to tackling the problem. Back in October, EO Charging’s CEO told us that his company is “powering electric vehicle fleets for more than half of the UK’s biggest online retailers,” reflecting the growing demand from companies to electrify and update their operations.
Chargers are getting faster, as well. In Germany, EnBW is planning to build a €100 million site with space for 52 cars with 300-kilowatt chargers.
Of course, while EVs remove the tailpipe emissions from cars, demand on Europe’s electricity grid is going to increase. However, despite the increase in demand, companies are taking steps to ensure that the power we get for our green cars will still come from sustainable sources.
Green parts for green cars
While it may seem trite to say there is little point in switching to green methods of transport while using unsustainable energy and parts, it is important nonetheless.
In Europe this year, a range of companies have made serious strides towards creating completely sustainable manufacturing processes.
Finland’s Terrafame, for example, will supply Renault with sustainable nickel for its EV batteries. Terrafame’s process, which involves extracting metals from their ores using living organisms, uses around 90% less energy than typical – this means that the carbon footprint of Terrafame’s mining is around 60% smaller than the industry average.
Lithium is an essential component for typical EV batteries but comes with a host of problems. However, Serbian company ElevenES has found a way to make lithium-iron-phosphate batteries more sustainable using renewable power and recycling. UK company Faradion, however, believes the future is to be found in sodium-ion batteries which could be more energy-dense and better for the planet.
However, we shouldn’t rule out sustainable fuels. British motorsports giant Prodrive has developed a new sustainable petrol which it will use in next year’s Dakar rally. While it still offers tailpipe emissions, the fuel is carbon-neutral to produce.
Hyping up hydrogen
However, hydrogen is still seen by some as the most viable long-term alternative to petrol and diesel – whether used in a fuel cell or as a fuel for adapted internal combustion engines.
More than 100 hydrogen-powered taxis have started patrolling the streets of Copenhagen, for example. In Estonia, Auve Tech is working to develop hydrogen-powered autonomous taxis and delivery vehicles to help solve first- and last-mile challenges. Hydrogen buses are even on the cards in London thanks to JCB heir Jo Bamford.
Perhaps one of the most important trends to come out of 2021 isn’t a change in technology but a change in consumer behaviour.
Car subscription services are starting to come into vogue, with a range of companies trying a range of different methods to get consumers to stop buying and start borrowing their cars.
Volvo subsidiary Lynk & Co, for example, lets drivers lend their car to family and friends, in return for reduced monthly premiums.
“Suddenly the whole car industry says that it’s sustainable – I think it’s bullshit,” CEO Alain Visser told us last month. “If your business is based on maximising the sale of a product that stands still for 96% of the time, whether it’s electric or not, that is not sustainable.”
Hyundai is also getting in on the act and has launched a new hybrid and EV subscription service in the UK. Starting from £339 per month with contracts as short as three months. Insurance, breakdown cover, road tax, maintenance and repairs are all included with the monthly fee. The buying process, meanwhile, is entirely digital.
However, there are some companies aiming for even more radical market shakeups. Norway-based imove, for example, offers drivers the chance to get a car on a month-to-month basis, as well as being able to swap it every month. You can even borrow a different car for a weekend if you’re planning a big trip, for example.
Similarly, when we spoke to elmo co-founder Luke Gavin at the MOVE show in London, he told us that the primary ambition for his car subscription company was to get people out of cars while also allowing drivers to use a car subscription with no price premium over a buying or leasing deal.
Being home to many of the world’s largest car companies, Europe is always going to be a hotbed of innovation and development. But, with the number of companies seriously considering abandoning traditional business models in favour of new and untested systems, it seems as though 2022 might be an even bigger year for innovation than we can imagine.
I, along with everyone else on the Auto Futures team, hope you and your families have a brilliant and safe Christmas and a very happy new year.