Model S in San Francisco

‘Don’t let the bozos grind you down,’ said Guy Kawasaki in a great talk on innovation. Awesome innovations which are good for everyone – like solar power and electric cars – are often met with a lot of ridicule by bozos. Electric cars will never work, the bozos say, because they’re expensive, they don’t go far enough, the batteries are bad for the environment, and the electricity is made by coal-fired power plants anyway. While bozos easily nail down the technical issues in the present, I believe it’s very important to have a vision of where we are going in the long run. While climate change is the most obvious long term reason to go all-electric, here are four other megatrends that will explain why electric cars rule the future.

Triumph of the city

We’re in the middle of a mind-boggling urbanisation period in human history. In 2007, half of the world population lived in cities – in 2050, with a predicted world population of almost ten billion, this percentage will rise to three quarters. As China is finding out, fast urbanisation with non-electric transport adds up to unliveable cities with dangerous concentrations of fine particles in the air. When cities get richer, urbanites want a better quality of life and the air they breathe is an important part of that. So as soon as electric cars gain traction ‘zero emission zones’ will spread around the world like a wildfire. In a globalised world were cities instead of countries increasingly fight for talent, they cannot afford to have unhealthy air. Only full electric transport can make cities quiet, clean and liveable.

The iPhone changed everything

Having internet on your phone increasingly means not having to own a car when you live in a city. As Sunil Paul told me: ‘the iPhone changed everything’. Paul is the CEO of Sidecar, one of the friendliest American car sharing services that are currently killing the taxi business – and making car ownership seem a bad deal. Other companies, like ZipCar and GetAround, are currently reinventing car ownership. This is hurting the sale of new vehicles, because every car ZipCar adds to its fleet, 32 other new or used vehicle sales are lost. Subscribing to the ZipCar or Sidecar or GetAround service is a matter of minutes, whereas buying, maintaining and insuring a new car is a much bigger hassle. I believe we will see these car sharing services go electric very fast, because the distance to be bridged in cities is short. Even though electric cars are still more expensive to buy, splitting the costs with others changes everything. If you share an electric car – which is easier today than ever before – the cost of getting from a to b are spectacularly low.

Electric cars are much cheaper to drive..

Why is driving an electric car so cheap? Well, physics. Not even the thriftiest of diesel engines can beat electric motors. The efficiency of an electric motor is about three times that of an internal combustion engine, which turns most energy into heat instead of speed. For example, to drive the Tesla Model S in the Netherlands costs approximately €0.50 per ten kilometers, while a luxury gas guzzling BMW consumes around €1,50 of gasoline. Electric cars are also much easier to maintain because electric engines only have one moving part and there’s no exhaust pipe, oil change, air filter and spark plugs. Just keep the tires pressure adjusted and that’s it.

..and become more affordable every year

Who killed the electric car? Batteries did. Back in the ’90s, the lead-acid batteries were to clunky and to expensive. But with the advent of mobile devices like cell phones, the need for the ultimate battery grew – and so did the investment in battery technology. Now that the electric car market is growing fast, the investments in new battery production and new long term technology breakthroughs is growing even faster. The price of lithium-ion batteries – the most expensive part of an electric car – is following an exponential downward curve, which means prices decreases every year. Some even predict a cost reduction of two-thirds by 2020. At the same time, the energy density of batteries increases. These developments add up to an unbeatable battery pack within a decade – which will reinforce electric car sales, and therefore investments in more promising battery technologies. It’s a virtuous cycle, and there’s no bozo who can stop it.


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