Electric vehicles (EVs) currently on the market represent a beneficial new direction in terms of sustainable, low-impact transportation. Yet the EV market today tends to obscure a much bigger picture as we pursue the "electrification of transportation."
My colleagues and I are focused on gradually increasing what we call the "electrification factor" in all forms of transportation, which includes passenger cars but extends to trains, boats, and planes. When terms such as "electrification factor" and the "electrification of transportation" are defined, a much bigger picture emerges.
So let's begin with definitions and their implications. Then we'll look behind the curtain at the technological hurdles we must clear in the pursuit of these objectives.
The electrification factor may be defined as a percentage of the onboard electric power to a vehicle's total power. Let's use the familiar passenger car as an example. With no electric load onboard, a vehicle's electrification factor is zero. When all functions are accomplished electrically, including propulsion, the electrification factor is 100 percent. Most passenger cars on the market today possess an electrification factor in the single digits. Today's electrified vehicles might register in the low- to mid-double digits, depending on the model.
To increase the electrification factor, for instance, we might replace hydraulic power steering with electric power steering. We can electrify the air conditioner. A number of mechanical or hydraulic pumps can be replaced with electrical systems. An integrated, electric starter/generator can replace discrete units, and that too contributes to increasing the electrification factor.
Stepping back, an auto has four different power transfer systems: electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, and hydraulic. Electrical systems, generally, are the most efficient. And they can be monitored and communicated with more effectively than the others, which means they can be optimized and controlled for efficiency and performance.
Electrifying non-propulsion loads raises the electrification factor in modest increments up to perhaps 15 to 20 percent. Electrifying a vehicle's mode of propulsion produces a much greater electrification factor, reaching as high as 50 to 70 percent in hybrid electric powertrains and near 100 percent in all-electric vehicles. Based on back-of-the-envelope calculations, I'd suggest that the average electrification factor for new vehicles manufactured worldwide today is only about 5 to 10 percent.
Our goal for what I call "Transportation 2.0," of course, should be to increase the electrification factor as much as possible, as quickly as possible. This is because electrification takes advantage of a highly efficient form of energy transfer and because the electrification of a vehicle's various systems increases performance, including acceleration, maneuvering, braking, safety, and fuel efficiency.
The "coolness" factor
Increases in efficiency and performance, in turn, provide the basis for more attractive and innovative vehicle designs, which increases what I like to call the coolness factor.
Arguably, the coolness factor is what sells cars. One could argue -- and some do -- that everyone should immediately buy an all-electric vehicle because it's good for the planet. But, so far, that argument hasn't produced the significant uptake of EVs that supporters hoped to reach by this point.
That's why I argue that incremental increases in the electrification factor will produce a strong, tide-like pull on the market, producing cooler, higher-performing, more efficient electrified vehicles that consumers really want to buy. That in turn will produce economies of scale and, thus, lower costs, which will enable higher electrification factors across the worldwide fleet. I call the incremental approach "more-electric vehicles," or MEVs.