The Future of Electric Cars

by Trent Beekman on July 3, 2018

A woman at the charging station for electric carsElectric cars are sending jolts across the automotive industry with disruptive new vehicles. Leading the charge in the race to e-mobility, Formula E is setting records, trends, and new expectations for not only the future of racing – but also the future of driving. To understand the real impact, and real implications, of a tech-based automotive industry, I chatted with Carolyn Anderson, Modis Managing Director. With countless years of experience in the automotive industry, she knows what’s driving changes and what’s changing driving.

Q: What does the future of the automotive industry look like to you?

A: When I think of the future of the automotive industry, three things come to mind: technology, convenience and safety. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EV) are slowly becoming more prevalent in the marketplace as the underlying technology becomes less expensive and more brands/models move from prototype to mass manufacturing. We also have suppliers and OEMs hard at work at developing a variety of self-driving vehicles (some of which we know are already being tested on the roads).

Regardless of the type of automobile, this industry has innovative engineers constantly developing ways to make our vehicles more convenient with a vast array of features to meets the demands of our busy lives and to improve the driver and passenger experience. As the gaps between technology, safety and performance close, I foresee future vehicles feeling as safe and functional as a family room or an office on wheels. There are certainly things that you and I can’t even imagine yet that some creative engineer has already designed and developed for a model a few years down the road!

Q: How is the current automotive industry already taking steps towards a technology-driven existence?

A: Most OEMs are already spending billions of dollars to grow their electric or hybrid footprint as there is definitely a market for greener vehicles, both in the United States and abroad. However, what is really interesting to me is seeing how much more time and money suppliers are now spending on developing electronic-based safety technology. This is partially the normal evolution of passive and active safety getting better, but a huge portion of this is being dedicated to autonomous vehicle development and the features those cars will require that human-driven cars do not. I thought my first car with a rearview camera was cool, but this stuff is really interesting!

Q: Do you see a shift in the job description or experience of the “typical worker” in the automotive industry?

A: Yes. Because vehicles are now so electronically integrated, there is a much larger push for automotive-based employees at all levels to have a better understanding of and experience with electronics and electrical systems.

Q: What skills do you see as necessary in an automotive workforce that includes electric vehicles? 

A: First, working with high voltage electrical systems takes additional training and skills than someone would have working with a typical combustion engine. And this is not just for engineers working on testing or development, but also includes people with a skilled trades background (who are in very short supply). Automotive industry employees such as mechanics and technicians also need to learn new skills, and have the ability to work with specialized equipment, to safely work with EVs (or with hybrid battery systems).

Second, for the past 6-8 years there has been a shortage of software engineers in the Detroit market (and I would assume across the U.S.). We rely so heavily upon software to control most aspects of the vehicle (infotainment, telematics, driver assist, active safety, etc.), but we aren’t seeing enough students graduating from universities and colleges with Electrical Engineering or software-specific degrees. The emergence of electric vehicles only compounds our need for engineers with electrical and software backgrounds as the systems within an EV bring about different challenges and functionality than with combustion engine vehicles.

Q: It’s pretty clear to me that Formula E is a trailblazer for the e-mobility movement – but what trends are you seeing in the automotive industry that seem to be stemming from the e-racing world?

A: Auto racing has long been the incubator for technology innovation within the automotive industry. Now with Formula E gaining a rapidly growing fan base and footprint, it seems they can also showcase trends for the EV market to watch closely.

In my opinion, some of the coolest take-a-ways the automotive industry can gather from the e-racing world is that EVs can certainly be fast, they can perform, and they can look sleek. If there are any misconceptions about EVs, the Formula E cars can only help to dispel these myths and prove that as we continue down this technological path, mass market EVs can perform for longer distances, while having the look and functionality consumers desire.

Q: What is the biggest factor pushing us towards a more electric existence? The environment? Legislation? Financial incentive? Or the potential of electric energy as compared to fossil fuel?

A: It seems like lessening our dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the environment are the top influences pushing the move towards electric energy. There is a large swath of the public who are committed to reducing the collective carbon footprint and feel that EVs can help do that in the long run. The newest generation entering the workforce certainly seems to be even more interested than previous generations in ride sharing, utilizing public transportation, and having a clean environment. Getting more electric buses and Uber-type vehicles out onto the roads would seem to tick all those boxes.

Financially speaking EVs are still a bit costly compared to gasoline powered cars. However, the costs have come down substantially in the past few years, and as technology advances and more models are mass marketed, the price should continue to come down. There is also the cost of charging stations to consider, but with gas pricing rising again there certainly could be cost savings to the consumer in the shorter term as well as long term.

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