|EV Charging station in Gangdong, Seoul (Source: Hyundai Motors Company)|
Electric cars have been gaining in popularity for the past few years with the record breaking success of the Tesla Motors company. Automotive companies are part of a rock-solid industry, where technology and reliability are important, and where it is not easy for latecomers to successfully enter the global market. However, Tesla has become the automaker with the highest stock value, beyond that of Toyota and Volkswagen. Tesla’s success is fueling a revolution in the automobile industry with battery powered electric vehicles, pushing out fossil-fuel consuming cars with internal-combustion engines.
Hyundai Motors also launched the “IONIQ5” with the latest EV (Electric Vehicle) platform aimed at the global market, an equipped high voltage 800V charging system, and can charge energy that can go 100km within five minutes. Thanks to new battery technology, the driving ranges of EVs have improved. The Tesla MODEL3 Long Range costs around 60 million won, has a driving range of 600km when fully charged, and other manufacturers including Hyundai have EVs available for around 40 million won with driving ranges around 400-500km. In comparison, midsize petrol fueled 4-door-cars can be driven for about 500-600kms with a gas tank full of petrol. EVs have almost the same mileage as petrol fueled cars. Also, cars with conventional internal-combustion engines have a narrow ranged torque-band because gas engines convert explosive energy to power, but EVs pull maximum torque as soon as the motor is running. This feature makes the car accelerate much faster. Tesla and many other EVs can go from 0-100km/h in less than 3 seconds. EVs even reuse kinetic energy when decelerating through a regeneration brake. In contrast, conventional cars waste energy by converting kinetic energy to thermal energy. For these reasons, internal-combustion engines have limited energy efficiency as they can convert only about 38% of actual energy that the fuel contains into power. Electric motors can achieve over 80% energy conversion, and show superior efficiency compared to combustion engines.
For these reasons, automakers have pivoted from investing in the R&D of internal combustion engines, and are focusing on EVs instead. Developed countries like Norway, UK and Singapore have announced policies to stop the sale of combustion engine cars in the near future and to exclusively permit EVs to be sold. From the moment that these policies were announced, widespread usage of EVs became inevitable.
Korean automakers ranked 4th in sales of EVs globally, and Korea has the highest density of publicly available EV charging stations. However when it comes to the use of charging stations and the number of domestic EV sales, Korea is lacking. It is not difficult to find public charging facilities at every highway rest stop, public institution, and supermarket in the city. Nonetheless, the majority of Korean people live in apartment complexes which causes inconvenience because of sharing the limited number of chargers between many residents. In terms of safety, EVs show better passenger protection in collision and rollover as EVs have a low center of gravity and rigid body structure. But fundamentally, Lithium-ion batteries used in EVs carry a risk of explosion when battery cells are exposed to oxygen.
Despite all the improvements that have been made to EVs, conventional internal-combustion cars are still superior in termsof convenience and reliability thanks to over 120 years of use. However, electric cars are much more cost efficient, and also the energy efficiency of EVs is overwhelmingly higher than that of internal-combustion cars, so the benefits of EVs outweigh their disadvantages.
Major automakers around the world have announced that the combustion engine cars on sale now will be the last generation of their kind. Batteries account for a large portion of the cost of EVs. So if batteries with advanced materials are developed, and mass production is increased, more affordable EVs will be launched and available on the market.
At the national level, the government should legislate the development of charging infrastructure in residential areas, and support the business conversion of current gas stations to high-speed charging stations while expanding energy generation and power infrastructure to fulfill the growing demand for electricity. This is the next technological step for humanity. Batteries and electric motors are the successors of combustion engines and fossil fuels which have been the power sources of human transportation for decades. The social and environmental changes that will result from the use of electric vehicles will affect people’s lives on a large scale.
By Park Hyun-jong, reporter email@example.com
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