There is a wave of enthusiasm promoting Electric Vehicles, driven primarily by an effort to reduce the expanding global carbon footprint caused in part by fossil fuel combustion. This article, which focuses on Battery-Powered Electric Vehicles (BEVs), is a synopsis of previously published Register/Courier articles plus more recent information and our current perspective of this evolution in automobile engine propulsion.  In North America and Europe many companies are working diligently on and investing heavily in their BEV initiatives; however, only a limited variety of BEVs are now available from Tesla, GM, BMW, Daimler, VW, Renault and Hyundai-Kia.  In China, the BEV offerings from SAIC, Changan, BAIC, BYD and Donfeng, pretty much dominate the market, but there are dozens of other companies competing with their own BEV models.  Surely many of these start-ups will fail but several will survive. Global BEV sales now amount to less than 2% of total vehicle sales but it is expected that this percent will dramatically increase in time.

Current Situation

Currently available BEVs in the USA are priced in the $35,000 to $100,000 range, discounted with subsidies, but still 20-30% more than the average internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV). Some subsidies in the United States have already been reduced. In China, there is a government mandate to produce BEVs which will equate to 3-4% of total vehicle output by 2020; however, Chinese subsidies are being phased out and all subsidies there will be ended by 2021.  The lack of subsidies will have the effect of increasing net prices for consumers, unless manufacturers are willing to keep prices and margins lower in an effort to gain market share.  Assemblers will have to lower pricing to become more competitive with ICEVs, but that can only be achieved with higher BEV production rate economies of scale.  Available BEVs have driving ranges between 60 and 300 miles (100 and 500 kilometers), adequate for many consumers but quite limiting for others. The projected demand for BEVs is high, in large part due to the initiative to promote electricity as the clean energy alternative to fossil fuels. This demand has an immediacy associated with it. Country mandated ICEV-BEV transition schedules and CO2 reduction goals are coaxing consumers to choose electric. On average, BEVs reduce CO2 emissions by about 20%.  The basic underlying premise driving the move to BEVs is that the carbon footprint created by generating enough electricity to power an electric motor is considerably smaller than that required to power an internal combustion engine. Another effort to reduce CO2 emissions is the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FEV), in which the liquid hydrogen fuel cell generates electricity to power the propulsion motor, eliminating the need for electric charging.  A further advantage of FEVs is that the fuel cell produces water as a by-product. However, building a liquid hydrogen fueling infrastructure has its own challenges.

BEV’s Challenges

In order to achieve these conversion mandates and company projections, there are several obstacles to overcome, many of which will require new technology and more innovation. These challenges will have a major impact on the timeline for ICEV-BEV transition.  Some stated goals and projected implementation dates are unrealistically optimistic in our opinion.  The transition to having a significant percentage of BEV utilization could take up to 30 years by some estimates, not the 5 to 10-year window being broadcast by many proponents. The 300-mile (500-kilometer) maximum travel range limit also needs to be increased by developing more powerful, longer lasting batteries.  The manufacturing and eventual disposal of BEV batteries have an adverse environmental impact, creating about five-times the human toxicity of ICEV manufacturing. The current BEV charging infrastructure needs to be measurably expanded, a huge challenge even in more advanced countries. There are now a few charging stations in some more populated areas but charging access is generally hit or miss and entirely inadequate for a large number of BEVs.  It is estimated that 9,000,000 charging stations would be required to adequately service just 30% of the estimated 275 million vehicles now on the road in the USA.  The construction of stations and determining their strategic locations will be a huge challenge.  Charging times need to be shortened, as it now takes a 50-AMP 220 Volt charger about 6 hours for a full BEV battery charge.  Faster chargers take less time but generate more heat, which is detrimental to battery life. The electric grid is currently incapable of powering all the charging stations that will be necessary to support widespread BEV charging. The implementation of all these and other infrastructure changes will surely take time. Note that charging stations and the infrastructure upgrades to support them will need fasteners – an opportunity for astute fastener marketers!

To achieve a desirable net reduction in CO2 emissions, electric power generation will have to be dominated by nuclear, solar and wind sources rather than coal or gas. In the United States, a large percentage of vehicles sold each year are light duty pickup trucks. This class of vehicles requires higher-horsepower propulsion, and this factor will require greater battery capability and provide yet another challenge to BEV assemblers. Larger trucks and construction vehicles raise the bar even higher for charging capability. Auto manufacturers will have to retool and convert their assembly lines to accommodate BEV models and develop new sources for many BEV components. Additive to these issues will be consumer inertia in accepting a new technology after so many years of being accustomed to ICEVs and knowing the current limitations of BEVs.  We think that the ICEV-BEV transition may have an intermediate stage where plug-in hybrid “crossover” vehicle usage will increase.  This may be enabled in part by Toyota’s recent decision to offer free access to its hybrid-vehicle patents through 2030.  The lack of battery charging capacity and the need for many drivers to travel beyond current BEV ranges will encourage them to have an ICE backup.

Open Opportunities

BEVs provide opportunities for REMINC/CONTI proprietary fasteners, as there are numerous applications to be exploited.  First, most of the non-powertrain applications now in production in ICEVs are equally transferable to BEVs. Current successful applications include restraint systems, seat anchors, dashboard panels and various other interior and exterior attachments.  New applications will be electric motor stators, inverters, power transfer units, battery pack assemblies, on-board chargers, sensors and the increased need for grounding integrity. Some BEV designs may require as many fasteners as a typical ICEV utilizes- 2500-3000 per vehicle. Several REMINC/CONTI licensees are already providing TAPTITE® fasteners to BEV producers in a variety of applications. Ford Motor Company’s engineering standard WD-957 confirms Ford’s global commitment to use TAPTITE® PRO™ fasteners for electrical grounding applications. POWERLOK® II™ all-metal fasteners are also suitable for consistently reliable grounding. The need for lower vehicle weight results in an increased use of aluminum and other light-alloy metals where TAPTITE® PRO™ fasteners are also compatible. The inevitable growth of BEVs and its charging infrastructure will surely provide unlimited opportunities for the TAPTITE® family of fasteners. 

As this transition unfolds, we will be challenged to not only accommodate all the changes, but also take advantage of them.  REMINC/CONTI have the variety of thread-forming fasteners capable of meeting the challenges, no doubt about it. We welcome the opportunity to work with your company in the pursuit of new business.  We invite you to engage our technical staff once you have identified a potential application.  Solicit our thoughts and suggestions and employ our collective ingenuity.  Provide us with sample fasteners and we will conduct thread-forming tests in our lab to determine whether the chosen fastener design is the best choice for the new application.  The BEV evolution is surely a new and different challenge but one that we can meet successfully by working together.