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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Expert is convinced we'll soon be buying electric cars in our droves

In Focus: Electrification

Swing: buyers will move more towards electric cars
Swing: buyers will move more towards electric cars
Kjell Arne Wold
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is 'highly likely' we will see electric vehicles (EVs) take a 10pc share of the new-car market by the end of next year, a world expert told me in Dublin.

Kjell Arne Wold (below), from Audi headquarters, says the advent of more, and less expensive, cars alongside the growing perception of serious savings on running costs will swing buyers to electric in ever increasing numbers.

He's prepared to go further than that: "As we head towards 2025 it (electric vehicle market share) will surpass 30pc. And it could even be dramatically higher because many governments have signposted bans on fossil fuels. In Ireland's case it's 2030."

Kjell Arne Wold

But Kjell points out: "It (the ban) is not going to happen in 2030. It will happen well in advance so there will be a sharp increase in the number of electric vehicles being bought."

Kjell is project manager Audi e-tron launch and spoke at the recent tech summit in Dublin.

He previously worked for seven years at Tesla, helping to establish its success in northern Europe from 2010 until 2017 before joining Audi on the e-tron electric vehicle project. So he is well placed to give insight into what the overall future holds for us as he leads his own brand's electrification strategy.

As an electric car driver of 10 years, he is convinced the advent of EV is "happening very quickly".

He adds: "I think right now it's a struggle to keep up and to keep people educated.

"We can't be too careful; it is a big change for many people. Technology is changing quicker than people. Over the next few years - up to 2022 - the automakers will really be tapping into the premium and expensive electric cars: Tesla, Audi e-tron, Jaguar."

But the real take-up surge will come as carmakers move into less expensive vehicles that are mass produced for smaller families and first-time buyers.

Kjell is at pains to emphasise how important it is that people are educated on matters such as range and consumption. He believes the old fear of running out of battery power has been, or certainly is being, overtaken by a compelling argument to save money on running costs.

Important too is the need to have a car that is solid and sound (a dig at the perceived quality of non-established car builders perhaps?).

"It is now a battle on range and consumption when really the question is that the car is a good car. Whether buying a Hyundai Kona or an Audi etron the real need is that it is a safe car and you need to be taken care of when you have a problem," he says.

"When you transition you should be more concerned about quality and not range."

He argues that Tesla has changed from really expensive high-powered cars to having the majority of their sales transiting towards shorter-range battery packs.

"That is as a result of customers learning from existing owners; you no longer drive until the tank is empty. You treat your car like you do a cell phone; you plug in whenever you can," he says.

That is all about changing the mindset.

So what about the range versus cost battle? "One litre of petrol in Ireland costs €1.40; that will take a car 20km or so. How much will it cost for an EV to do the same distance - let's say with 200kWh? Now 1kHh is 16 cents. So it costs 65 cents for the electric EV to cover 20km.

"If I saw a sign out side a petrol station saying it was selling for 65 cents-a-litre there would be queues around the corner."

At the moment public charging in Ireland is free but that will change this year. It is also likely that 50pc of owners will mostly charge at home mostly, the rest at shopping centres or work.

Such trends have a major impact on owners and would-be buyers, he believes: "When customers see the savings they immediately change their outlook."

So when will EVs become affordable?

The Volkswagen ID will be affordable - it is due here for next year - he says. So will Audi's Q4 e-tron - "much more affordable" (from now until 2025 there will be 12 full-electric Audis).

"And that is just Audi."

To pinpoint how swiftly and firm the changeover could be, Kjell draws my attention to an annual survey in his native Norway.

People were asked if they would revert to fossil fuel vehicles if all the electric-car incentives were withdrawn.

A substantial 80pc said they would not go back.

"It is my own mindset that it would be a step back. I don't want to go back," he says.

But on the basis of expected take-off in Ireland, and across Europe, he stresses how vital that it is far more is spent on research and development.

"We need to spend a lot more money on R&D to make sure there will be enough supply," he adds.

"We need to be prepared for a huge increase in demand.

"We need to keep researching on the likes of the solid state battery."


Because, Kjell believes, we are much nearer to massive electric-car use and demand than we think.

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