Large numbers of EV makers are pushing back on production and delivery schedules due to battery and semi-conductor shortages. Not only is this an issue for the OEM itself, but also for customers who are experiencing up to year-long wait times for their new EV. Parts shortages are adding to supply chain and cost concerns for manufacturers contemplating the transition ahead to electric models.
A number of OEMs have been looking into hydrogen more seriously as a future fuel. However, there are a few barriers to overcome before it can be a widespread choice for the industry, such as infrastructure and the production of 100% green hydrogen.
We spoke to Steve McEvoy, vice president of automotive, Expleo, to discuss the potential use of hydrogen as a fuel and to discuss the ongoing issue of EV infrastructure.
Just Auto (JA): Could you tell me a little bit about your role?
Steve McEvoy (SM): I joined Expleo in 2016. I am qualified as a chartered engineer and have professional qualifications in sales and marketing. At Expleo I am the vice president of automotive for the company.
The role involves leading end-to-end engineering and quality solutions, primarily for automotive manufacturers. We provide a range of services, so it’s everything from designing the architecture of the vehicle, to work on infotainment and the overall user experience.
At the moment a key area of focus is on the green agenda, so that means electric vehicles, whether that be battery electric, or hydrogen fuel cells. On top of that, cars these days are basically computers on wheels; that then gives us the whole cybersecurity angle. We’re involved in the architecture and the whole vehicle ecosystem.
We’re doing a lot of work on the IT side of the cars and more on cybersecurity also; one of our biggest areas is the safety system. We do a lot of designing and system testing for safety systems of cars.
What would you say are some of the factors causing EVs to have an expensive business model?
It’s not immune to what we’re all experiencing at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis. From an EV development model perspective, you’re looking at rising costs – the costs of the materials are astronomic compared to where they were five years ago. The energy costs in manufacturing have also increased.
Breaking it down, it’s the cost of the materials, the energy cost increases, and then the [refuelling] infrastructure challenges.
As soon as you start talking about the green agenda, it’s all about battery electric vehicles, but the infrastructure challenges have to be seriously considered. If I’m looking at battery electric, we just don’t have enough chargers in the country.
The even bigger problem is we don’t have enough electricity being produced to support the chargers that are going to be needed.
There are multiple parts of the problem if you look at the car itself, if you look at how much a battery costs compared to producing a standard internal combustion engine – there’s a big difference.
I was talking recently with a director at an OEM. He was telling me they must get these batteries to last because the cost of replacing them is two thirds of the price of the car – if not more.
We also still have a semiconductor shortage of course – even if it is easing. We still have OEMs not delivering on their platform promises to their shareholders, because they can’t get basic things like semiconductors, which a few years ago we took for granted.
How can government investment assist the issue of EV infrastructure?
If you take it from an investment point of view, if you look at what the UK government’s doing from 2011, it was the plug-in grant scheme, which has been tailing off. That herlded an explosion of electric vehicles, particularly company financed electric vehicles.
The number of leasing companies offering them now has gone through the roof, but I think there are only around 18,000 charging points in the UK. That is nowhere near enough when you’re looking at the overall aim that by 2032 the UK government wants around 23 million electric vehicles on the road.
I understand some 325,000 on-road charging points are going to be needed, but then you’ve also got to look at the type of infrastructure needed to support that. It then becomes bigger than just the automotive industry. You’re looking at government strategy for power generation and an idea of where they are going to be getting the electricity to power this?
In the past, you’ve never been able to store the electricity. Well, now you’ve got all these people with electric vehicles. So, if you’ve got smart charging at home and smart meters then there are opportunities [for bidirectional charging].
I know with Expleo we’ve looked at smart metering systems for homes. There are certainly opportunities there that the government and relevant industries can investigate. The industry needs to come together and to be able to work with that. There are opportunities but it does come back to the basic infrastructure.
When looking at the vehicles, as we develop more EVs, as the battery technology (which is improving almost by the month) develops, I think the high price of BEVs will naturally come down. But that still leaves us with the fundamental power infrastructure issue.
Could you discuss the potential use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel?
For me the hydrogen option is really interesting. However, when you’ve only got around 13 hydrogen stations in the UK, it’s an infrastructure that just isn’t sustainable at the moment.
Then you’ve got the other issue that most of the hydrogen-powered vehicles are using grey hydrogen, so it’s all from natural gas. When I first started looking at hydrogen, I was thinking it might be perfect because we are an island, we can use the water to produce the hydrogen. It will be lovely green hydrogen, and it will just have the by-product of water and warm air so it should be perfect.
There are some larger organisations that have developed that, but that has to then be adopted by the automotive industry, and on its own it cannot do that. There needs to be more joined up thinking which I know is being looked at the moment, but all comes down to money from somewhere to actually make that happen.
What do you think the new few years holds for the EV market?
If we look to the next three to four years, I think it’s going to be battery electric vehicles all the way – that’s where the push is going to be. Although some OEMs might introduce and work with hydrogen. Some are seriously looking into that.
It’s when we look in the longer term and say where are we going to be in the next 15 years? At the moment we’ve got relatively high adoption rates for BEVs in the UK and in Europe. It’s much slower in China, US, Brazil, and India. If they start adopting them it’s then down to whether the battery components and the technologies can improve and whether it becomes even harder to get the components for the batteries globally – if so, then the price is going to go up and that’s going to have a cost impact worldwide.
There’s an awful lot of work being done on battery technology to move away from the current components that are being used, which may solve that that problem. I think it’s one of the reasons I think hydrogen needs to be focused on. Although they’ve still got batteries in them, they don’t need quite the same level of intensity of battery in there because you can use the hydrogen.
I think we need to have something else apart from full reliance on battery electric vehicles. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hydrogen – people are looking at other similar synthetic sources – but none of those seem to be completely carbon free. So out of the options that seem viable and do-able that are proven today, hydrogen seems to be a solution.
I would like to think that in 15 years’ time we will have at least a percentage of the transport system that’s being run from hydrogen, to take some of the pressure off BEVs – which as far as we can see at the moment are going to be the largest portion of the market going forward.