2022 will be a make-or-break year for electric vehicles

Recent long-term commitments to charging infrastructure means that it’s likely that 2022 will be a make-or-break year for electric vehicles, says Arup’s Isabel Dedring.

From the ‘tulip fever’ of 17th century Netherlands to eBay battles for $5,000 Beanie Babies in the 1990s, economic bubbles have attracted fascination and speculation throughout history. Then the bubble bursts, usually as rapidly as it emerged.

Electric cars first came onto the market in the late 19th century and comprised as many as a third of the cars on US roads in 1900. However, by the 1930s they seemed consigned to the dustbin of history, a victim of the rise of cheaper, omnipresent fossil fuel alternatives at a time when electricity was expensive and not widely available.

And yet, several factors have caused the electric car to re-emerge. From Elon Musk’s stardust to Greta Thunberg’s compelling broadsides against global inaction on the climate crisis. From growing concern about dangerous levels of urban air pollution to the appeal of up to 90% lower running costs.

In little more than a decade, electric vehicles have been catapulted from a curiosity to a small but noticeable chunk of the market, to a mainstream and popular choice for consumers. At the same time, new electric-powered mobility options such as e-scooters have appeared, while electric vans and buses have matured and become commonplace.

This pace of change is profoundly unfamiliar to the transport industry, where policy, vehicle and infrastructure development typically takes years and often decades.

As industry struggles to keep up with rocketing demand, waiting lists lengthen and consumer impatience with infrastructure grows. Regulators are under pressure to rapidly define rules for new e-mobility solutions such as e-scooters, to support electric vehicle owners with lower parking charges and tolling discounts and to carve out more charging spaces in cities. Battery production is struggling to keep pace with demand.

So, are we in an electric mobility bubble that is about to burst?

In 2022, it is likely that waiting lists for electric vehicles will continue to grow as demand continues to outstrip supply. However, consumers’ rapidly-growing focus on making climate-friendly choices – including the environmental ‘pester power’ of their kids – should help consumers hold their nerve.

Next year will herald the arrival of a slew of new vehicles – both expanded offerings from established manufacturers and several newer companies, such as Michigan-based Bollinger, Chinese-German Byton and California’s Fisker.

Cities and countries around the world have been making herculean efforts in infrastructure rollout that have to date been frustratingly off-radar, but these will finally start to hit the streets in 2022.

What’s more, the growing consumer experience of charging is giving a more nuanced understanding of what charging is necessary - from an initial perception that dedicated charging infrastructure was needed for each car, many electric vehicle users are finding they only need to charge a few times a month.

Growing experience with electric vehicle technology and the availability of charging data and app will continue to ease range anxiety – and 2022 is likely to bring more cross-industry data pooling to provide a coherent, easy-to-understand picture to consumers about where and how to charge.

Players across the industry are moving towards a more collaborative, nuanced approach – including using price to incentivise night-time charging and a more focused approach to upgrading the grid.

Recent long-term commitments to charging infrastructure – including China’s $1.4 billion, the US infrastructure bill’s $7.5bn and the UK’s $400m grid investment – have boosted confidence worldwide.

Put simply, 2022 will be a make-or-break year in the story of the electric vehicle ‘comeback kid’ – and despite some challenges it looks like this bubble will grow and grow.

Isabel Dedring is the global transport leader at Arup.