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    The seven milestones that are accelerating the evolution of electric cars


    May 22, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras

     

      1 More autonomy

      "The first i3 vehicles we brought to Chile had a range of 130 kilometers, which did not allow you, for example, to make trips to another city. Today our flagship vehicle, the BMW iX, has a range of more than 600 kilometers," says Fernando Cifuentes, head of intelligence and product specialist at BMW.

      This is just one example of how the number of kilometers a vehicle can travel without needing more charge has improved. This feat is the result of the combination of more energy-efficient engines and batteries that store more energy in less space. Vehicles with a range of up to 800 km are already appearing on the market.

      The capacity of a battery is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). "Our first models had 24 kWh, but now we have 40 and 62 kWh, occupying the same space in the vehicle. All this contributes to a much longer range, even with engines with more power," says Nissan's Francisco Medina. Other brands have batteries of around 100 kWh.

      2 Much faster charging

      "Another advance related to the battery is the speed of charging. There is a race to improve times," says Diego Mendoza of ANAC.

      Vehicles have, in essence, two ways of charging. One is at home, connecting it to the home network, in which case charging is slow and takes all night or more.

      But at places like gas stations, energy is charged more quickly. Most common are 40 and 50 kilowatt (kW) charges. The latter can charge a car in about 45 minutes.

      "Only recently are 150 kW chargers appearing that make it possible for a charge to take half an hour or less. This is essential, because with larger batteries, if you don't improve the charging speed, you could be charging for more than two hours," says Medina.

      Tamara Berríos believes that charging speed is the area where there is most room for improvement. "Even if you're taking 30 minutes, it doesn't compare to fueling where in 5 minutes you have a full car," she says.

      Work is already underway. The company StoreDot is developing a new XFC lithium-ion cell battery technology with a silicon anode that by 2024 will allow a battery to be charged to 100 miles in five minutes and by 2035 could do so in as little as two minutes.

      3 Energy on wheels

      Electric cars are beginning to be thought of as part of a country's energy matrix. "They are real energy accumulators. An electric vehicle with its full charge can provide enough energy for a house to run for at least three days," Mendoza points out.

      Thus, says the specialist, the owner of an electric car can start charging his car in the early morning, when the cost of electricity is cheaper. But then he uses the car to power the home when the price of energy is more expensive, for example, when everyone comes home from work.

      In addition, those who have solar panels can connect them to the car without having to buy additional energy accumulators.

      "This is achieved with modules called V2G (vehicle to grid) or V2H (vehicle to home) that enable the vehicle to deliver energy both to the grid and to a home," says Medina, who adds that Nissan installed the first such module at the Energy Sustainability Agency.

      4 Accident-proof

      Batteries accumulate a large amount of energy and are on the floor of the vehicle. Hence, it is essential to ensure that they have no outages and that even an accident cannot cause a fire.

      "Battery safety has evolved fast and I have seen this with the development of our own batteries," says Tamara Berríos of BYD.

      She adds, "Nine years ago they were using lithium batteries with iron phosphate. They were safe, but heavy, and gave little autonomy. Then, looking for more autonomy, the Nickel Manganese Cobalt Manganese (NMC) battery became popular, which was much more unstable. In the meantime, we developed technology to return to lithium-iron-phosphate, but with higher density and safety. Now we have vehicles with batteries that provide 600 kilometers of autonomy and are very safe".

      Another technology that contributes to safety are systems that adapt to the European standard. "Just like an airbag, the European standard requires that in the event of a crash, the batteries must be disconnected immediately to avoid short circuits and minimize the risk of fire. In a conventional car, there is always that risk if fuel is spilled," adds Medina.

      Fifty years ago, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a BMW electric car accompanied the Marathon runners. Under its hood were 12 heavy 12-volt lead-acid batteries totaling 350 kilograms. Its top speed was 100 km/h and its range was between 30 and 60 km, so the Marathon (42 km) was at the limit of its capacity.

      Five decades later, the same company has just presented this week in Chile the BMW iX3 with a range of 461 km (the distance between Santiago and Coquimbo), its batteries are charged in about an hour in an electric station and has several features, such as the possibility of starting it from the cell phone or parking with the full assistance of the vehicle.

      Fully electric cars have been marketed in Chile for about fifteen years, but during the pandemic, their sales boomed. April was the best month in history for sales of zero- or low-emission electric vehicles in Chile: 544 units were sold last month (of which 105 were fully electric), which is 256% more than in April 2021. The figures - from a report by the National Automotive Association of Chile (ANAC) - say that in the first four months of the year, 1,779 hybrid or electric vehicles have been sold in Chile, of which 222 are in the latter category.

      "In Chile there are 68 electric models of 26 brands. Before the pandemic there were less than 30 vehicles of 13 brands, so we can say that during this period the offer doubled," says Diego Mendoza, secretary general of ANAC.

      In addition to this, Mendoza adds, there is a great variety in terms of vehicle type: there are hatchback, coupe, sedan, SUV, etc. Before, the offer was limited to delivery vans, cab fleets and very little variety of family cars.

      This increased supply also comes with increased consumer interest. "In the country, electric cars are no longer sold so much for the fact that you are taking care of the environment - which they do - but because they have become a convenient option, especially for those who use them intensively, since there are great savings in charging and maintenance. If before people used to ask how many kilometers of autonomy they had, and that was the cornerstone for their purchase, now they calculate how much they are going to save", says Tamara Berríos, country manager of BYD Chile.

      This is corroborated by Marcelo Espina, driver of a Hyundai Ionic electric radio cab. "Before, in the yellow cabs I used to spend $30,000 on charging and now I spend $5,000 driving the same thing. The car pays for itself in four or five years. The only drawback is the lack of charging stations," he says.

      As of 2035, cars that use fossil fuels will not be sold in Chile. This is the moment when the inflection point is occurring in which customers are thinking about these cars as a possible alternative, for now, somewhat more expensive. "Today, the price of batteries is around US$ 130 per kilowatt. By 2025 it should drop to US$ 100, at which point prices should approach those of a conventional car," says Francisco Medina, manager of electric vehicles at Nissan.

      Here are some of the changes that mark the evolution of this means of transport:

      5 Generating clean electricity

      This month, a Renault Zoé, an electric vehicle with a factory range of 400 kilometers, broke a world range record by exceeding 2,000 kilometers as a result of a modification that added a biofuel tank that in turn feeds a "fuel cell" that generates electricity to continue feeding the battery. The old range record was held by the Toyota Mirai, which had reached 1,360 km.

      This is just one example of how electric cars can be complemented by other clean energy sources to generate electricity while on the move. "Currently, cars have regenerative motors and brakes that produce energy for the battery when the vehicle is going downhill or the brakes are pressed," says Cifuentes.

      Another example of complementary energy use is the Fisker Ocean, a vehicle presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which has a roof with solar panels. Its energy contribution is minimal, about 4 or 5 km per day, so it is still far from an electric car powered by the sun.

      6 More control over the vehicle

      There is more control over the vehicle when all the components are electronic, as opposed to a conventional one in which you have mechanical parts, says Tamara Berríos. This expands the range of possibilities of what the car can do, from better controlled assisted parking or better cruise speed. In addition, Berríos adds, any additional features could be added with a software update more easily.

      An example of this is e-Pedal technology, explains Medina, which revolutionizes the way of driving and allows control of the vehicle's acceleration and braking with a single pedal. "Something that can only be done in an electric vehicle," he explains.

      It works like this: if you want to accelerate, you press the pedal; if you want to brake, you release the pedal, and the vehicle begins to decelerate to a complete stop. This regenerative braking contributes more energy to the batteries.

      In any case, a brake pedal is included in the vehicles, in case someone crosses the road abruptly.

      In addition, Medina says, a cruising speed that "learns" from road conditions can be used. "Before, you would set a certain cruising speed; but if the road was slower, you had to slow down or disengage it. Now the vehicle can detect the speed of the person in front of it and adjust the cruising speed itself.

      7 Always connected

      "Cars are becoming more and more like a cell phone that you can easily control, that can receive software updates, that has functionalities. Our BYD electric cars in China can make video conference calls, do karaoke inside it and can even move with a joystick . In short, they are true technological platforms," says Berríos.

      Beyond entertainment and leisure, electric cars provide more information about their use, their mechanics and the condition of their components. "Many of them are or will be connected to a cloud, and through artificial intelligence, they will learn about the user's behavior, their routes, tell them when to leave home, give them driving tips to save energy, warn them when they pass by a place where they can shop," says Berríos.

      For repair or maintenance it's similar. "You connect it to a computer and it tells you everything. In addition, maintenance is easier, because there are far fewer parts than in a conventional car," he says.

      In the future, says the BYD representative, electric cars will be part of a city's services: from cabs to delivery trucks or garbage collectors. Cars will not only be seen as something familiar, but there will be shared electric and autonomous cars.

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