Engineering 101

What is the Future of Electric Vehicles?


Those desperate to invest in ‘The next Tesla’ continue to pile into start-up Rivian, the latest $350m coming from a media company. That takes investment up to the $2bn level familiar at Tesla. The IDTechEx report, ‘Electric Vehicles 2020 – 2030’ gives the full picture.

To over-simplify, Rivian has demonstrated a pickup truck with exceptional handling due to four near-wheel motors and exceptional range due to a larger battery. It will sell pure-electric pickup trucks with Tesla and others close behind. So is it a Tesla killer?

Tesla-levels of advanced technology are not obvious in Rivian’s revealed product, though they may be in stealth mode. Volkswagen has said that it does not have the full technical repertoire of Tesla yet. Ian Collins, director of development at Polestar UK, a Geely company, says of Tesla ‘They are far ahead of everyone else’. So do the tear-down experts.

In part, Tesla are global leaders because Mercedes, Jaguar, Audi and others did not choose aspects they could easily incorporate in favour of conventional design, such as lowest drag factor shapes. The revealed Rivian design does not appear to be low drag factor either.

Not having the best powertrain efficiency (power electronics, wireless board signals, highest efficiency motors etc) compounds the problem for existing car makers, so range and performance for a given price is usually not competitive. No one pretends any more that Mercedes, Jaguar or Audi have Tesla killers on offer yet.

But is Rivian leapfrogging what Tesla will eventually achieve in pick-up trucks? Axial flux in-wheel motors for highest power-to-weight ratio and, with solar bodywork, longer range with less battery? Well no. That is the new Lightyear One car with its Tesla beating drag factor (though Lightyear has a cost problem).

Chairman of IDTechEx Dr Peter Harrop said: “We are not negative about Rivian. Like everyone else we wait to hear what defendable on-going uniques it possesses. Global car sales declined for the first time since the economic crisis last year, yet Tesla is capturing business at the $20 billion level in 2019 and growing.

“Equally impressive, BYD of China has taken leadership in pure-electric buses worldwide and pure-electric cars in China, making its own batteries, something Tesla is planning. Given the perfect storm coming in cars it is important who wins in buses and full trucks more than pickup trucks. Rivian has chosen a good starting point from a US point of view.”

IDTechEx is the only analyst company in the world following the electrification of 100+ electric vehicle segments. Looking beyond the battery-electric car movement, it is our position that an equally inevitable transition is taking place, not only with alternative vehicles, but also with alternative forms of powertrain.

At the annual IDTechEx conference ‘Electric Vehicles: Everything is Changing’ in Santa Clara on 20th and 21st of November, attendees will have the chance to learn more about developments in these areas, with sessions covering powertrain and component innovations, the heavy duty sector, opportunities in China’s EV market, and new material opportunities. Speakers include General Motors, Aston Martin, BMW, Porsche, Yinlong Energy, SERES, Hyundai MOBIS, SABIC, PPG, Toshiba, Continental and many more.

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