Electric car development: revolution vs evolution
The ID.3 is one of the stars of the IAA motor show, but also a multi-billion bet. Like Tesla, VW has built an entirely new technical base, completely dedicated to driving electric.
This allows for reflection on the architecture of the car to make use of the space liberated by going electric — the result: reduced weight, innovating design, and optimization of both interior space and range.
VW has accepted that the ID.3 will not be profitable from the beginning. The new MEB platform is expensive, and its production demands a specific factory. Rival PSA (Peugeot, Citroën & Opel/Vauxhall) wouldn’t think of building cars at a loss. Their platform has been designed to be multi-energy.
The Opel Corsa-e, Peugeot e-208, and DS3 Crossback e-Tense are built on the same platform as their petrol and diesel variants. It allows for a lower investment, faster electrification of the model range, and shorter reaction times to changing market conditions.
“We have to be flexible, agile. We don’t know what the market will look like in three years. Everything moves very quickly. By 2025, all PSA models will be electrified, but the group can quickly change the volumes of different types of drive,” says Alexandre Guignard, low emission vehicle manager at PSA.
The electric car market is very uncertain. The vehicles are still quite a bit more expensive than ICE cars and they don’t cover the needs of all drivers. While their sales double each year and technological progress in the field of batteries is expected, they still only represent 2% of new car sales.
“Choosing between a dedicated platform and dual platforms is a gamble,” says Alix Partners automotive expert, Laurent Petizon. But who is right? “Everything depends on the speed at which electric car sales will take off. If it goes well, vehicles on dedicated platforms will be better adapted and allow for costs to spread over longer periods. If evolution is not as fast, multi-energy platforms will reduce the financial risk.”
The Korean brand, Hyundai, has both dedicated and multi-energy platforms and is determined to keep it that way. Its Kona SUV offers both ICE, hybrid, and electric options, while the Concept 45 has a dedicated electric platform, which will be available in 2021.
While dedicated platforms are interesting to optimize electric vehicles, they are not adapted to models sold all over the world. According to Hyundai, electric cars are interesting for Asia, Europe, and some US States, but in other regions, demand is limited.
“There is no single schedule,” says Renault electric vehicle director, Gilles Normand. While the brand has extensive experience with its electric Zoe city car, it will cooperate with Nissan and Mitsubishi to develop a dedicated platform for larger vehicles. “It is very costly to develop. Forming alliances will let us save 40% on cost.”
So in the development of electric cars, size matters. Medium-sized manufacturers don’t have as much money to spend on R&D, so they will need to adapt existing platforms to reduce the industrial cost.