The electric and hybrid vehicle market grew steadily throughout the 2010s with the introduction of models like the Toyota Prius and Chevy Bolt. With General Motors’ recent announcement it would phase out all internal combustion engines in its vehicles by 2035, all eyes are now firmly glued to electric vehicles.
In fact, the market for electric vehicles is even more lively and diverse than you might realize. This also carries over to industries that are involved in the manufacturing of such vehicles, such as a NEMA 12 enclosure, for example. Across many different industries and markets, innovators and entrepreneurs are developing new kinds of electric vehicles preparing us to leave our gas-powered lives behind. From bikes to buses to, yes, e-skateboards, here are five key trends to watch in the coming blossoming of electric vehicles.
1. Unusual electric vehicles, such as electric skateboards and unicycles, are becoming more widespread.
Zooming along on a skateboard powered not by a traditional foot push but by an electric motor mounted inside a waterproof electrical box? The idea might have seemed wild a few years ago, but electric-powered personal transportation is definitely a trend that demands to be taken seriously.
As e-vehicle battery technology becomes more available and culturally prominent, it’s attracted visionary thinkers and entrepreneurs who are bringing ever more unlikely-seeming creations to market. The rollout of new vehicles, such as electric skateboards, is one of the signals we’ve entered a new era of electric transportation. Electric vehicle innovations are increasingly common in the startup sphere, where almost any brash young inventor with an electric vehicle idea can probably find a venture capitalist to fund it.
Many city dwellers have done a double take as they watched someone zoom by on the appropriately-named Onewheel, a single-wheel electric skateboard device. What’s even crazier is it’s not even the only electric unicycle out there. Several other self-balancing electric unicycle models are now on the market. These are the kinds of offbeat creations we can expect to see as electric vehicle technology becomes more accessible.
2. Electric personal transportation vehicles are becoming a staple part of urban transit.
Electric bicycles and scooters are increasingly prominent in the landscape of urban public transportation. These vehicles are relatively inexpensive and fast last-mile transportation solutions that help people travel short distances more effectively, spend more time outside and reduce their carbon footprint.
Cyclists have been pedaling electric motor-assisted bicycles around cities for several years now. The concept is simple: a bicycle with an electric motor attached to the frame inside an electrical enclosure. The motor helps the rider pedal and accelerate and can make the bikes more accessible to new riders. Companies, such as Chicago’s Divvy, now offer e-bikes for public rental, and they’re increasingly popular among serious bike enthusiasts as well.
Electric scooters, meanwhile, have spent several years as a widespread but controversial element of urban transportation. Their convenience, low price per ride and lightweight versatility have made them popular, but e-scooters can cause traffic problems and even be dangerous when they’re not properly deployed and regulated.
3. Electric logistics vehicles are beginning their rollout.
Logistics vehicles, such as tractor-trailer trucks, are a major source of emissions in the U.S.. Unfortunately, the first production model electric semi truck has yet to arrive, but not for lack of hard work on the part of vehicle manufacturers.
The Tesla Semi is the best-known name in electric trucks, thanks to the exhibition of its prototype in 2017, but its production has been continually delayed, thanks to difficulties in battery manufacturing and various other factors. Volvo will likely beat them to market with a fully electric semi truck designed for short haul routes.
The Volvo truck has only about 150 miles of battery life per charge, which means it won’t be changing the face of American freight any time soon, as many key North American freight lines are far longer. But for the thriving regional hauling industry, the electric future may be arriving sooner rather than later.
4. Mass transit is preparing to increase its electrification.
Many trains (particularly commuter trains) are already powered by electricity, but a full-fledged electric transformation for public transit vehicles like buses seems increasingly close. A few cities already have large fleets of electric buses, the most notable of which is the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Shenzhen is a neighboring city of Hong Kong that has a fleet of 16,000 electric buses and 22,000 electric taxis. The city’s government has accomplished this feat of electrification through partnerships with battery manufacturers and massive subsidies for electric vehicle infrastructure. If the U.S. and Europe want to keep up with China on electrification, they need to make sure public transit is a fundamental part of green infrastructure plans.
To complicate things a little more, trends come at a challenging time for mass transit. Most cities’ public transportation systems have seen precipitous drops in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the vaccines turn the tides of humanity’s fight against the virus, the coming reset period should include serious discussion of how to bring back mass transit stronger through mass electrification.
5. Upstream shifts away from fossil fuels are happening, though slowly.
Electric vehicles are certainly cleaner and greener than their gas-powered predecessors, but all of that power still has to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, that often means the upstream power source for electric vehicles is fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas. Thus, before our transportation infrastructure can become truly green, we need to phase out fossil fuel energy from these sources and convert their capacity into renewables.
The process of decarbonizing the core energy infrastructure will be a long and challenging one. Natural gas’s massive upswing in popularity has obscured the fact it’s still a fossil fuel (albeit a relatively clean-burning one) that has negative effects on our climate. To have genuinely green power behind our e-skateboards, e-bikes, e-buses and whatever other means of electric transportation we use in the future, the global energy industry will have to redouble its commitment to renewable energy and the shift away from fossil fuels.