Who is winning the race to mass-market electric vehicles?
30/05/2019 by MRL
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The race towards mass-market electric vehicles (EVs) is heating up. While Tesla seemed the obvious frontrunner for a number of years, thanks to their superior knowledge in creating batteries, traditional car manufacturers with their years of expertise have now turned towards EV technology. And with good reason, because political, environmental, social and economic pressures are causing more consumers and companies to turn to EVs.
Worldwide, projected investment for the sector has hit $90 billion. Hot on the heels of Tesla, are Mercedes, with its luxury EV the Mercedes-Benz EQC, Volkswagen which plans 70 EV models in the next decade, and Volvo, with its electric sedan Polestar. Mercedes have an extra advantage in that they can build much of the EQC on their existing production lines, following investments to their current factories.
The race for EV dominance has, in part, been influenced by increasing tension between the U.S. and China. Tariffs are stemming the flow of traditional combustion vehicles. This is worsened by a slow-down in demand for such vehicles in China and Europe.
Then there’s legislative action that will drive demand. From 2040, the UK Government will ban the sale of all new diesel and petrol vehicles, meaning EV will become the norm in little over 20 years. Now, a third of consumers would consider buying a pure EV for their next vehicle and 52 per cent would purchase a hybrid.
So, there’s good reason to invest in EV development. Tesla and co. however, face a bigger competitor in the form of China. In China, car companies are producing EVs at a rapid pace. BYD, Byton and Kandi are common names in China, with BYD selling more cars than Tesla and analysts feeling more bullish about BYD than the Musk-fronted company.
Homegrown Chinese automotive companies have an edge over Tesla and other foreign companies. Chinese EV manufacturers are mostly state-owned, drawing on huge resources available to them from the Government. They have access to the largest domestic market in the world and are strengthened by the Government’s very pro-electric stance.
Under such fortunate conditions, EV company Byton has recently raised over $700 million - enabling it to grow its workforce to 1,100 people to help it take on Tesla.
Therein lies the secret weapon for every EV manufacturer: talent. In China, there are thousands of willing workers wanting to be a part of the electrified future. To gain a foothold in the battle for EV dominance, manufacturers must invest in the right skills.
Joerg Schlinkheider, Jaguar Land Rover chief engineer for automated driving, states, “The skills we require are getting much more specific,” citing artificial intelligence (AI), software specialists, user experience (UX) and human-machine skills in particular.
He also notes the need for more materials scientists, saying “It’s clear we have to understand the chemicals in the battery to develop better batteries and extend the range of the vehicle.”
Hiring such skills is a tall order for an industry traditionally seen as petrol-led, masculine and environmentally unfriendly. Auto manufacturers also face competition from tech companies, as these skills become more important for the future of automotive production and businesses traditionally operating outside of the sector seek new opportunities. Bosch, for example, has over 2000 engineers dedicated to EV technology.
Automotive companies looking to invest in EV-ready talent must consider a different hiring approach.Whereas direct automotive experience was prerequisite in the past, companies are casting their net wider to find software, AI and UX experience from related fields.
Upskilling the current workforce is also key, given the petrol/diesel ban coming into force from 2040. The move towards EV signals an evolution for the industry and the workers within it – developing creative thinking, adaptability and agility should be a top priority. Furthering this, the UK Government is considering EV-specific qualifications in order to push companies to upskill their engineers.
The race for market supremacy is not a one-man effort - it’s more of a relay, involving many moving parts and people. Manufacturers won’t get ahead on their own steam. Instead, developing the right skills internally and hiring external talent will give them an edge. There are huge opportunities available to those who are able to get the perfect balance of existing auto talent and new tech-proficient staff. As competition increases, it’s the companies with the largest skilled workforce that will cross the finish line.
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