With summer winding down, one theme dominated headlines around the world for the last two months: record heat. Temperatures from California to Greece reached record highs, with hundreds of millions of people locked in a months-long pattern of extreme temperatures with little relief. In Phoenix alone, residents experienced a mind-boggling and dangerous record of 31 consecutive days with high temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. In Asia, the Caribbean, and in Europe, countries faced unprecedented stretches of heat with the Italian region of Sardinia hitting nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Coupled with abnormally dry conditions, hugely popular tourist destinations such as Rhodes and Maui faced massive fires killing hundreds of people and causing billions of dollars worth of damage. It is evident that summer is getting hotter and more dangerous. The question is, what can the auto industry do to speed up efforts to change the vehicle mix and help combat climate change?
Great progress has been made in the last 15 years in the development and adoption of both EVs and importantly connected car services. EVs have captured a significant minority of global new car sales, increasing from 4% of new car sales in 2020 to 14% in 2022. .Likewise, according to research done by Smartcar, 91% of all vehicles sold in the United States in 2020 were connected to the internet, bringing advanced features to customers and moving the industry closer to the concept of software defined vehicles. These high-tech advancements were intended not only to improve the customer experience, but also to lessen the automotive industry’s impact on climate change. EVs are projected to phase out ICE powered vehicles, eliminating tailpipe emissions, while connected vehicle software will optimize the user experience and efficiency of vehicles. Despite these efforts however, climate change is not slowing down, and a variety of new problems have arisen that significantly impact the benefit afforded by EVs and advanced connected car technologies.
These issues range from vehicle wear, to power grid drain, to rare earth material (REM) shortages. An article published last week by The Drive reported that the tires on Rivian’s R1T and R1S models are wearing out in as few as 6,000 miles. Rivians are notably very heavy and have massively powerful electric motors able to propel the three and a half ton vehicles to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds. But the incredible power and weight of these EVs have seemingly left the tires fitted to the vehicles outclassed, creating the potential for an enormous increase in rubber waste and ownership expenses. As EVs become larger, heavier, and faster this problem will only increase, fueling the current environmental crisis and apprehension about EV adoption.
In the Sun Belt, the dangerously hot summer conditions caused the need for around the clock air conditioning in spaces across most of the affected states, It was reported by Arizona Public Service that July 14th and 15th each set records for the highest consumer power demand in the state’s history. And Arizona’s power supply runs mostly on natural gas, which while better than coal, still contributes to the pollution of the atmosphere. Higher temperatures caused by climate change require more air conditioning, which in turn creates more pollution. EVs are not responsible for this situation, but their increasing need for power may have long term impacts on states still utilizing fossil fuel power generation methods. So increased demand from consumers to cool their homes and charge their EVs fuels a vicious cycle fueling the climate crisis.
All of these issues in conjunction with the exponential growth in chip demand for high-tech vehicles has forced the auto industry to face unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable questions about their collective efforts to combat climate change. The news is not all bad however, as the products and services that are having unintended consequences on the climate may also be able to help solve them. Though costly, measures such as bi-directional charging, where EVs contribute excess power back into a home or the grid could be implemented as a way to shed some of the electrical load caused by extreme weather. A less expensive alternative that is available today is interruptible charging, in which vehicle charging can be remotely controlled and suspended while plugged into home chargers during the hours where electricity demand is at its highest. Another option is smart routing which could bring down the environmental cost of ownership and help offset the climate impact of bringing new technology into vehicles.
It is inevitable that EVs will continue to gain market share, and software defined vehicles will become the industry standard. With creative and proactive solutions such as those mentioned above, the automotive industry will be able to more successfully contribute to the struggle against climate change, working to safeguard the world for future generations. All of us in the automotive industry can make a big difference.