Freddy Page-Roberts argues that legacy manufacturers are failing future generations of drivers by refusing to put purpose over profit and embrace unconventional vehicle architectures
It’s well understood that with electric vehicles (EV) the larger a car is, the heavier it is, and the bigger the battery required—all of which influence its range, purchase price, and environmental impact.
So why do major car brands, even at the EV end of the scale, continue to focus their time and attention on making SUVs, which are much more regularly used for the supermarket shop rather than the craggy countryside scenes for which they’re designed and marketed?
We know that for EVs in particular, range is still a huge obstacle. Meanwhile, statistics suggest the demand for smaller vehicles has increased as much as 18% since the pandemic. Even before COVID, the average car journey in the UK included just one to two people—a far cry from the four- or five-person families often seen in adverts.
If they started to prioritise customers’ needs over profit now, they would reap real rewards, as they would be able to take a more flexible approach to delivering lighter and more efficient EV designs
This obsession with overly large vehicles has cultural implications as well, with their associated price tags running the real risk of pricing the middle class out of car ownership, as highlighted by Stellantis Chief, Carlos Tavares, at the recent Financial Times’ Future of the Car summit.
There’s no point making cars that nobody wants (or can afford). So, the answer surely is to start making smaller cars that can travel further. Manufacturers are loath to do this, however, because smaller cars inevitably mean a smaller profit. It’s no secret that larger vehicles are the money-makers for auto manufacturers.
With plummeting birth rates, remote working, the rise of the rental economy, home delivery, and investment in public transport, however, the journeys people take are evolving and manufacturers must ensure the cars they make evolve with us, whether they like it or not. So how can they ensure they fulfil these rapidly changing needs and still turn a profit?
It starts with returning to the drawing board. For a long time, manufacturers of EVs have relied on the ‘skateboard’ arrangement, which packages the car battery underfloor. It’s a reliable model that is great for freeing up space in the cabin but it comes with structural, weight and cost drawbacks, leading to much reduced profits.
What if we considered an alternative arrangement that still delivered on customers’ needs, and at much reduced costs and weight? Simply moving the battery to the centre of the car, for instance, could have a major impact on the overall height and weight of an EV. This, by my calculations, would boost efficiency by as much as a third, enabling the car to travel the same distance as current models using a much smaller battery. As the battery accounts for between 25% and 45% of the vehicle cost, substantial savings can be made.
This obsession with overly large vehicles has cultural implications as well, with their associated price tags running the real risk of pricing the middle class out of car ownership
The efficiency gains translate into a winning situation for both consumers and manufacturers: far cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and more economical EVs that in turn have potential to be more profitable. A useful bonus of the efficiency gain is reduced demand on the charging infrastructure. Additionally, the smaller batteries reduce reliance on precious resources.
SUVs are still popular with consumers, so it’s not surprising that manufacturers are reluctant to bring something new to the table. If they started to prioritise customers’ needs over profit now, they would reap real rewards, as they would be able to take a more flexible approach to delivering lighter and more efficient EV designs.
This kind of futureproofing would not only boost cash flow down the line but importantly has the potential to further minimise the environmental impact of the cars we’re going to be driving in ten to 15 years’ time —which is what it’s all about.
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Freddy Page-Roberts is CEO and Founder of Page-Roberts Automotive