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The Electrification of Transportation Trend to Continue

An increasing number of vehicles and devices that have traditionally been gas-powered are easing into electrification, and experts say that this is a trend that will continue all throughout 2020 and beyond.

Transportation is being electrified, and this trend will continue to surge in 2020.

More electric vehicle models are hitting the personal vehicle market, while companies like Amazon are pledging to purchase thousands of electric delivery vehicles. In cities, meanwhile, transit agencies continue to increase orders for electric buses, according to experts in the space.

“There’s a lot of major developments. But it’s not just about those companies, those vehicles,” Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, an EV advocacy group in Portland, Ore., said of companies like Amazon.

“We’re really seeing electrification of everything that moves, from forklifts and yard equipment, to trucks and buses, even things like school buses and agricultural equipment,” Allen said during a recent webinar. 

California aims to take the lead on mandating EVs for medium and heavy-duty uses, with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) poised to take up a new rule that would begin the process of phasing in the use of EVs for delivery vehicles, transit and school buses, as well as big rigs.

“By setting an aggressive goal, and a bold goal, you essentially created a public market that folks figured out how to meet,” said Nathan Fletcher, a member of CARB and the San Diego Board of Supervisors, speaking at a recent CARB meeting to discuss the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation.

Growth of e-retail, meanwhile, has sparked a need to accommodate more delivery vehicles, as well as solutions for the traffic congestion and the greenhouse gases these vehicles are creating.

“You may see electric cargo bikes being used for first and last mile delivery, different approaches to logistics,” said Allen, offering an example of a new delivery solution that is also electrified.

The rapid growth of shared electric scooters has also proven to be a sizable disruption in urban transportation as cities struggle to manage these devices on public streets and sidewalks. Stakeholders must also now reckon with the everyday process of collecting the scooters, charging them, and then redistributing the devices.

A new company called Charge has developed easy-to-deploy docking and charging pods for scooters, with a significant rollout planned for Paris. Other plans call for expanding into 14 U.S. cities next year, said Andrew Fox, co-founder and CEO of Charge, in an interview with Government Technology last month.

“We provide an agnostic, universal charging station, not too dissimilar from the future gas station. And we’ve placed them all around cities so that every 200 feet or so, you’ll drop a micro-mobility device into one of those systems,” said Fox.

The docking and charging units are outfitted with a battery unit, which charges the devices, so they require minimal city infrastructure. The battery unit itself is recharged via a roving electric vehicle.

“We then, basically, don’t have to tap into the grid. We have a device that comes by and recharges our batteries,” Fox said. “We pull up with an electric vehicle, or trike, and we charge, on site. It really is kind of a beautiful, seamless smart city-esque type of way to approach it.” 

Some 60 percent of overhead costs for scooter companies are related to gathering up the devices every day, charging them and then redistributing them, said Fox. The personal electric car market continues to grow as more models come online too, and EVs move closer to price parity with gas-powered cars “very soon,” said Allen.

“It’s really a question now of whether it’s the next two or three years, or the next five years, or the next 10 years,” he added.

While this is all encouraging for those in the space, the standardization of EVs is still very much a work in progress. EVs are yet to be enthusiastically embraced by the auto industry, which spends but a pittance of ad budgets on promoting the cars. In the U.S., most consumers of autos are still largely unaware of the availability of EVs. Less than 10 percent of automaker advertising budgets are spent on electric vehicles, said Allen.

“Which to be fair, given that less than 1 percent of car sales by automakers are electric, shows that they’re disproportionately advertising these vehicles. But it’s still a pretty small budget,” he remarked. 

Utilities are spending less than 2 percent of ad budgets on informing the public about electric vehicles. And even in environmentally conscious California, about half of consumers can’t name an electric vehicle model, said Allen.

“And most disturbingly of all, those statistics are not improving over the last six years,” he said.

“Just as with passenger cars, it’s not just about making a better vehicle and providing charging infrastructure, it’s also about changing the business model — how do you get the charging installed in time for the vehicles? How do you make people aware of the vehicles? What other pieces of the business model have to evolve to make this work?” said Allen.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.