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Electric Mobility: The Impact of EVs

Electric Mobility | Chapter Two
Electric Mobility | Chapter Two

Mobility Engineer 2030 - Chapter Two

Bharath’s second life begins

Bharath was quite happy that his idea for improvement in internal combustion engine (ICE) efficiency by 2% was approved. But what intrigued him was that there were many other ideas on electric, connected and autonomous vehicles that were approved with much bigger budgets. It was Tony Seba’s video that helped him to understand what is happening. He had lost count of how many times he had seen Tony Seba’s video – his powerful ideas kept reverberating in his mind. The first time he heard those ideas, he did not believe them – he discounted them as over-exaggeration. He searched for related information and did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations. After two or three rounds of seeing the video, the truth started dawning on him.

Of all the things that Tony Seba said, three things left a deep impression on Bharath’s mind – (a) Electric Motors are 5 times more energy efficient than IC Engines, (b) EVs are 10 times cheaper to charge or fuel as compared fossil fuel powered ICE vehicles, (c) EVs have 100 times less parts as compared to ICE Vehicles (2000 Vs 20 !), and EVs are 10 times cheaper to maintain. Another thought lit a bulb in Bharath’s mind! He was acutely aware that more than 90% of the time, people keep their vehicles in parking! This got him thinking - sharing that same parked vehicle can easily lead to 10 times improved utilization. He apprehended it will be an attractive proposition for shared mobility providers like Ola or Uber to use EVs – by literally knocking off the fuel cost and maintenance cost from the equation, they would be able to make their mobility service ultra-affordable. The more he thought about this, the better the clarity he got about the big picture! Bharath’s favorite quote has always been - “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one” (attributed to Confucius). He loved this quote because it highlights the urgency to live with purpose. He clearly saw EV’s potential to redefine the purpose of his research efforts. While Bharath was envisioning a new purpose, little did he know that similar thoughts were running in his CTO Dr Sharma’s mind as well. Dr Sharma could sense that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) can emerge as a predominant business model in the near future. And he saw this technology and business model disruption will power the growth of the EV business.

Bharath is not an ignoramus. He knew a unique advantage that EVs enjoy is the elimination of emissions from the vehicle’s tailpipe. But he had not thought about EV further as he was deeply immersed in improving ICE technology. He was painfully aware that within transportation, passenger vehicles are the biggest contributors to emission. He believed that we should leave a livable planet for the next generation! And to do that, we need to gradually replace ICE vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs) that are charged using renewable energy sources. The cost of electricity generated from renewable sources has significantly dropped in recent years and India has been making big investments in clean energy – solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, hydroelectric etc.

Footprint of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, U.S.A. 2018
Footprint of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, U.S.A. 2018

If Tony Seba’s prediction of a steady fall in battery cost comes true, all cars sold by 2030 would be EVs. Many countries had also signed the Paris Accord and set a timeline when the manufacture of ICEs would be stopped. Bharath decided that he better start skilling himself in electric and autonomous driving before it is too late. He reached out to his mentor Ravi to discuss with him and lay out a plan for his learning. During their discussion, Ravi mentioned something called “triple bottom line”, a concept promoted by author and entrepreneur John Elkington. He asked Bharath to look at not just the financial profitability of EVs but their social and environmental impact too. It is good that EVs are planned to use renewable energy for their charging. But can they still cause any damage to the environment? Bharath decided he should check out what happens to the plastics and the metals used in EVs at the end of their lifecycle. EVs are simpler products requiring less human intervention during manufacturing. So, it was not just Bharath but a larger community of professionals involved in ICE vehicle manufacture that would need to be reskilled, to keep their employability high, from a social perspective.

Bharath inside an automobile factory assembly line
Bharath inside an automobile factory assembly line

Vehicles, especially connected EVs need an integration of multiple technologies – the frame, the battery technology and drive train, the electronic control systems, connectivity to measure the vehicle parameters and location. They also require financially sound business models like pay-per-use to make money. Bharath comprehended that ‘Vehicle integration’ will be a key concept for him to learn. He should understand New Business models for sustained revenue that look at profit beyond a one-time sale of the product. As a vehicle maker, since he is accountable for the entire lifecycle of a car, he has to take into account the customer’s needs, the impact that the car has on the environment etc. He has to learn to develop new products rapidly in such a setup.

Bharath was very excited as he walked back to his office. It took him some time to realize that he left his phone at Ravi’s desk. He went back to pick it up. As he unlocked his phone, he found three missed calls from the CTO’s executive assistant. “Why would he call me so many times? Does Dr Sharma need some information urgently? Is it something to do with my project funding?” Multiple things ran through his mind.

Pavan scores a hat - trick

Pavan is all pumped up at the Baja site in Pitampur, Indore. Today is the final day and results will be announced shortly after the final lap. The valley was bustling with activities. More than hundred teams and two thousand students from colleges across the country were participating. There were tents where the student teams were fervently working on the prototypes – welding a loose part or fine tuning the motor – there was the buzzing sound of drills all around. The place was hot and dusty but nobody was complaining – everybody was so excited. It was a unique experience to hear so many languages – Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Punjabi etc – all spoken at one place.

The clock struck 5 and it was time for the results! They started by announcing the second runner up first. Tension all around! Pavan knew there were quite a few teams who gave a good fight and it was not going to be easy to be in the top three. He thoroughly enjoyed the journey of learning.

Dr Bora, the Chief Judge, announced, “The second runner up position goes to..”

A pause! Probably the longest that Pavan’s heart ever stopped.

“Team Newtone! Congratulations Captain Pavan and team!”

For a moment, Pavan could not believe his ears! He jumped on hearing the announcement. The whole team went and collected the trophy almost dancing all the way. However, Pavan’s happiness for the rest of the day was a bit more than the others in his team. It was because an all-girls team (from a women’s engineering college in Andhra Pradesh) captained by Kavya, the girl Pavan was captivated by, won the second prize. The first prize however, went to a team from Punjab. As he was relaxing that evening relishing the wonderful day, he got a phone call from the HR department of one of the sponsor companies (the same automotive company where Bharath worked). They were organizing an on-site screening test on the fifth and last day of Baja. This day does not seem to stop making Pavan happy! Pavan, a topper in all the six semesters, could easily crack the test and get short-listed for the interview round, to be held later at the corporate headquarters.

Prof. Murugan was happy that Pavan was called for an interview. Pavan setup some time with Murugan to take his inputs on how to prepare for the interview. Murugan asked him to refresh his mind with the work that he did for building the Baja prototype. He asked Pavan to prepare answering questions like instances where he had collaborated with others, what was his project, his summer internships and what he had learnt from them etc. Pavan was rightfully proud of his mark sheets and he believed that his good marks alone would help him to secure a good job. He wondered why Prof Murugan kept emphasizing the importance of his Baja exposure and summer internships project experience.

When Pavan reached the automotive company’s headquarters early, he was quite nervous. He did not have time for breakfast. He wanted to make sure there was no delay in reaching the office in the outskirts of the city. The office was on a sprawling green campus with hills in the background. The campus was very quiet as it was early morning. He could hear the footsteps of the staff moving around. Phones kept ringing from the cubicles and closed offices, with nobody yet to answer the calls. He was happy when he was offered a cup of steaming hot Kumbakonam filter coffee by the person managing the front desk. As he was sipping his coffee, a young man from the HR team came and shook his hands. He liked the fresh smell of eau de cologne as he walked along with him to a meeting room that had a large-screen TV on the wall. When he walked into the room, he observed that the interview panel was already seated. They made him feel comfortable by introducing themselves and then enquiring about him. He was surprised that they did not start bombarding him with technical questions. This is his very first job interview and he was not sure what to expect.

Pavan with the winning trophy at the Baja event
Pavan with the winning trophy at the Baja event

They described him a variety of hypothetical situations and quizzed him on how he would handle them. They asked about the challenges that he faced while working in a team and how he resolved them. His Baja experience came to his help, he shared instances when the team had divergent views and he had to engage in technical arguments late into the night to converge everybody in the team to a common view. He used to be very fixated with his ideas and had difficulty explaining his idea to others – the Baja experience greatly improved his collaboration and communication skills. Having built a EV prototype and competing with fellow students across the country gave him the confidence to clearly describe his ideas to the industry experts in the interview panel.

He was very happy with the way things went inside the interview room. He was hoping that his interview went on well and he would be offered a Graduate Engineer Trainee role. As he came out of the room, he was pleasantly surprised to see Kavya again. He guessed that she also must have come for an interview. Pavan quickly introduced himself and he was glad that Kavya recognized him readily. Before he could speak more, she was called inside for her interview. Should he wait outside until Kavya’s interview was done? Will it look bad if he keeps waiting after his interview was over?

His stomach was growling with hunger, having missed his breakfast. He decided to go outside and grab some fast food. He found a coffee shop and by the time he checked his phone, his sandwiches and cold coffee arrived. He quickly messaged to Professor Murugan that his interview went well and then turned his attention to the food. As he took the first sip of the frothy cold coffee, there was a blast of cool air that hit him on his face from the AC. Almost at the same time he heard a familiar voice behind him calling his name excitedly – and that completed his hat – trick of the day.

- To be Continued.

Note: All opinions and points-of-view expressed above are those of the authors and do not represent that of any other individual or organization.

References

  1. Energy emissions data- U.S. emissions, https://www.c2es.org/content/u-s-emissions/

  2. Clean Disruption of Energy & Transportation – CWA Boulder,Tony Seba, April, 2018 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duWFnukFJhQ

  3. Rethinking Transporation 2020 – 2030 - James Airbib and Tony Seba, May 2017 - https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/publications/fulltext/ProjectDev/PSEProgram/Disruption-of-Transportation.pdf

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Dr Shankar Venugopal | Ramachandran S

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