Electric Vehicle Challenges Mirror Mobile Phone History

iPhone2Observing today’s electric vehicle challenges reminds me a lot of the early days of the mobile phone (or cell phone, as it was originally called). There are several parallels, which mean EVs are somewhat restrictive today but harbinger great things if they progress anything close to that of the mobile phone.

“Cell” phones were initially only possessed by affluent early-adopters as the cost for both the phone and the service was very high. It was an expensive but cool techie gadget that came to symbolize someone of means. As stated in Wikipedia, global technology business strategy aimed at affluent “thought leaders” is a well-known business strategy. Today’s electric vehicle strategy is no different and Elon Musk is on record that this is definitely Tesla’s strategy. Once adoption takes hold, production volumes increase, and the technology matures, prices will come down. As Elon states, “New technology in any field takes a few versions to optimize before reaching the mass market, and in this case it is competing with 150 years and trillions of dollars spent on gasoline cars.” Indeed, we’re seeing this happen.

As most will recall, the term “cell” phone originated from the fact that the limited range of the phones restricted their use to locations where towers existed. Not surprisingly, regional companies sprang up to install towers and provide service within certain areas (or cells). Regulations at several levels also played a part in this occurring. It took years for these initial obstacles to be overcome and the infrastructure to develop so one could easily use their phone throughout the country (leading to the better term of “mobile” phone). We see a similar occurrence with EV chargers today. In many cases, EVs are restricted to traveling within a certain locality due to their limited range and available chargers. As mentioned before, regulations at several levels are hindering EV infrastructure development plus competing EV charger suppliers cropped up without collaborating on payment methods, etc. The good news is that we are seeing these obstacles being whittled away as they were with mobile phones.

One may also recall buying your follow-on mobile phone and finding the charging cable from the old one was not compatible with the new phone. It seemed that every phone had a different type charging connector. Even today, while most phones now charge via a mini or micro USB connector, the iPhone has a unique connector. This same issue exists with EVs as the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf and the new BMW i3 each use different charging connections. Of course, adapters are available as they were for most mobile phones and some attempt is being made to standardize.

Issues of mobile phone battery life and safety were also a big topic of discussion in the early days of phones. How long will my phone last as I use it? Will I find a nearby plug to charge it when it’s low? Will the battery explode in my ear? Will the phone signal give me brain cancer? Despite all of these concerns, the mobile phone was still cool enough and useful enough to consider purchasing. Once most folks got one, they never then went without it and some even gave up their home landlines. Performance went up while costs came down and more folks were able to afford one. Enterprising folks developed accessories and other useful tools such as apps that enhanced the value of having one. The rest is history as they say.

So too should go the story of EVs despite having more direct competition (ICEs) in their space than did mobile phones. Or do they? The truth is that mobile phones competed with pay phones, which were suddenly discovered to be very inconvenient once consumers adopted mobiles. Today, pay phones are a distant memory relegated to novelty items. How long before ICEs follow suit?

About Steve Yakshe

As President and CEO of a mid-sized technology company engaged in instrumentation to monitor the world’s water resources, I developed a passion for protecting and enhancing the environment we all share. Following the sale of that company, I’ve combined this with my passion for cars to research and promote the Next Generation Car that will transport us cleanly and without detriment to our world’s ecosystem.

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