The growth of the EV market, and what it means for Welsh engineering

18.11.2018

As the government plans to drive Britons towards zero emission vehicles quickly pick up the pace, the electric car market has enjoyed a seismic growth spurt in the short space of five years. In 2013, the number of new registrations for plug-in cars came to a total of 3,500. By September 2018, that figure had jumped to over 178,000. By 2030, half of all new car sales should be ultra-low emission models – either plug-in hybrid cars or pure electric vehicles.

That’s according to targets set in the government’s Road to Zero strategy, a plan that further establishes a goal of 2050 for the UK to be 100 per cent electric, with all-new petrol and diesel cars to be phased out by 2040. Whether or not we achieve this target, it’s clear the EV revolution is on the horizon: prices are dropping, investment is increasing, and models are diversifying.

At the heart of this transformational change are a diverse range of talented engineers, technology experts and leading scientists; the unique combination of their specialist knowledge essential in developing new models for the modern world.

Having garnered a reputation as a global hub for engineering, Wales is naturally playing a leading role in the EV revolution. Already, luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin have announced their plans to make a factory in South Wales the home of their electric car. In 2019, we can expect the prestige carmaker to unveil their first battery electric vehicle (BEV), the Rapide E.

The factory will further see the reintroduction and development of the exclusive offshoot Lagonda brand – only this time, the model is to be built solely on zero emission powertrain technologies. Should other car manufacturers follow suit, engineering jobs in Wales will soon see a sharp rise as the need for skills in this area enjoys steady growth.

Of course, a shortage of well-equipped talent would see the widespread introduction of electric vehicles stifled to some degree. Fortunately, Wales is one step ahead of this challenge: in the last decade, steady investment into schools, universities and science hubs has been made to promote access to the profession, and a number of incentives have been established to encourage young people to explore their potential in the fast-moving field of engineering. Should this investment pay off, Wales will likely lead the charge in the journey towards full adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

At present, Wales’ charging infrastructure is not sufficient in supporting transport with electronic vehicles. Energy consultant Neil Lewis spoke to ITV about the problems he faced when attempting to travel across the country in his electric car:

“I can go to Nottingham in a day and back, I can go to London in a day and back, but if I want to go to Anglesey or Gwynedd or the Llyn Peninsula, I'm stuck,” he said.

Fortunately, the Welsh government has already responded to the growing demand by committing £2m in investment towards electric vehicle charging points over the next two years. However, as electricity storage is currently the main factor limiting the adoption of electric vehicles, the real challenge lies in developing batteries that enable a larger capacity and a longer range.

This is where leading Welsh engineers become essential in the country’s move to emission-free vehicles. Already, Cardiff University is working to tackle this challenge by bringing together experts from their School of Engineering, School of Psychology and Cardiff Business School’s Centre for Automotive Industry Research to address and ultimately overcome the barriers preventing the mass adoption of EV.

All three participating schools are currently exploring various aspects of the electric vehicle value chain, from energy demand and smart grids to regulatory red tape and consumer barriers. As we advance towards a zero-emission future, it’s efforts such as these that will see Wales become a key player in the EV revolution.