Electric Vehicles (EVs) account for over 2 percent of new car sales in the U.S. alone, and that number is projected to grow rapidly—both in the U.S. and globally. Yet, with the notable exception of Norway, the widespread interest in EVs has yet to translate into widespread adoption.
What’s holding the EV market back? There’s no question that part of the challenge has to do with the evolution of driving culture and an ongoing change in consumer purchase priorities. And an even greater part has to do with government incentives (or lack thereof) that should encourage sustainable mobility models.
Yet I believe that automakers themselves bear the lion’s share of the responsibility. And it’s a heavy burden. They’re struggling with a radical change in consumer culture, evolving revenue models, changing maintenance infrastructure, and a brave new world of manufacturing complexity.
Not a Simple Problem
One key sticking point is the fact that car manufacturers are struggling to scale EV design and production within the constraints of existing manufacturing paradigms.
By way of example, General Motors Co. recently announced that it will build all-electric trucks and SUVs at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. To make this happen, the company will invest no less than $3 billion to retool the plant and its suppliers. And this is for just one plant.
The question that needs to be asked is: How can carmakers cost-effectively facilitate the massive manufacturing revolution required as we move to what GM CEO Mary Barra calls an “all-electric future.”
Lighter is Better
As we discovered in our recent experience lightweighting the all-electric Arcimoto FUV, lightweighting can make a massive difference in overall vehicle performance and cost. Yet, more relevant to this context, lightweighting also changes the manufacturing equation fundamentally.
For example, in lightweighting the FUV, we achieved over 50 percent reduction in the weight of some parts—including some 3D-printed metal parts—all while improving vehicle performance. We used an advanced generative design tool, which uses AI and machine learning to rapidly explore nearly infinite design options for any given product. This includes some radically-altered design paradigms that are organically-inspired and can hyper-optimize materials usage.
Yet without the ability to produce amazing AI-driven designs at scale, our lightweighting efforts would have been academic at best. The components created with generative design can often only be practically manufactured using additive manufacturing (AM).
AM is not new to the transportation industry. Automotive manufacturers were early AM adopters—they’ve been using it for design and prototyping for decades. Yet, until recently, materials performance, computing power and scalability held them back.
Today, just in time for the EV revolution, the situation has changed.
The automotive industry is already far along the road to full integration of AM into mass production lines. AM processes are today more cost effective and more scalable, and 3D-printed parts are being produced on a mass scale. The success of the nascent EV revolution depends on the ability and willingness of manufacturers to adapt processes and deliver high-performance, competitively-priced vehicles at scale.
It is critical that carmakers turn to advanced technologies and not rely on traditional manufacturing paradigms alone.