Dealing with the BEV ‘Concavity’

Any new technology will experience growing pains and volume setbacks. BEVs will be no different.

In the swift march towards EV’s, products such as Ford’s Power Stroke Diesel F-150 – launched in 2018 with production ending in 2021 – enjoyed short production lifespans. (Ford)

Hindsight is always 20-20. Over the last 30+ years observing the light vehicle business, I’ve seen scores of technologies with significant hype and promise – only to flame out or experience a flatter implementation curve. These technologies gain the attention of executives and board members ensuring that their companies are paying close attention to the impact of these and are taking appropriate actions.

A couple of examples come to mind. Late in the 1990s, Honda was displaying light vehicle diesels for its passenger cars – destined for the European market, though with the promise of possible deployment in other major regions. It seemed odd, one of the world’s leaders in gasoline propulsion touting a diesel. While diesel engine share grew significantly in Europe and drove strong penetration for certain vocations in North America and other sectors – diesel never became the light vehicle fuel of choice. In the end, diesels have a role in today’s industry – albeit nowhere near the mass global adoption once envisaged by many.

Michael Robinet

Other innovations touted lightweighting and convenience as key drivers. Destined for greatness included plastic exhaust systems, aluminum brake rotors, rearward-facing passenger seats in vans and 100% penetration of outer aluminum body panels for all segments – not just luxury or performance applications. Suffice to say, the industry thought differently. Whether it be regulations, cost, lack of viable alternatives or incumbent materials fighting back – many trends have slowed, stalled or been relegated to the back burner.

Why the history lesson? Battery electric vehicle (BEV) penetration will rise through this decade though not every vehicle will reach 100% capacity utilization out of the gate. With a new propulsion format, the scale of vehicle electrification investment is significant – not every OEM will be wildly successful. Additionally, as virtually every OEM in North America launches numerous BEV nameplates through this decade – volume per nameplate will decline initially.

As with any technology, there is an initial rush of new investment and market attention. The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of not being part of the BEV train is critical for OEMs and suppliers alike. Through late this decade in North America, I expect BEV volume per nameplate to decline – call it the BEV Concavity – until consumer acceptance increases and OEMs slowly eliminate ICE versions of key offerings into the next decade.

The lesson here is that any new technology will experience growing pains and volume setbacks. BEVs will be no different, though given the political, regulatory and production energy behind its implementation in the major markets, volume per nameplate will eventually turn a corner – it’s a case of when, not if.

Switching gears here – a note about the good work of the SAE Foundation, its staff and trustees on a global scale. The scope of change within the mobility and other industries underscores how critical promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is within our primary, secondary and post-secondary education systems. Partnering with educators, suppliers, OEMs and others is key to early and sustained engagement by students. Yours truly is newly-minted SAE Foundation Trustee – working with a larger team to support the various activities to promote STEM education. If you have any questions or want to donate time, funds and/or resources, go here .