Opinion: The charge of the electric vehicle brigade
ERJ staff report (TP)
Nissan’s e-NV200 isn’t the only electric vehicle (EV) on the market, but when the Japanese firm said it will be “without engine oil, belts, gearbox or clutch – and there are fewer parts to be checked or replaced” – the impact of less rubber belts could have set alarm bells ringing within the industry.
But not so fast. While one door closes, another one opens.
Patrick Ellis, associate consultant at Smithers Rapra, thinks opportunities are out there.
“I expect the use of wire and cables to substantially increase, which will increase polymer consumption overall,” he said. “The jacketing of these cables will not necessarily be made from rubbers, but are highly likely to be from elastomeric polymers.”
This positive view is not in isolation. Tom De Vleesschauwer, director long term planning & sustainability at IHS – Auto Industry Analysis, also sees potential.
“With EVs there is no internal combustion engine, so they will be quieter,” he said. “But people inside EVs notice the tire and wind noise – and these sounds will need to be dampened.”
Which means the demand for rubber seals could increase – and good news for manufacturers.
The use of tires on EVs also raises a few issues.
Ellis thinks demands on the tires would be very similar as the design of internal combustion vehicles and EVs are different.
“[An EV] needs to be much lighter to compensate for the additional weight of the batteries. This can only be achieved by composite-polymer technology,” he said.
“The rubber and tire producing companies are already responding to these changes by newer higher performing elastomers and innovative tire designs, not to mention replacement of carbon black reinforcements by silica.”
However, De Vleesschauwer offers an alternative perspective.
“The tire on an electric car is very different because it has instant torque,” he said. “So we will see higher wear and tear on the tire.”
De Vleesschauwer also sees 2014 as a year where EVs are “starting to break through” – such as the BMW i3 and Volkswagen’s Up. He also points to London, where the mayor, Boris Johnson, wants all taxis to be electric by 2018.
If rubber and tire manufacturers are able to adapt to the EV challenge – a fortune favours the brave.
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Please email Tony Peyton, reporter.