Electrifying Mobility: Realising a Sustainable Future for the Car: Volume 15

Cover of Electrifying Mobility: Realising a Sustainable Future for the Car

Table of contents

(14 chapters)

Part 1: The Political-Economic Context and Environmental Imperative


Observations worldwide suggest that climate heating has moved from the stage of being a conceptual future threat to being widely recognisable as having a tangible and present impact in the 2020s. The promotion of the electric car, as a key feature of the wider electrification of mobility, is one of the key policy initiatives seeking to reduce climate change emissions from the transport sector, particularly in the wealthier, more car-dependent states globally. Such developments led the International Energy Agency to question, in 2020, whether we had entered the decade of “electric drive” (IEA, 2020). However, electric motive power is not new. Electric cars have been around for longer than the internal combustion engine (ICE). The century-long dominance of the latter is explained by a number of advantages and contextual factors. In the 2020s, whilst some of the barriers to EV adoption have reduced, others, notably battery energy density and cost to the consumer, remain. And the consequences of the transition to electric cars will be felt not solely in respect of greenhouse gas emissions, but will affect economic production, the relative demand for resources and human skills, social and technical practices, travel behaviour, and the extent to which all citizens are included in/excluded from mobility systems, and hence wider society.

The present chapter introduces the principal themes of the book, outlining the narrative through its 4 parts and 11 subsequent chapters. In doing so, it underlines the importance of the transition from the internal combustion engine to the electric motor as not simply a technical substitution, but a potential revolution that could radically change the economy, society, and hopefully the environment, for the better. Now is an important moment to be charting and examining the rise of the electric car and exploring whether it represents a step towards more sustainable mobility.


Electric vehicles are often positioned as a politically easy option for low-carbon mobility, compared to other options, such as cycling, public transit, and walkable communities. This is difficult to assess confidently, however. The rate of adoption for electric vehicles that will be necessary over the next few decades to avoid the worst consequences of climate change will bring about new political struggles. This chapter uses a political-economic analysis to discuss what these struggles might look like. Using literature on the structure of automobility, along with evidence on the ways which electric vehicles disrupt the existing systems built around private car use, it discusses how a rapid transition to electric mobility will affect the material interests of various groups. One big impact will be on production, where the radical changes necessary to re-tool the auto industry to build electric vehicles will create major risks for car companies and their workers. A second impact will be on infrastructure, where the conversion of parking space into electric vehicle charging stations could arouse local political opposition, particularly in cities. Finally, electric vehicles might conflict with the cultural and symbolic lock-in of conventional vehicles, resulting not only in slower adoption but also the potential for active resistance against electric vehicle policies and infrastructure. Taken together, this implies that electric vehicles will not be a form of low-carbon mobility that is free of political struggle. Widespread electrification of private automobility could be aggressively opposed by powerful groups who have strong economic incentives to do so.


Electric cars represent the most energy efficient technical option available for passenger cars, compared to conventional combustion engine cars and vehicles based on fuel cells. However, this requires an efficient charging infrastructure and low carbon electricity production as well. Combustion engine cars which were converted to electric cars decreased lifecycle CO2-equivalent emissions per passenger-km travelled down to one third of before, when powered by green electricity. However, through an analysis of 78 scientific reports published since 2010 for life cycle impacts from 18 aggregated impact categories, this chapter finds that the results are mixed. Taken together, however, the reduced environmental impacts of electric cars appear advantageous over combustion engine cars, with further room for improvement as impacts generated during the production phase are addressed. When it comes to battery components, Cobalt (Co) stands out as critical. Assessing the impact of electric cars on the local air quality, they are not ‘zero emission vehicles’. They emit fine dust due to tyre and brake abrasion and to dust resuspension from the street. These remaining emissions could be easily removed by adding an active filtration system to the undercarriage of electric vehicles. If electric cars are operated with electricity from fossil power plants nearby, the emissions of these plants need to be modelled with respect to possibly worsening the local air quality.

Part 2: Overcoming Inertia: From Internal Combustion Engine to Electric Car


The purpose of this chapter is to highlight the key differences in the production processes of battery electric vehicles (BEV) and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV). This exploration not only includes the fundamental physical architectural differences between the types of vehicles but also their entirely different supporting supply chains and underpinning business logics. Many nuanced and less-discussed considerations such as geopolitics, supporting infrastructure, and background policy implications are also covered. This chapter stems from the collection and analysis of secondary peer-reviewed data that is supplemented by verified press publications. The automotive industry moves at an incredibly fast pace, and thus understanding the sociotechnical transition to BEVs requires the additional, timely context of press publications. The overall result of this chapter is a holistic overview of the BEV’s value chain, and more importantly some much needed context for readers to better appreciate the significant implications that are involved. Society is not merely substituting one ‘full fat’ product for a ‘low calorie’ version, but rather we are adopting a new technology that solves some of our problems but comes with challenges of its own. In the coming transition to BEVs, it will be impossible to switch technologies without reformulating various policies and reconsidering how we consume transportation as a commodity or a service. By presenting how society intends to evolve its predominant road propulsion system, this chapter seeks to explain the twists and turns ahead, and offer a glimpse of a more sustainable path forward.


This chapter explains how electric driving has been transforming car mobility in The Netherlands since 1990, highlighting the role of a specific Dutch policy mix as direct factor, and the conditions through which this policy mix came about as indirect factors. The analysis is based on triangulation of findings from three methods: (1) discourse analysis of national newspapers and online blogs to understand the changing meanings of car mobility as well as changing stakeholder competences; (2) interview analysis with Dutch stakeholders to understand policy effects as well as their changing competences; and (3) analysis of relevant documents that provide the numbers of vehicles sold, implemented infrastructures and policy instruments. The study describes market changes in terms of ‘reconfiguring’ (entangled) practices of Dutch motorists, vehicle manufacturers and policy-makers, constituted by the (changing) relations between meanings, materialities, competences and policy incentives. The analysis finds a gradual reconfiguration of car mobility in three stages: The hegemony of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) mobility (1990–2008), Surge in Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) mobility (2009–2015), and Surge in full-electric mobility (2016–2020). The analysis shows that the specific Dutch policy incentives were critical to orchestrating the co-evolution of ICE-based and electric mobility towards low-carbon alternatives, that is, towards more electrification. The policy mix was adapted in three successive steps, in which inconsistencies towards electric mobility (e-mobility) were solved, entailing three distinct reconfiguration pathways in each period. The relatively strong policy incentives for e-mobility in The Netherlands can be explained by the absence of an established car industry as well as particular air quality challenges in cities (triggering local support for the provision of charging infrastructure). The conclusion includes policy recommendations for countries that seek to promote e-mobility, although further research should clarify how contextual differences require specific elements in the policy mix.


In this chapter, we draw on social science theoretical and empirical literatures to discuss the factors that influence buying and using an electric vehicle (EV), as well as how adopting an EV can impact on other travel choices or broader sustainability behaviours. We provide an overview of theories of technology adoption, which expose the interplay of individual, technological, and societal factors that dictate how rapidly a technology will spread throughout society. From the empirical literature, we show that far from being a purely economic or pragmatic decision, choosing an EV is also deeply grounded in social, moral and personality factors, such as self-presentation, norms and values, and appetite for risking the novel. Furthermore, since running an EV is not the same as running an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV), we explore how adopters adjust their behaviour to the technology, and also how EV ownership may trigger or undermine broader shifts in lifestyle required to achieve climate change and other sustainability goals. We therefore provide a critical reflection on the drivers, barriers, and behavioural implications of choosing an EV.

Part 3: Living with the Electric Car


This chapter provides a reflective commentary on how the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) may alter how society uses cars through an inspection of evidence from the studies which have examined the impact of EV adoption on trip patterns. A framework for evaluating trip patterns is applied which considers how the adoption of an EV could generate impacts for the spatial distribution of car trips, when these trips occur, the journey purpose these trips serve, and the driving style in which the trips are conducted. It is identified that the principal issue which is likely to motivate alterations in trip patterns following a transition to EVs is the technical and regulatory differences which distinguish them from conventional vehicles. Spatial trip patterns could become anchored to the burgeoning chargepoint infrastructures, with network coverage having implications for where EVs will be seen. Changing seasons could reduce the range of the battery packs, limiting the useability of EVs in winter months. Low operating costs of EVs may encourage their use for short distance trips due to a feeling of guilt-free travel. Eco-driving functions of EVs could promote sustainable driving practices by gamifying energy efficiency though the introduction of targets, medals, and leader boards. It is concluded that the exact manner in which trip patterns will be altered by the transition to EVs is difficult to predict with clarity, with many alternative futures being conceivable. In part, the impact on trip patterns will be contingent on whether or not EVs start to look and feel like conventional cars as the technology matures.


This chapter is a review and discussion of the experience of becoming an Electric Vehicle (EV) owner, with a focus on the importance of online EV communities on social media platforms in providing informal support to new owners during the transition into EV ownership and use.

Becoming an EV owner represents a significant disruption to drivers’ very established and comfortable driving practices. Electric cars force their owners to re-think long-habitual aspects of the driving experience, including driving behaviour, refuelling (practicalities and etiquette), route planning, and the extent of the car’s ‘sphere of access’.

Because of this disruption, new EV owners regularly encounter challenges, including charging, range, new technology, route planning, etiquette, and more. People often need support to overcome these challenges, and EV owner groups on social media are an important source of such support; new owners can receive advice on a range of issues. This chapter presents data extracted from EV owner social media group posts, analysing the discussions and advice that EV owners offer one another, and exploring the various forms of important support available to new owners/drivers.

This chapter shows how online EV communities are very actively used by EV owners and are of particular importance for new owners. These communities welcome new owners/drivers, offer support and advice, respond to questions, give recommendations, and encourage socialising and a form of group identity/bonding. With EV ownership rapidly increasing in many countries, online EV communities have a very important role to play in helping facilitate the international transition to electric mobility.


Nowadays, the increase in the capacity of batteries has laid the foundations for a broader diffusion of electric mobility. However, electric mobility is causing a growing electricity demand as well as the need to increase the diffusion of suitable charging stations. Within these last challenges, drawing on the recent literature, this chapter provides a critical and wide-ranging review of papers dealing with the formulation of the problem of the localisation of electric vehicle (EV) charging points. This problem is approached considering the electric charging infrastructure technologies, localisation criteria and related methodologies. This review shows how the ‘electric mobility revolution’ applies the technological innovations provided by the energy supply systems, and the location of these systems within the urban contexts. Since the technological innovations have different options, achieving an international standard of charging systems is still far away. Moreover, as there are several criteria, parameters and methodologies, and some analytical approaches for the localisation of electric vehicle charging points, the formulation of the ‘localisation’ problem should require the application of multi-criteria analysis to be addressed. Finally, the results show that there is no consensus on technologies, criteria, and methodologies to be adopted. Therefore, this wide-ranging analysis of the literature would be useful to support possible benchmarking and systematisation accordingly.

Part 4: Electric Cars in the Future


The materials and energy density of current electric vehicles (EV) battery technology means that the vehicles are heavier and have a shorter range in comparison to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV). Battery cost also means EVs are relatively expensive for the consumer, even with government incentives, and dependent on sometimes-rare resources being available. These factors also limit the applicability of battery-electric technologies to heavy-duty vehicles. However, a number of next generation technologies are under laboratory development which could radically change this situation. Using a follow-the-money methodology, the strategic innovations of companies and public institutions are examined. The chapter will review the potential for changes in resource inputs, higher-density batteries and cost reductions, considering options such as lithium-air, metal-air and solid-state technologies. The innovations outlined in these technologies are considered from an economic perspective, identifying their advantages and disadvantages in commercialisation. At the same time, innovations, and investments in infrastructure electrification (Electric Road Service) and battery exchange point with swapping technology will be also considered due their implications and contribution to solving battery-related challenges and shortcomings. It is concluded that only a joint investment in effort on technologies would allow the use of EVs to be extended to a broad public in terms both of users and geography.


This chapter explores how technology availability and costs influence public opinion, vehicle ownership decisions, travel, and location choices. Attitudes towards electric vehicles (EVs) are considered within the broader context of other linked technological trends affecting automobility, with a particular focus on the shift to (electric powertrain) autonomous vehicles (AVs).

This chapter draws upon modelling of quantitative survey data from 1,426 Americans, which employed regression analysis to predict and understand variables linked to the preference for an AV over a human driver, percentage of trips taken by an AV, percentage of trips using dynamic ride-sharing (DRS) inside a shared autonomous vehicle (SAV), and factors affecting EV charging access in home and at work/school.

The findings show that full EV charging times significantly affect decisions for next household vehicle purchase. A lack of charging ability at home appears to be a significantly greater hindrance to respondents’ willingness to purchase full EVs than does a lack of charging ability at work. And home location choice impacts of AVs are not expected to be substantial. Considering future EV/AV ride-sharing (an important component of sustainable future mobility systems), DRS may ease congestion if SAV riders widely adopt DRS for work and school trips; however, sharing with strangers may not be popular in practice.

This chapter is useful to manufacturers and fleet operators for pricing and marketing decisions, and public transit authorities/providers can benefit from understanding evolving travel choices and land use patterns to craft equitable policies, and model future transportation demand to help plan services and infrastructure projects.


The chapter draws on the key findings from across the previous chapters in this book with a view to reaching a synthesis which responds to the key question that motivated the book: ‘to what extent does a shift to electric automobility suggest a sustainable future for the passenger car?’ Across the chapters is found evidence for a clear and apparently unstoppable transition to electric mobility, but this does not mean it is harmonious and smooth; the transition itself faces potential disruption, as well as being disruptive to the status quo through creating new forms of conflict over space and material resources. Nonetheless, meanwhile internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) sales continue to exceed electric vehicle (EV) sales, even if the margin reduces, and there is the enormous problem of inertia presented by the established global ICEV fleet.

Considering the current dynamics of consumer demand for electric cars, a complex set of factors and preferences have been shown to have influence, but the interrelated factors of range and total cost of ownership stand out as the key ones. Prospects for accelerating the rate of transition are identified, but a further important dynamic is the slow rate of turnover in an established vehicle fleet dominated by ICEs: consideration is therefore given to the potential for retrofit EV conversions.

Looking to the future, the cost and performance of battery technology remains a critical and uncertain factor in the rate and depth of the transition to EVs, but the wider context of mobility practices and policies in which that change occurs is also fundamental. The EV transition sits entwined with other novel and substantial changes to our long-established systems of automobility that are becoming visible on the horizon. Relatively expensive to buy but cheap to use, and also hard to tax, EVs will necessitate a shift away from pay-up-front to pay-as-you-go road use, while the development and full realisation of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) systems could herald a fundamental change in the basis of owning and using cars. In conclusion, a sustainable future for the car implies not just a new way of powering it, but a different role for the car in both the economy and society.

Cover of Electrifying Mobility: Realising a Sustainable Future for the Car
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Transport and Sustainability
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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