Tesla’s Role in Evolution of Electric Cars
Modern day private and public transportation are primarily based on non-renewable energy resources. These traditional forms of transportation contribute towards global warming since the one of the products of combustion using non-renewable fuels (e.g. Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene, Natural Gas) is Carbon-di-Oxide. Carbon-di-Oxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and leads to global warming. In addition, the exhaust from vehicles also contains pollutants like unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and soot.
Electric cars work on the principal of converting the chemical energy stored in batteries to mechanical energy using an electric motor. The mechanical energy is then transferred to the wheels of the car to propel it. The main systems in an electric car are the battery, inverter, motor, transmission, cooling system for the battery, cabin comfort and electronics. The first electric car actually dates back to 1832 when Scottish Inventor Robert Anderson invented a crude Electric Carriage. However, it is only in recent times has a commercially viable Electric Car made it to the market.
Advantages of Electric Car over Internal Combustion (IC) Engines
Key Challenges / Disadvantages of Electric Cars over IC Engines
One of the biggest contributors in recent times towards commercialization of the Electric Car is Tesla, which is an auto-manufacturer based out of California (Yes! California and not Detroit). Tesla was originally founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpening in 2003. Eberhard was a smart engineer who wanted to reduce America’s dependence on oil. He built a technical model of an electric car using a spreadsheet. Tarpening focused on creating a financial model that would be required for Tesla. Prior to Tesla the previously founded car company in the US was Chrysler in 1925. The company founded by Eberherd and Tarpening was named Tesla as homage to inventor and electric motor pioneer Nikola Tesla. The company was set up with the objective of ending America’s dependence on oil. Elon Musk shared the vision of Eberhard and Tarpening in reducing America’s dependence on oil and agreed to contribute about $6.5 Million towards building of the first prototype (or mule) of the electric car that would be named the Roadster. This was the time when Musk became the CEO of Tesla.
Elon Musk was born in South Africa and then moved to Canada and later to the US. He was an avid reader, who could understand and digest huge volumes of information. As a youngster, he had read and remembered all facts in Encyclopedia Britannica. He got his dual degree from University of Pennsylvania (Economics and Physics). From his college days, Musk had a fascination for designing Electric Vehicles without compromising performance seen in traditional IC powered vehicles.
With Engineers like Straubel (who worked on using Lithium Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles), Gene Berdichevsky (who was a member of the Stanford Solar Powered Car team) and David Lyon (a clever Mechanical Engineer), Elon Musk assembled an enterprising team that built the first prototype of the Roadster. This team figured how to get the Motors, Batteries, Power Electronics, Transmission and Electronic controls all to work together. The team also worked on various design aspects including, ensuring sufficient cooling of the battery pack, safety of the battery pack, crash protection of the vehicle to name a few. The Roadster could accelerate from 0 to 60mph in about 4 seconds and it had numerous revolutionary features (e.g. door handles that automatically popped out when the driver approached the vehicle, a 17- inch Infotainment system for controls and navigation)
To keep costs under control, Tesla decided to have different parts of the vehicle manufactured in different locations around the globe and assembled. (e.g. Batteries were manufactured in Thailand, Body Panels in France). Between 2008 and 2012, Tesla sold about 2500 Roadsters.
May key global Automotive companies (BMW, Honda, GM, Daimler to name a few) have taken note of Tesla’s success and have started designing Electric Cars. In India, we have started seeing a few Electric Vehicles on the road, with Mahindra and Mahindra being a key player in the 4 Wheeler segment (e.g e2O, E-Verito). Companies like Ather Energy are producing Electric Scooters (Model 350 and 450). In addition companies like Bajaj and TVS are investing in bringing Electric Scooters to market.
The share of electric vehicles in the world market is expected to grow steadily over the next 10-15 years. This will help the world move away from dependence on oil and in reduction of greenhouse gases.
Mani Prithiviraj has a Bachelors in Mechnaical Engineering from BITS, Pilani and a Master’s and Doctorate in Mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University, College Station, USA. He is currently Director of Customer Success at Siemens Industry Software Computational Dynamics India Pvt Ltd, Bengaluru, India. He can be found here.