AVs likely will have to be electric for both regulatory and engineering purposes. Electric vehicles (EVs) make up less than 1 percent of the global fleet, but the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) forecasts that figure will grow to 8 percent by 2030 thanks to investments by major original equipment manufacturers and government regulations driving fuel economy requirements.
Nevertheless, it will be some time — perhaps decades — before EVs gain a majority share.
"I think we're at least 20 years away from that shift to where the alternative propulsion methods become the majority," said Larry Williams, president of Henniges Automotive, which produces rubber automotive parts such as weatherstrips.
"We're moving in that direction, but it's a very small piece today. Even the ones who have publicly come out and said they're going to eliminate it are still 15 to 20 years out before they get to that point."
CAR Group CEO Carla Bailo said the main reason consumers aren't buying EVs is that the cost relative to other vehicles is too high, and she said those with longer range are simply not affordable. But range is a close second and, in some ways, goes hand-in-hand with price. Until consumers believe they can use an electric car to get wherever they want to go comfortably, it's a tough sell, Ms. Bailo said.
Shashank Modi, research engineer with CAR Group, said battery range is improving, and would take a huge leap if the industry switched to solid-state batteries, which are five times more energy dense and charge five times faster than a lithium-ion battery.
On the plus side, prices for batteries and driver avoidance systems keep coming down as manufacturers scale up and make chemistry advances. Ms. Bailo said that in a future economy, some parts might become commoditized if they become shared products, which could help bring prices down drastically in one area to allow for further investment elsewhere in the vehicle.
"Whatever the discussions are around E-mobility, the range expectation of the customer is the No. 1 priority we have to solve in order to make an E-mobility industry possible," said Frank Mueller, CEO of Vibracoustic North America L.P., which produces anti-noise and -vibration automotive parts.
Even if EVs become more affordable, there would need to be infrastructure improvements. Ms. Bailo said there are not enough charging stations for drivers to take an EV on a long trip confidently, and even if there were, the makeup of these stations would have to change.