In the next 30 years, the future of light-duty vehicle transportation includes several powertrains and several fuel choices, but advanced vehicle batteries will play the most significant role. On the powertrain side, the internal combustion engine will continue to improve and evolve with advances in emission control and fuel efficiency. The hybrid electric powertrain will become a standard option for consumers when buying vehicles. The initial technical, regulatory, and political efforts in the 1990s did not produce viable electric vehicles for consumers to adopt, especially for use on highways and everyday use.
Now a small, but important segment of the market using low-speed and neighborhood electric vehicles is growing. The development and advancement of electric drive components—such as batteries, motors, generators, invertors, power electronics, and controls—were essential in helping hybrid electric vehicles to evolve.
Today, several car companies offer hybrid electric vehicles, and consumers are enthusiastic about their hybrid vehicles. As the price of high-powered batteries and hybrid powertrains continue to drop, more consumers will buy hybrid electric vehicles for the added value of fuel economy, lower emissions, and performance.
As consumers start using hybrid electric vehicles and realize the potential benefits of an electric drive, they will ask for more electric functionality. This is evident as some early hybrid vehicle consumers are asking for plug-in functionality. As batteries with higher energy capabilities start to become less expensive and smaller, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will enter the market, first with a smaller all-electric range and then, as the high-energy batteries become less expensive, with larger all-electric range.
With affordable high-power and high-energy batteries, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will become a standard option offered by car companies. With further reduction in cost and increase in energy density of batteries, battery-powered electric vehicles could be offered by car companies for larger portions of the market. With the advancement in fuel cell durability and cost, hybrid fuel cell vehicles could be offered by car companies to capture a segment of the market.
In the next 30 years, no one solution will prevail. But batteries will be a major enabling technology in transportation, as they support all the major solutions—from powertrain and fuels choices to plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.