Electric motors are efficient, clean, high-torque, and easy to maintain. Highly acclaimed auto expert Professor Ferdinand Dudenhöffer explains why electric cars are the future. And why these “sensible cars” will also stir emotions.

Professor Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, founder and director of the Center for Automotive Research, University of Duisburg-Essen

Professor Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, founder and director of the Center for Automotive Research, University of Duisburg-Essen.

City centers as no-go areas for diesel vehicles. New gasoline and diesel cars to be banned in Norway, France, and the UK: What does the future look like for the combustion engine?

Combustion engines in passenger vehicles will be gradually replaced by electric motors over the next 25 years. In China, the world’s most important and largest automobile market, this phase-out will happen much faster. We need a modern form of mobility that produces zero emissions locally. And the electric car fits the profile.

For years, predictions have been pointing to a great future for electric cars, but sales are still modest. What’s different now?

In Norway, electric cars make up 50 percent of new automobiles. In China, sales of new energy vehicles (NEV) – the term used by the Chinese for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids – are set to reach 700,000 this year. China expects more than 2.5 million NEV registrations in 2019. Automakers are all feverishly working to bring electric cars with a range of at least 500 kilometers on to the market by then. And battery prices are projected to fall in the same period. Even before 2025, a battery pack for a car capable of traveling more than 500 kilometers costs USD 10,000. So you can forget diesel and gasoline vehicles from the cost angle as well.

Isn’t electric propulsion just an intermediate technology?

Absolutely not. The railways won’t be switching back from e-locomotives to steam or diesel, will they? The electric motor, whether powered by batteries or fuel cells, is efficient, clean, high-torque, and easy to maintain. There’s nothing better.

What are the three biggest drivers of electromobility?

China, Elon Musk, and emotions. China is the center of the car world. It’s the country writing the rulebook. Elon Musk and his Tesla are pointing the way forward. And emotions are important because artificial intelligence will revolutionize the inside of vehicles. Surfaces, organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), and high-quality materials will make up the vehicle interior of the future and create new emotions. The emotions attached to the cars of tomorrow will be shaped by new realms of experience and not by wide tires and thick exhaust pipes. This offers a great deal of potential added value. Apple isn’t successful because it makes smartphones, but because it invents software and surfaces.

Lightweight construction, comfort, efficiency, and safety are absolute musts for a car. Why is this especially true of electric autos?

We have to use energy sparingly, and this is where lightweight construction is vital. New composites and production techniques using adhesives play a major role. But it is comfort and innovative interiors that will inform the emotions brought out by tomorrow’s cars. People are happy to spend money on emotions and safety.

What challenges are carmakers facing in order to meet these requirements? Which technological achievements can point the way?

New materials that define properties and surfaces and create new worlds represent pivotal challenges. Anyone today comparing a cathode-ray-tube television with an OLED monitor will find themselves immersing in completely new worlds. Electronics and new nanostructured materials are the big stories, because they are what create spell-binding images and resolutions.