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As the switch to electric vehicles shifts from dream to reality, the transportation industry is being shaken to its core

"We're dealing with logistics that move trillions of dollars," Rachad Youssef, chief product officer for General Motors' commercial electric vehicle subsidiary, BrightDrop, told Insider.
  • Every aspect of the industry is being rocked by new technology.
  • Battery supplies are running low, creating challenges for mass manufacturing.
  • Big retailers and automakers are starting with electric fleets.
  • 100 People Transforming Business is an annual list highlighting people across industries who are changing the way the world does business. Check out the full list for 2022. 

The big idea of shifting from fossil fuels to battery-power that has guided the transportation industry for the last decade is starting to become a reality – and that's triggering shakeups everywhere from electric vehicles to flying taxis. 

On the roads, the car industry has moved on from the early days of EV integration to tackle bigger challenges like mass production of vehicles and the batteries that power them. In the sky, electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft startups are proliferating as they chase a market potentially worth $1 trillion.

"We can come up with a solution in a lab and it can look absolutely amazing," Rachad Youssef, chief product officer for General Motors' commercial electric vehicle subsidiary, BrightDrop, told Insider. "But we're dealing with logistics that move trillions of dollars."

All of this change from imagined idea to real life has brought up some common challenges across the transportation industry. Perhaps the most daunting is the economics of building a new supply chain for mass production of the lithium-ion batteries that are powering everything from electric cars to commercial vans and electric aircraft.

Building Batteries 

More electric vehicles hitting the road in 2022 spurred a reckoning in the manufacturing world this year. With critical materials running low, leaders in the transportation industry were forced to focus efforts on finding new ways to source and manufacture these critical parts.

Battery recycling startup Redwood Industries provides one option: turning parts from old batteries into new ones. Redwood's senior director of business development Jackson Switzer is helping the company, founded in 2017 by longtime Tesla Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel, to get the materials it recycles back into production.

"Within the next year, materials that we recycled will be back on the road in an electric vehicle," Switzer said. "Now it's just a matter of how fast can we go, and how fast can we scale."

At Lyten, Chief Battery Technology Officer Celina Mikolajczak is helping the battery startup develop a lithium-ion battery that harnesses the benefits of sulfur. While this material hasn't been commercialized at scale yet, Mikolajczak — formerly of Tesla, Panasonic, and QuantumScape — thinks it can solve this challenge with 3D graphene, and in the process produce cells with boosted range, recharge time, and safety.

Amazon Rivian electric delivery
Amazon is aiming to electrify its last-mile fleet by 2040, which means swapping out tens of thousands of fossil fuel-powered trucks and vans for battery-powered ones over the next two decades.

More than passenger cars

It's likely that the first mass-produced and -purchased electric vehicles won't end up in regular people's driveways, but will instead land in the logistics space, especially as charging infrastructure starts to get built out.

At big retail companies like Walmart, executives are already looking for the advantages of changing their fleets over from internal combustion to electric vehicles. Amazon, for example, is aiming to electrify its last-mile fleet by 2040, which means swapping out tens of thousands of fossil fuel-powered trucks and vans for battery-powered ones over the next two decades. 

Meanwhile, at Ford, the automaker has created a commercial customer business that will offer customers electric F-150s, Transits, and other electrified commercial vehicles for their businesses. Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis told Insider commercial fleets are uniquely suited for transitioning to electric vehicles because their usage patterns are more predictable.

"You can fit the battery size to what the customer is doing because they know about how far they're going in the vehicle every day," Cannis said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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