In a shift likened to the iphone revolution, cars with names like NIO or Byton may be the future.

Back in the late 80s there was the cellphone: a big brick of a thing, out of the reach of many.
Within no time, there was a monumental shift. Who can do without one now?

Today's equivalent to those early Motorolas is the electric vehicle (EV) industry, says Nick Robilliard, procurement manager for Meridian Energy.

"You go 'wow, look what happened there'. Today we have iPhones and Galaxy S10. This is (the same) dramatic change we're now seeing with EVs," says Robilliard.

The International Energy Agency predicts the number of electric cars worldwide could be as high as 220 million by 2030 and motorists are likely to be driving cars made by manufacturers with names like NIO and Byton - Chinese EV makers barely known today but who are rapidly gaining a place in the international market.

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Robilliard, speaking from Oslo in Norway where he attended "Planet Electric" - the Nordic EV Summit - believes New Zealand has to look at policies and incentives to boost EV adoption here.

He says despite being one of only a few countries not to have subsidies or rebates as an incentive to switch to EVs, the year-on-year growth of EVs has kept pace with our international peers: "We've gone from 200 to 13,000 EVs in five years, so that's very good growth. We've got the early adopters on board, but more needs to be done to maintain momentum."

Robilliard, a guest speaker at the summit - the 900 participants included representatives from the car manufacturing industry (both traditional and electric), public policy makers, dignitaries, lease and finance companies and mobility and technology organisations - addressed the conference on electrifying large fleets, a subject he's intimately engaged with, having originally pitched the idea of converting Meridian's full fleet of vehicles to electric.

So far he's on target: Two years after the Meridian project was initiated, more than half its passenger fleet is electric. They will be at 75 per cent by July this year, and aim to be 100 per cent electric by 2030.

"It's been a very quick journey but a very exciting journey," Robilliard told attendees.

But it's more than just cars; trucks, utility vehicles and marine vessels are in their sights too. "We've even started trying to convert these vehicles," he says. "We're really trying to push the envelope around electrifying large fleets, both passenger and utility."

Even the sky is not the limit and Robilliard believes New Zealand is well placed to be a global leader in EVs in both the marine and aviation sectors.

"Aviation is certainly already a reality in some small commuter services," he says. "At the summit we were shown a clip of someone flying around in a small electrically-powered Cessna-style plane at a range of about 100 kms.

"This range will be 500-600kms within the next two years – more than sufficient for a country like New Zealand."

Robilliard says the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand) is already preparing for this eventuality.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

But the future of mobility brings with it some hard questions. Robilliard says it was evident some of the traditional car makers present at the Oslo summit would not be around in the future if they did not disrupt themselves. "Their [current] model is not going to get them there."

He predicts car companies barely known currently - the likes of NIO and Byton - will be at the forefront of the manufacturing industry in years to come (likewise LDV utes, also manufactured in China by SAIC Motor Corporation).

China, described by some observers as the Detroit of electric cars, is now the world leader in EVs, with sales topping one million last year: "The future of mobility lies here," Robilliard says.

At the same time, as he told his Oslo audience, it is imperative sustainable supply chains and the elimination of child labour be seen as a massive priority and he pledged to closely look at these issues as a broad focus for Meridian in the next 12 - 18 months.

Robilliard, himself an EV adopter - both at home and work - sees way beyond the vehicle itself. "Cars are no longer just cars", he says. "Connected-autonomous-shared-electric is the future."

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