maggio 2024
Internal combustion engines are made up of hundreds of components and many different but complementary systems; an aspect which implies a high rate of failures and breakages and consequently continuous and often high maintenance and repair costs.

An internal combustion engine is made up of pistons, piston rings, crankshaft, camshaft, rods and rocker arms, carburetor, air filter, ignition system, exhaust pipe, catalytic converter, ducts, gaskets and various pumps.

Furthermore, many other systems guarantee the functionality of internal combustion engines:

- the fuel supply system, with tank, fuel pump and petrol filter;
- the oil circulation system to lubricate the engine, with pump, radiator and various ducts;
- the cooling system, with, radiator, fans and various ducts;
- the transmission system, with clutch, gearbox and differential.

It took more than 100 years to reach the technological marvel of internal combustion engines that we have today. On the other hand, electric motors are made up of few components, with a less complex structure compared to that of a traditional diesel or petrol engine.

The electric motor is composed of a stator and a rotor, which, powered by the electric current supplied by the battery, generate electromagnetic fields, which in turn produce a force that drives the wheels through the transmission.

In conclusion, an electric propulsion system is much simpler and faster to build and assemble than an internal combustion engine and therefore cheaper. Consequently, the Added Value of an electric system is lower than that of an internal combustion system. The fact that electric vehicles are now more expensive than traditional vehicles depends on the current economy of scale, governed by the concept of Marginal Cost. Ergo, the fewer electric vehicles produced, the more they cost.

The cost of batteries, which now easily reaches 25% of the value of an electric car, is continually decreasing. Indeed, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that lithium battery prices have decreased from 780 $/kWh in 2013 to 139 $/kWh in 2023 and that the decline will continue in the coming years, reaching 80 $/kWh in 2030.

Furthermore, electric motors can also guarantee a much higher level of efficiency from an energy point of view. In fact, the efficiency, from source to wheel, of an electric car is around 70% compared to a maximum 30% of a petrol car. Not to be overlooked is the fact that electric motors have an operating life that is at least triple that of internal combustion engines and that the maintenance costs of electric thrusters are decidedly lower by about an order of magnitude compared to thermal thrusters.

The mass transition towards electric vehicles will also impact the vehicle assistance network. According to the National Association of the Automotive Supply Chain (, in Italy there are over 83,000 car repair workshops with approximately 195,000 employees and 14 billion euros in annual turnover. Of these, the most represented category is that of engine mechanics, with 52% of the employees, without considering the employees of the dealers' inspection centers which number another 9,000 units.

What will become of all these professional experts who can often diagnose a malfunction simply by listening to the roar of the engine? Surely many will have to convert and reinvent themselves, especially if young and many will have to return to school. The category of auto electricians, which today is represented by a paltry 9% of the total number of employees, is destined to increase exponentially by recycling itself towards power electronics and related sofware.

Furthermore, in the fuel retail trade, where in Italy there are over 50,000 employees with an annual turnover of 31 billion euros, many petrol sellers will be decimated by the advent of electric traction if they are not able to convert to electric their relevant service stations.

The electrification of mobility is an extraordinary industrial and cultural challenge which however risks creating strong social tensions among tens of thousands of operators in the automotive sector. Lower construction costs and longer vehicle life, lower maintenance and repair costs, greater efficiency of engines and a strong reduction in fuel consumption will characterize the advent of electric mobility, leading not only to a reduction in value throughout the entire supply chain, but also the concrete risk of a significant reduction in the workforce employed throughout the supply chain.

The transition of the mobility chain has already begun, albeit with different levels of speed. If on the one hand the companies most involved in the transition are those that have robust research and development departments, on the other hand small companies, which operate in the components sector, will experience a slower transition and the entry of new competitors will then require them to reorganize their value creation processes.

Finally, many critical issues, which typically afflict the Italian industrial system, must be addressed: lack of clear political directions, identification of investment priorities, relations with the public administrations and access to financing.

Last but not least, there is still a lack of connection with the national and local system of professional education and training, which needs to be able to quickly reorient all those professional directions that will become increasingly obsolete. This makes it urgent to reconsider and adapt the education and professional training system to the transition towards electric mobility and this represents another great challenge that the country must face.

Unfortunately, some political forces, mostly from the conservative camp, but not only, conduct rearguard battles, tending to counteract and slow down the expansion of electric vehicles, spreading the most disparate fake news, from the dangers of batteries to the risk of blackouts in electricity networks, up to to the nightmare of the invasion of Chinese vehicles and products.

These political forces should realize that the ongoing conversion process is unstoppable and that it will be completed within a decade or so. It would be much more profitable to orient political choices towards the preparation of stable regulatory frameworks in the context of new industrial policies which could have a fundamental role not only in supporting the transition of the country's production capacities, but also in the awareness of working towards a more sustainable and long-lasting future.
Sergio Zabot

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