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For Electric Vehicle Startups, Success Is In The Execution

Brad Young
6 Jun 2023

To accelerate the journey to zero emissions vehicles, you must be able to partner well.

Success is in the execution. Every startup knows it, or at least does eventually – and this feels no truer than in the electric vehicle (EV) market, where even the biggest players can struggle to lift ideas off the ground. Yet after a record-breaking 2022, the global demand for EVs is booming with sales expected to leap by 35%[1] by the end of this year, increasing its market share by 18% – from 4% in 2020.

The success of EV startups will ensure the industry continues on this trajectory, and those who can master the intricacies of strategic planning, embrace business model innovation, can carefully allocate their tech investments, and establish fruitful collaborations will achieve remarkable growth.

But before we look at how EVs can find balance in a complex market, the first of this two-part blog series will consider what the market looks like and the challenges operators face.

A matter of scale?

Even at the best of times, success in the EV market can feel elusive and several high-profile players have struggled to expand their operations despite their best efforts.

Rivian, for example, is meeting setbacks with the launch of its products such as the delayed R1T pickup; from early 2021 to February 2023, the stock price of Canoo, a start-up developing commercial and ride-sharing vehicles, dropped from US$17 to around US$1; and in the past year, Arrival had to make the difficult decision to cut back its staffing by fifty percent to preserve resources and stay afloat until its vehicle production starts. That’s not to forget that for the first 10 years, Tesla did not turn a profit and even came close to folding several times.

Of course, today’s EV operators can’t wait 10 years, nor will their investors. While the market is now far more evolved, many challenges remain for operators of all sizes which begs the question: why is this happening?

Roadblocks on the road to zero

Firstly, EV start-ups need access to capital. As companies move from vehicle prototyping to pre-production and then full production, they need to activate their complex supply chains. Hundreds of suppliers must be engaged and paid. Thousands of components and parts have to be delivered and assembled. Large logistics operations need to be setup. Spare parts, vehicle servicing operations and dealer networks need to be ready. The workforce needs to be in place. All of this is huge up-front cost. All before a single vehicle is even sold to a customer. That takes a lot of money.

Then, you must overcome the regulatory hurdles. Start-ups must comply with strict safety, environmental, and performance standards which can be costly and time-consuming. Legacy Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have a strategic advantage here, as they will have established quality management capabilities, with well defined business processes that help them to manage regulatory requirements as part of ‘business as usual’.

Then, there’s the problem of uncertain consumer demand for EVs. With rising interest rates and inflation, consumers are thinking hard about the choice to buy a new vehicle. EVs are still expensive for most consumers when compared to their traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) ancestors. Unfortunately, they will remain expensive until there is a greater flow of supply, which leaves them inaccessible to many people.

Rising electricity prices are part of the problem and in December, Autotrader reported a clear drop in EV demand for the first time, directly linked to the rise in energy prices. Of course, EV start-ups could not have seen this market change. Arguably (and hopefully) it is a blip on the long road to zero.

The mass market puzzle

The rise of EVs in the automotive industry has led to a shift in consumer demand and intensified competition among car brands. Initially, early adopters embraced EVs despite their high cost, inconvenience, and quality issues, driven by their desire for the latest technology. However, the next challenge lies in winning over the ‘mass market’, as EVs account for 17% of new car sales in the UK in 2023, and we are now way past the ‘early adopter’ customer demographic.

Unlike ICE vehicles, the buying journey for an EV is more complex. Prospective buyers must navigate considerations such as home and public charging, range anxiety, and new terminology like “miles per kWh.” This complexity not only poses a headache for consumers but also for dealers who struggle to adapt to this cultural shift.

Intense competition

In addition to the complexity, automakers face intense competition from new EV brands and products entering the market. Chinese brands like BYD and Zeekr present pressure with their low-cost, high-quality offerings, while newcomers like Polestar focus on building their design-led brand. Even established commercial vehicle companies such as Ford, VW, Volvo, Mercedes, and MAN are investing in zero-emissions vehicles. Transformation and reinvention are essential for big OEMs to stay agile, while small start-up EV makers aspire to acquire the scale, resources, and networks of established companies.

Attracting and retaining talent

Attracting and retaining top talent has become crucial in this rapidly changing automotive industry. Tesla, in particular, has become the most desirable automotive company to work for, especially for engineers, giving them a competitive advantage. A strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP), which includes factors like good pay, growth opportunities, and a positive work environment, plays a vital role in attracting and retaining talent.

Additionally, a company’s employer branding, and how it presents itself in the job market, influences its appeal and employee loyalty. Understanding employee values, offering relevant and clear benefits, and effective internal communication are key to developing a powerful EVP and building a motivated and skilled team.

The bottom line

The path to success in the EV market is clearly not without its challenges. From cost to compliance, scaling up might feel like a headache not worth it. But they must face up to the fact that it is the way the wind is heading – and the opportunities at key moment stage are simply too great to ignore.

Like so many industries navigating the sustainability revolution, strength lies in partnership. Big and small, Capgemini works with automotive companies to help find this balance. Read part 2 to find out more.


Brad Young

VP, Head of Automotive & Sustainable Mobility, UK
Brad has over 25 years experience in digital transformation. He is an expert in the Automotive industry, with a focus on Sustainability, Mobility, Electric Vehicles and Customer Experience Transformation. He has held business and technology roles in the Automotive and Consumer Products industry. He leads Automotive for Invent UK. His passion is accelerating the transition to zero-emissions transport and creating sustainable mobility experiences that are good for people, businesses, and the planet.