How fast that revolution will unfold is the source of much dispute and uncertainty. And it matters a great deal to oil demand, electricity demand, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and global trade flows.
In many ways, questions around EVs parallel questions around renewable energy. They have both been consistently underestimated. If they continue beating expectations, revolution is nigh. But there’s also a lot of hype, wildly conflicting projections, and plenty of risks and pitfalls ahead.
National fossil fuel vehicle bans are catching on
China is only the latest country to announce its intention to phase out the production and sale of gas and diesel vehicles altogether.
Last year, the Dutch parliament voted through a motion to end all gas and diesel car sales by 2025 (it still has to go through the Dutch senate).
In June, India announced that it would end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2030.
In June, Norway agreed to end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2025. (Norway leads the world in EVs — almost 40 percent of its newly registered vehicles were hybrid, electric, or hydrogen in 2017.)
In July, France announced it would end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2040.
In July, Britain announced it would end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2040.
In August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that her country would follow suit. "I cannot name an exact year yet,” she said, “but the approach is right, because if we quickly invest in more charging infrastructure and technology for electric cars, a general changeover will be structurally possible."
This month, the Scottish government announced it would phase out gas and diesel cars by 2032.
Of course, dozens of other countries and states/provinces have their own targets for EVs. (The International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook has a good overview.)
Many of these promises are vague or lack implementation plans, and all could be overturned by subsequent governments, but they all carry a clear message. While there are all sorts of clever EV support policies, outright bans carry a unique political and market-moving weight — especially in rapidly expanding markets like China and India.
There’s a big psychological difference between “we’re going to start edging into a transition” and “we’re ending gas cars.” There’s a finality to the latter that, shall we say, stimulates the entrepreneurial imagination.
Some, automakers are making big promises on EVs
In most big markets outside the US, EVs are the hot thing, so lots of major automakers have announced plans to start shifting in the direction of electrification, through either conventional gas-electric hybrids (HEVs), plug-in gas-electric hybrids (PHEVs), or pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Some pledges are more ambitious than others. And all must be taken with a grain of salt, given that many automakers are not hitting their current EV targets. Here are a few, in chronological order.
Last year, Volkswagen announced that it would attempt to bring 30 or more BEVs to market by 2025, with a target of 2 million to 3 million sold by that year, roughly 25 percent of its total sales. This year, the company upped the ante again, vowing to create electric versions of all 300 of its models. (After its diesel scandal debacle, Volkswagen is all in on electrics.)
In March, Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) announced it was accelerating its EV program and would have 10 new EVs to market by 2022.
In July, Volvo announced that all its models introduced in 2019 and after would be hybrid or electric.
This month, BMW announced that by 2025 it would have 12 new BEVs and 13 new hybrids on the road.
This month, Jaguar Land Rover announced that all of its new models from 2020 onward would be hybrid or electric.
And of course there are big electric car companies like Tesla, which plan to sell 100 percent BEVs now and forever.
In contrast to their European counterparts, the Big Three US automakers — Ford, GM, and Chrysler — have been slackers on EVs. Across all three, today they offer three BEVs and five PHEVs. And in the next three-plus years, they have cumulatively promised one (1) noncommercial EV. (The Renault-Nissan electric alliance, which had an early lead in EV sales, isn’t doing that great either.)
What Ford, GM, and many other automakers have done is go to China to establish partnerships. “The biggest players are shifting crucial scientific and design work to China,” wrote Keith Bradsher in the New York Times, “as the country invests heavily in car-charging stations and research and pushes automakers to embrace battery-powered vehicles.”
China is leading now, and the US is lagging, but getting some cool cars.
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