Looking for an outlet? The EVs are Coming, the EVs are Coming!

Posted on February 2, 2021 by Samuel I. Gutter

On January 29, General Motors stunned the vehicle world by announcing that by 2035, its goal is to phase out all vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, selling only zero-emission cars and trucks.  Given the long lead time to develop new vehicles and bring them to market, that is a stunningly short timeframe.

Why would GM make this bold move?  Is it to stay a step ahead of California and federal regulators who, in the Biden administration, will continue to push emission reductions?  Perhaps in part, but the core reason is simple:  competition.  Governments around the globe are legislating future bans on fossil fuel cars, most notably China, which has mandated that most vehicles be powered by electricity in 15 years. And China plans to make many of those vehicles itself.  At least six Chinese manufacturers are introducing EVs in Europe, with eyes on the U.S.  German manufacturers like Porsche are selling electric vehicles, and Toyota and other Asian-based manufacturers have cars in development.  Here at home, Ford is pushing its new all-electric Mustang.  In simple terms, GM doesn’t want to miss out.

That’s not the only force driving the electrification of the fleet.  Consumer demand is leading to more sales.  To disclose, when my family gathers it looks like a Tesla showroom.  My wife was an early adopter, still driving her 2015 Model S.  One daughter owns a Model X and the other drives a Model 3.  As we and other owners will tell you, electric vehicles are a hoot to drive:  they’re absurdly fast off the line or accelerating onto the highway, and they’re quiet and loaded with technology.  Ranges of close to 500 miles are coming to the market, and fewer moving parts (including no transmissions) means less maintenance.

The Biden administration is leaning into the EV market, as well.  Among other initiatives, President Biden has ordered that all vehicles purchased for the large federal fleet will soon be U.S.-made electric vehicles.

Other impediments are falling.  The argument that electric vehicles just shift pollution to coal-fired power plants wanes as renewable energy generation expands.  And while Tesla has its own network of proprietary charging stations, companies like Electrify America – funded by the VW defeat device settlement – are launching thousands of universal chargers nationwide.

Is the coming EV boom bad for Tesla?  Perhaps, but recall that in 2014 Tesla took the extraordinary step of opening its patents to other manufacturers.  Elon Musk might be one weird dude, but his vision of a world-wide fleet of commercially viable cars and trucks is becoming real within his lifetime.

Turn On, Plug In, Peel Out

Posted on September 18, 2017 by Samuel I. Gutter

(With apologies to the late Timothy Leary [“Turn on, tune in, drop out”], who was referring to Electric Kool-Aid, not Electric Vehicles.)

Today, September 18th, is the second anniversary of the first public disclosure of the VW “Defeat Device” scandal.  It also marks the beginning of the end of sales of diesel-powered VW cars in the U.S.  And while other companies (Chevy, BMW, Jaguar and Land Rover, among them) still offer diesel cars and SUVs, the pickings are a lot slimmer. 

One unintended consequence of diesel’s fall from grace is the boost it has provided to electric vehicles.  Auto manufacturers must find ways to meet increasingly stringent fuel-economy standards, and for some the efficient diesel was a way to hike their “CAFE” (corporate average fuel economy) numbers.  Now, signs are that Tesla, even with the introduction of its less-expensive Model 3, will soon be sharing the EV market with a growing number of competitors.  GM and Nissan are expanding their pure EV offerings, and Volvo, Mercedes and Mini are planning to release their own “zero emission vehicles” (ZEVs) over the coming years.  Meantime, plug-in electric/gasoline hybrids are becoming common-place, with offerings from Toyota, Cadillac, Volvo, Ford, BMW, and others.  

While diesels dominate the line-haul truck market, Cummins and Tesla are both planning to introduce short-haul electric heavy trucks in the near future.  And what could be more telling than the announcement by the quintessential American company, Harley-Davidson, that it will start selling its “Livewire” electric motorcycle in five years?  Will “Rolling Thunder” become an anachronism?

International pressure to reduce GHGs and urban air pollution is also at play.  China, India, England, France and Norway are all considering an outright ban on the sale of fossil-fueled vehicles.  And back to VW, as part of its Defeat Device settlement, the company agreed to spend $2 billion over the next 10 years on U.S. infrastructure to support electric vehicles.

Battery prices are coming down and charge stations are going up.  And sure, diesels have great torque, but as anyone who has experienced the head-banging g-force of mashing the pedal in an EV will tell you, diesels are best viewed in the rear-view mirror. 

Still, many institutional and social barriers remain – proprietary charging technologies, reliance on government subsidies, high costs of electricity with (in some areas) no reduction in nighttime rates, and consumers who are wary of the emerging technology and fear being stranded on the highway with a depleted battery.  But while ZEVs and plug-in hybrids are still a fraction of total vehicles sales, they are increasing in numbers and market share.  As prices drop and driving range increases, electric vehicles will become more affordable and practical.

Fasten your seatbelt, there might be an EV in your future!