If you’ve been reading the news lately you might have noticed a trend in the automotive news: Major car brands are announcing their transition plans to go electric.
- Death of gas and diesel begins as GM announces plans for ‘all-electric future’
- GM will have 20 electric vehicle models on the road by 2023
- Ford to increase its fully electric vehicle offerings
- Ford creates ‘Team Edison’ to accelerate its efforts in battery-electric vehicles
- Mercedes-Benz plans electric versions of all its models by 2022
- Mercedes-Benz invests $1 billion to build its ‘EQ’ electric cars and batteries in the US
- BMW to offer 12 fully electric car models by 2025
- Volvo to go all electric by 2019
This is quite a string of announcements in the last few months from some major players in the automotive industry! Why is this happening now and what does it mean for the industry and the environment?
International and domestic pressure to clean up cars and trucks
To answer the question of why now, let’s look at another list of headlines from this year:
- China sets 2019 deadline for automakers to meet green-car sales targets
- China is banning traditional auto engines. Its aim: electric car domination
- France to ban sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040
- Britain to ban sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040
- India to sell only electric cars by 2030
- California lawmaker wants to ban gas car sales after 2040
These countries (and state) are in different stages of enacting limits on gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, but the trend is clear: if you want to be part of the future in the biggest automotive markets you need to have a transition plan from petroleum to electric vehicles.
Even beyond these limits on internal combustion engines altogether, many jurisdictions are strengthening the emissions standards for vehicles, meaning auto companies need to produce cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks. Electric vehicles can of course be a part of automakers’ efforts to comply with air pollution and global warming regulations.
Cleaner vehicles, fuels needed to reduce emissions
Transportation has recently eclipsed electricity generation as the largest source of global warming emissions in the US. Governments around the world are concerned not only with the carbon emissions from petroleum-powered vehicles, but also with the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which has heightened awareness of the air pollution from vehicle tailpipes. Electric vehicles, when paired with cleaner electricity, are an excellent solution to reduce pollution and global warming emissions from transportation.
In our most recent analysis, the average electric vehicle in the US only produces global warming emissions equivalent to what a 73 MPG gasoline car would produce. And the trend in the US has been towards cleaner electricity, meaning these electric cars will likely get even cleaner over time. So these plans by General Motors and others to vastly increase their EV offerings could mark a significant transition to much cleaner transportation.
Excitement tempered by automakers’ work to weaken regulations
Looking only at the headlines about large automakers’ EV plans, it would seem as though they have embraced the need for cleaner vehicles and fuels wholeheartedly. However, this is not the case.
The automakers’ lobbying groups, led by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, convinced the US EPA to re-review its recently finalized 2022-2025 global warming emission standards for cars and light trucks. Even as their trade groups work to weaken the fuel economy and global warming pollution standards, individual manufacturers have recently announced moves to increase their number of EV models, including General Motors, Ford, and BMW. But as they tout their plans for cleaner cars (and get good press), they are actively opposing US efficiency standards already in place. And they are also opposing international regulations, such as GM’s CEO Mary Barra’s pointed push back at China’s efforts to require electric vehicles.
The increasing number of electric vehicles being announced by automakers around the world is good news and certainly a step in the right direction. But these intentions aren’t enough. We need the automakers to make sure these vehicles are a success, putting them at the center of their showrooms and marketing efforts as they do with gasoline-powered cars and trucks today. And they certainly need to stop actively opposing the efforts of policymakers and regulators to clean up transportation and reduce emissions.