Governor Gavin Newsome has mandated a conversion to electric vehicles (and other non-fossil-fuel technologies like hydrogen fuel cells) in California by 2035. There are already plenty of naysayers. I am not among them.
Internal combustion engines have had their day, and it was glorious! From tractors and combines on the farm that have scaled food production to unimaginable heights, to trucks that deliver the food (and everything else), to the personal vehicles that gave the freedom of mobility first to the nation, and then to the world, it’s been a great run, but all things must pass. I relish the memory of my brother’s Shelby GT 350 Mustang and all its brethren muscle cars. I wax nostalgic for the rumble of their blown and injected engines, until I awaken from my revelry and remember that my Chevy Bolt EV is faster than any of them. Porsche’s all electric 919 Evo owns the track record at Nurburgring, Germany.
The future beckons.
We struggle against change, and hold on to the bad, the indifferent, and the obsolete until one day when we pass a tipping point, and acknowledge the superiority of the new over the old. Word processors are better than typewriters. Robotic manufacturing is more precise and efficient than the same repetitive work done by bored hands. Make your own analogy; we’re a curious lot, and progress will not be stopped.
We are entering a new phase of commercial and personal transportation that will render the current manufacturer-dealer-consumer paradigms unrecognizable. This deadline will be met. The new landscape of self-driving cars, shared cars, app-driven, ride-on-demand services, recharging stations, and high-capacity battery technologies, will drive a vibrant transportation economy and create many new jobs.
The “diffusion of innovation” theory predicts that acceptance of new ideas and technologies starts slowly, then gains momentum over time. Cases in point: Harley Davidson is selling an electric motorcycle; GM has a 1,000 horsepower Hummer EV coming in 2021; and Chip Ganassi of NASCAR fame has an entrant in the all-electric off-road Extreme E series.
Prices will fall as manufacturing scales. Just look at computers and flat-screen TVs.
Infrastructure follows innovation, and while there are not enough recharging stations for EV or fuel cell cars today, demand will inspire a spurt of growth in that sector. The fact is, gas stations derive nearly all their profit from the convenience stores to which they’re attached, in the same way that movie theaters (remember them?) profit mostly from the candy counter.
The addition of, then transition to, recharge-only services will require investment. Fortunately, money is historically cheap right now and for the foreseeable future. There are any number of private equity firms and hedge funds sitting on the sidelines. They’re desperate to find upside. Money is chasing deals.
This innovation need not be looked at as altruism. In the fullness of time, it will reveal itself as capitalism. Tesla is today’s undisputed leader in battery technology, but leads like this are as fleeting as military secrets. The big car makers, plus a jillion dark-horse candidates, are a few laps behind right now, but not for long.
China is the big market-maker here, having already imposed a sunset on internal combustion engines—they have to—have you tried to breathe in Beijing?
You’ll hear skepticism from a number of quarters, including the howling protests from car dealers’ associations. The Tesla model of no dealerships has them on edge. A few states have tried to enforce the franchise laws that dealers lobbied for to ensure they remain the exclusive conduit between consumers and manufacturers, but as we’ve witnessed repeatedly in the tech revolution of the last 25 years, the better mousetrap disrupts, and there’s nothing the old mousetrap can do to stop it.
Their fear seems to be based on two ideas: one, that people won’t want to buy EVs 15 years from now, which seems to me to be more paranoid suspicion than reality; 15 years is a long time to become accustomed to something, and the products will be very desirable. Their other, more realistic concern, is that these cars have significantly fewer moving parts, and are a lot less complex than today’s vehicles. There is no regularly scheduled maintenance beyond tire rotation. That means a serious reduction in service revenue. That’s a huge line item in the world of car dealerships.
Initially spurred by Chinese domestic mandates, all of the major manufacturers (except, rather curiously, Toyota) have made increasingly bigger investments in EV technology. Electric cars are coming en masse, and we’ll all breathe easier for it.
Amazingly fast, safe, and smart cars are on our horizon, and with California leading the way domestically, as we so often do, there’s a rich future for EVs and the attendant infrastructure necessary to make it all go.