Electric vehicles are here to stay
Policymakers and automakers have embraced ambitious goals for electrified vehicles (EVs) of 40-50 percent of new car sales by the end of the decade. But getting there depends on more than building great EVs — and on more than the auto industry. The transformation requires a comprehensive approach that includes all sectors. Two recent events underscored that the transition to EVs is well underway.
First, sales of EVs (both fully electric and plug-in hybrid) almost doubled in 2021 with EV sales steadily gaining market share, exceeding four percent for the first time. Second, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opened in Las Vegas with a flurry of new EV announcements from existing and new manufacturers, including electric pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that were sold out even before production begins. Virtually every automaker has announced broad electrification plans, with several setting aspirational targets of 100 percent zero emission vehicles in the 2035 to 2045 timeframe.
To do this, the auto industry is investing $330 billion in electrification by 2025. That’s a dramatic transformation that will affect a vast swath of the U.S. economy: labor, home builders, automakers, suppliers, commercial builders, dealers, utilities, the oil industry, battery manufacturers, public and private fleets, hydrogen providers, and customers.
Let’s look at it from the standpoint of the consumer. Those who own or have driven EVs rave about them. Sure, they have no tailpipe emissions and low operating costs, but people are also excited about EVs because they’re fun to drive.
Nonetheless, consumers, understandably, still have questions: how much range, where can it charge, how long does it take to charge, and how much will it cost?
The auto industry, electric utilities and grid operators, fleets, builders, and federal and state policymakers are in the process of answering those questions. Transforming personal transportation requires a comprehensive and synchronized path forward and federal coordination.
Incentives vs. Mandates
There are limits to what government regulations or mandates can accomplish. Sales requirements on manufacturers do not dictate what consumers buy, but we know that incentives can drive consumer actions. Incentives will become even more important if we want to expand access to EVs by making them more affordable for a wide cross section of the American public.
We also know that fueling infrastructure is critical to the transition to electrification. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden late last year includes $7.5 billion to fund EV infrastructure. That is an important down payment, but far more investment by both government and private sector is needed to support 40-50 percent of purchases by 2030. For example, we need building codes that ensure charging equipment is installed in new homes, apartment complexes, and businesses during construction; otherwise, it can be five to seven times more expensive to retrofit them in the future. Beyond infrastructure, we need standard practices for pricing for residential or public charging stations to keep the promise of “low operating cost.”
At the same time, we will need continued private sector investment to support expanded vehicle electrification. Electrification requires us to build new and resilient supply chains vastly different from today’s manufacturing footprint. During the Autos 2050 Summit late last year, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm noted that the pandemic exposed gaps and vulnerabilities in international supply chains for semiconductors, batteries, and critical minerals. Her department is working on ways for the U.S. to sustainably extract critical minerals, and to process them here, to satisfy domestic demand and to create potential export opportunities.
Additionally, government agencies and private investors are funding important research into new battery chemistries to increase capacities and reduce charging times. As energy expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin has said, in the context of transportation energy supplies we’re moving from the world of molecules to electrons.
Let’s be clear about the stakes of leading this transition. Governments around the world see the auto industry as a strategic asset and are pursuing policies to gain competitive advantages in producing zero-emission transportation.
This shift to EVs must benefit consumers and the workers who make them. The nation’s supply chain and electric grid must be stable and resilient. And all stakeholders must be involved to ensure the market and industrial transformations keep pace with technological innovation and that the resulting environmental and economic benefits are broadly distributed.
John Bozzella is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents 99 percent of the automotive industry.
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