Come 2035, California motorists will be barred from purchasing new vehicles running on gas or diesel, at least if a new proposal the state announced yesterday survives the likely legal challenges. But the Golden State is by no means the only place where regulators are readying outright bans on the internal combustion engine.
Norway, Germany, India and France are among growing list that now includes 21 countries that have either enacted bans or are considering them. And Great Britain, which already laid out plans to ban the sale of gas and diesel vehicles by 2040 is now giving serious consideration to pushing that forward to as early as 2030.
Beyond that, a long list of individual cities and regions are taking similar steps, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, Mexico City and Paris, as well as the entire Canadian province of British Columbia.
Considering the sales volumes these various markets comprise, it is amping up pressure on manufacturers to make sure they have aggressive plans in place to flesh out their line-ups with battery-electric vehicles.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra has repeatedly declared that the automaker is on “a path to an all-electric future,” with “20 or more” BEVs in the works by 2023, and plenty more to follow. Volkswagen – which yesterday revealed the ID.4, its first long-range model for the U.S. – aims to have 50 all-electric models in production by 2025 through its various brands.
Even niche brands are not exempt. Rolls-Royce this week said it is developing a BEV that it plans to debut before the end of this year and have in production soon afterwards. But a spokesman for the British marque outlined the challenges this poses for all automakers.
“There is no demand from customers, but we need to be in a position to sell them a car if legislation forbids them from driving a combustion-engined car into the center of a city,” the company told Automotive News.
That was echoed in a statement from the Washington, D.C.-based industry trade group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which cautioned that, “neither mandates nor bans build successful markets. What builds successful markets is widespread stakeholder engagement: a combination of efforts by federal, state, and local governments, as well as automakers, dealers, utilities, hydrogen providers, electric infrastructure providers, builders and others.”
Even in California, the state that generates the vast majority of U.S. EV sales, the alliance noted, battery-cars currently account for barely 10% of new vehicle sales. Across the country, that’s closer to 2%.
But that’s widely expected to grow, even without regulatory mandates. Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh yesterday told TheDetroitBureau.com he expects total U.S. EV sales to comprise “15 to 20%” of the overall new vehicle market by 2025, “and then spiking up from there.” Keogh pointed to various studies that have suggested BEVs could reach anywhere from 40 to 70% penetration by 2030 or soon afterwards.
Nonetheless, “it’s not going to be easy” to make a major transition to electric propulsion, said Sam Abuelsamid, the principal automotive analyst with Guidehouse Insights. There are plenty of obstacles that must be overcome, just to get consumers to embrace the idea of swapping their gas and diesel models for those running on electricity – or those using equally clean hydrogen fuel cells.
From the retail standpoint, that means offering as much product choice as buyers have today, for a start. Those vehicles will need to have the range customers expect, be able to recharge rapidly, and they will have to drop substantially in price.
“If the government tells you that you can’t build anything other than EVs, consumers will have no other products to choose from,” he said, but if those EVs don’t meet demand, “New vehicle sales could drop precipitously, many people choosing to just drive the vehicles they have a lot longer.”
The good news is that EV technology is trending in the right direction. In the U.S. alone there are expected to be dozens of all-electric models by 2022 and more than 100 by 2025, according to those who track industry product programs. Tesla, GM and others have outlined plans to slash the cost of batteries, the most expensive part of an EV. VW’s Keogh noted during a media conference call plans to add a U.S.-made version of the new ID.4 priced at $35,000 by 2022. Tesla CEO Elon Musk this week said his goal is to introduce a new model starting at $25,000 soon after that.
Tesla, meanwhile, now offers a 500-plus-mile version of its Model S and Lucid will top 500 when it brings the Air sedan to market in 2022. GM officials say their goal is to offer packs of 400 miles or more going forward. The Detroit automaker is also working on ways to cut charge times down to as little as 10 minutes, and other manufacturers are now delivering 80% fast-charger top-offs in under an hour.
Even then, cautioned analyst Abuelsamid, there are other obstacles, including finding the necessary raw materials, such as lithium and nickel – with most future batteries likely to reduce or eliminate cobalt. This week, Musk said Tesla plans to pioneer a new method that could access large U.S. deposits of lithium currently difficult to mine – but it is unclear if and when the water-intensive process will get approved.
There’s also the issue of providing current for all those EVs. Despite regional energy shortages – notably in California – that’s not a major problem for now and the near to mid-term future because about 80% of EVs are charged up overnight when there’s normally lots of excess capacity. And that trend is likely to continue, said Pat Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, a major EV charging system company.
But eventually new capacity will be needed as the existing gas and diesel fleets in the U.S. and abroad are phased out and replaced by BEVs. The U.S. currently has 290 million vehicles on the road. It could take as long as 20 years to replace all of them even if a nationwide sales ban were enacted, said Abuelsamid. So, the energy supply issue will be one that regulators and utilities should have plenty of time to address.