Your next car will be electric. Why did it take so long?


When future historians go looking for the moment when the electric vehicle revolution truly got underway, they might end up pinpointing last Sunday’s Super Bowl. That’s because amid the ups and downs of the actual football game there was a steady barrage of commercials advertising the arrival of an electric age in America.

BMW, General Motors, Kia, and Polestar (a Tesla competitor) all ran ads about their new electric cars and SUVs, and even Nissan — the one company that didn’t go all-in on EVs — still showcased one of its new electric vehicles. At a record $6.5 million for a 30-second spot, these commercials didn’t come cheap.

In some ways, the North American automakers are just catching up to the reality already unfolding elsewhere in the world. Global passenger EV sales increased 94 per cent on a year-over-year basis in the third quarter of 2021 to almost 1.7 million vehicles, and analysts think that sort of exponential growth is going to continue.

“We believe 2022 will be another strong year in terms of EV sales,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance‘s Aleksandra O’Donovan told CleanTechnica. “We expect more than 10 million will be sold globally, with the vast majority of them being pure electric. China will lead the way again, followed by Europe, but we do expect EV sales in the US to nearly double in 2022.”

For those who care about the climate, this is good news. While the growing number of electric vehicles hasn’t chipped away significantly at global demand for oil just yet, their impact will only grow as their market share — already near 10 per cent — keeps increasing. As Atlas Public Policy head Nick Nigro told vox, “We’re in the early stages of the biggest transition in the auto industry since the car was first invented.”

One question that climate activists should keep asking is why the transition took so long to get underway. Nissan, after all, ran ads during football games back in 2010 promoting its all-electric Leaf — one in which the driver hugged a talking polar bear. And while Nissan has talked a good game in recent years, it hasn’t actually done much to deliver new models and options for buyers. There’s a simple explanation for that: money.

For all the good talk about embracing the next generation of vehicles, the major auto companies wanted to generate as much revenue as possible from the current one. Factories are built and money has been long spent on producing fossil-fueled vehicles, and they want to get as much mileage out of that as possible. Sunk costs are a thing, in other words, and the automakers know that better than most.

Few have been as transparently or unapologetically obstructionist here as Toyota. Despite developing some of the earliest electric vehicle technology, it has consistently stood in the way of efforts to support the electrification of more vehicles. Item refused to sign a climate change pledge to phase out combustion vehicles by 2040, and it spearheaded a “Team Japan” effort that roped in Subaru, Mazda, Kawasaki and Yamaha to work on more efficient combustion engine-based vehicles and technologies. And it lobbied and advertised aggressively (along with Tesla) against efforts by the Biden administration to expand the existing electric vehicle tax credit from $7,500 to $12,500 for cars manufactured in the United States by a unionized workforce.

These sorts of efforts to slow-roll the adoption of electric vehicle technology are at odds with the urgency that’s needed in our response to climate change. Years have now been wasted and the impact that will have on future generations is measurable. Even now, as the surge of electric vehicles becomes unstoppable, it will take more than a decade to replace the fossil-fuel dinosaurs that dominate our roads and highways.

That’s why it’s probably time for some enterprising legal mind to seek the same sort of redress we’ve received, at least in part, from tobacco companies for their role in feeding a preventable health crisis.

Opinion: The electric vehicle revolution truly got underway at last weekend’s Super Bowl when the ads were all EVs all the time. @natobserver columnist @maxfawcett explores why it took so long. #SuperBowl #ElectricVehicles

How many trillions of dollars worth of damage have recalcitrant vehicle manufacturers done to the health and wellness of future generations in order to protect the profits of existing shareholders? How long have they known that switching to electric could avoid that damage? And how much did they spend pouring cold water on readily available solutions? These are questions that need to be answered inside a courtroom.

As to the increasingly big (and visible) promises about the future being made by car companies on electric vehicles? It seems far more likely that they’re going to have to live up to them than it was even a year or two ago. The cost of battery technology continue to drop, soaring oil prices should make gas-guzzling SUVs increasingly cost-prohibitive, and the political salience of climate change is at an all-time high.

All the pieces are in place for the long-promised revolution to take place, and maybe faster than most people realize right now. Your next car, in other words, will almost certainly be electric. It’s just a shame it took so long for that to happen.


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