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The Future is Near (and It’s Electric)

August 8, 2017 0 Comments

It’s becoming more and more apparent that the future of automotive is electric.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. announced on August 4 their plans to join forces to develop new electric vehicle technology, including building a $1.6 billion assembly plant in the U.S. The plant will have a 300,000-cars-per-year capacity and will provide 4,000 jobs beginning in 2021, according to Reuters. Toyota aims to produce all zero-emissions vehicles by 2050, and analysts told Reuters that the Toyota-Mazda alliance will help Mazda keep pace in the rapidly growing electric vehicle race. Janet Lewis, head of Asia Transportation Research at Macquarie Securities, said, “Mazda needs electrification technology. In the past, they’ve pooh-poohed EVs, they’ve felt that they can make internal combustion engines more efficient, but the bottom line is that globally you need to have this technology.”

Automakers and governments in Europe are also heavily promoting the shift to electric vehicles.

Volvo, Swedish-founded and currently Chinese-owned, has said it will equip all 2019 and later models with electric engines.

France has reported plans for a “veritable revolution” on the the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, as well as offering financial help to low-income citizens to help them transition to electric vehicles. “Our [car] makers know how to nurture and bring about this promise,” said French ecology minister Nicolas Hulot in a news conference.

In July, the U.K. followed France’s lead and committed to ending sales of new gas and diesel cars from 2040. The 2040 deadline is part of Britain’s plan to build a fleet of zero-emissions vehicles by 2050, with the government spending some $3.5 billion on “plug-in infrastructure and other clean air initiatives” (The Washington Post).

In 2016, the Netherlands “voted to end new sales of gas and diesel cars by 2035,” though the proposal lacks cabinet approval as of yet.

Norway has set the ambitious goal of phasing out gas and diesel vehicles by 2025. Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, said in a Tweet, “There is an agreement on a target of zero new fossil-fuel cars sold as from 2025. No outright ban, but strong actions required.” Already in Norway, a grand 29 percent of new vehicle sales are electric cars, thanks to tax incentives and perks like free parking spots.

Clean air advocates and analysts are pleased with the trend, calling it a “much-needed push” in the auto industry. “There are cleaner-car alternatives than there used to be, and companies and countries are beginning to realize that hybrids and electric vehicles make a lot more sense now,” said Dan Becker, director of the automotive fuel efficiency advocacy group Safe Climate Campaign.

While the steps taken and plans pledged by the European countries are progressive, they conflict with some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies. Trump has proposed weakening fuel regulations put in place during the Obama administration, thus removing an incentive for electric cars. Analysts say the U.S. should consider “taking steps” to encourage and promote electric vehicle production and usage so as not to miss out on global business opportunities in the automotive market.

“One relevant question is: What should the U.S. be doing so that its own homegrown companies could compete and stay at the forefront of these changing markets?” asked Jessika Trancik, an associate professor of energy studies at MIT. “I don’t think we are capturing the opportunity right now with the uncertainty in policy on climate change and the unpredictability there.”

Additionally, some national pledges toward fully electric fleets have been criticized in Europe.

Guenther Oettinger, European Union budget commissioner, said it could be “significantly premature” to set a “uniform E.U. date” by which to abandon gas and diesel cars, according to the Associated Press. Furthermore, it is unclear how countries will meet the increased demand for electricity that comes with electric vehicles.

The European Environment Agency projects that in 2050, electric vehicles will make up 9.5 percent of electricity consumption, compared to 0.03 percent in 2014. “If in some other countries they don’t have access to renewable electricity, the additional electricity might come from fossil fuel and some emissions might increase,” said Alfredo Sanchez Vicente, Project Manager for Transport at the European Environment Agency in an interview.

What’s your take on the shift toward zero-emissions vehicles? Do you lean more toward agreeing with the promotors or the critics?

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