President-elect Donald Trump hardly professed to be a friend of clean renewable energy during his campaign, that’s for sure. The forces of change toward a sustainable energy future for the U.S. and world, however, are so powerful and dynamic that a Trump presidency may not be able to stop them. The momentum inspired by Tesla’s Elon Musk, MIT’s Electric Vehicle Team, the Google Self-Driving Car Project, Panasonic batteries, “Last Mile” transportation, The Route electric refuse trucks, and so many other electric vehicles is too strong and too ingrained in our culture to be stymied now.
As Rebecca Solnit wrote in her classic book, Hope in the Dark, “You possess the power to change the world to some degree, the current state of affairs is not inevitable, and all trajectories are not downhill.” With activism and advocacy, as well as technological innovations that emerge regardless of political times, clean renewable energy sources will continue to expand. They must, for the sake of our planet.
For example, some things just have not changed in Americans’ relationships to their cars. Over the past 50 years, automobiles have been our freedom machines, a means of both transportation and personal identity expression. In the same way that Henry Ford matched a youthful and euphoric generation to the combustion-engine automobile, so, too, will tomorrow’s automakers continue to design strategic moves to shape the industry’s evolution.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are at the heart of that vision for tomorrow’s consumer domestic transportation. Here are some reasons why EVs will continue to flourish and change the way automakers in the U.S. and abroad have conducted business as usual.
Automakers will continue to know what the customer wants and provide it
Consumer acceptance has already established a formidable EV market. EVs include a large portion of hybrid electrics, which means that, even beyond 2030, the internal-combustion engine will remain — at least partially — relevant. Yet we’ll likely encounter a common culture of electrified vehicles –hybrid, plug-in, battery electric, and fuel cell — in the years to come. But only an iconoclastic automaker will offer consumers a combustion engine without the electric perks.
Consumers just want to be connected
The capacity to be able to consume novel forms of media and other technology applications while driving will only become more prevalent among commuters. This will be possible, in part, through enhanced levels of automotive software competence. It’s an immediate gratification world already, and, with the emergence of new forms of infotainment technologies and virtual realities, consumers are only going to yearn for more connectivity. Traditional automakers will give their customers what they want in connectivity, inching every so much closer to comprehensive EV technologies.
Improvements in battery technology and costs
Through continuous improvements in battery technology and cost, electrified vehicles will become more “normal” and more likely to be found in the average American’s garage. As a result, EVs will increasingly grab market share from conventional vehicles. With battery costs potentially decreasing by $150 to $200 per kilowatt-hour over the next decade, electrified vehicles will be able to compete more heartily and broadly with conventional vehicles. Automakers will migrate to this new battery technology because it will make obvious financial sense.
A more widely available charging infrastructure
Increasingly, many retailers are seeing the benefit of customers who browse inventories deeply and purchase more intensely as they wait for their EVs to charge outside in the parking lot. This collaboration between EV drivers and retailers will certainly expand the demand for and number of corridor-based charging stations. Shopping centers, entertainment stops, and EV charging may require charging station standardization, of course, for the gestalt to be fully pervasive. That will take consensus-building with other charging station manufacturers.
Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), with their associated active safety precautions, will quickly allow the automobile to become a platform for drivers and passengers to choose how to use their transit time. EVs and ADAS are so interwoven already that the future must continue those marriages. Yes, there’s still lots of progress that needs to be done around technological and regulatory issues fronts, but is it excessive to think that around 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous? Not really.
Diverse mobility solutions are coming
Traditional business models of car sales will be complemented by a range of diverse, on-demand mobility options. These are sometimes called “last mile” solutions and are particularly necessary in dense urban environments that limit private car entrance. Think central London. EVs are certain to be integral to the trend to increase and diversify on-demand mobility and data-driven services.
Stricter emission regulations
We’re not really sure that a Trump presidency will speed federal regulations toward greater fuel efficiency, if some comments he made on the campaign trail can actually find their way into governance. But, if the U.S. holds to its pledges to further the goals of the Paris Climate Conference (also known as COP21), automakers will scramble to balance out their catalogs. Their gas guzzling behemoths in the full-sized truck category will need their siblings, fuel-efficient EVs. Traditional automakers may have no other recourse than to adopt an EV line of offerings in order to offset those nasty truck MPGs.
The push for traditional automakers to become more capital efficient
Like any business, traditional automakers are under constant pressure from stockholders, who want to see lower overheads, improved fuel efficiency, and reduced emissions. Even if incentives toward purchases of EVs expire, stockholder influences may propel a shift of automaker perspectives, based on little more than the bottom line. This push toward greater capital efficiency will necessarily lead to new business relationships between automakers and technologists.
Competition from abroad
Always on the (pun intended) horizon is the looming threat of other countries and their automotive innovations. It seems unlikely that a Trump administration can foster the political power to exclude car imports, and, anyways, U.S. automakers would like nothing more than to transform their models for the global marketplace. For example, China’s emergence as the world’s largest automotive market can only expand in the coming years and, with that need to supply an enormous consumer base, will be trends toward EVs. U.S. automakers may find themselves outside the marketplace if they don’t keep up with their counterparts abroad.
A white paper titled “Automotive revolution — Perspective toward 2030” describes how the coming generations should see the share of electrified vehicles range from 10 percent to 50 percent of new-vehicle sales. Adoption rates will be highest in developed dense cities with strict emission regulations and consumer incentives. These include tax breaks, special parking and driving privileges, or discounted electricity pricing. Sales may be less robust in small towns and rural areas with lower levels of charging infrastructure and higher dependency on driving range.
As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” Changing consumer preferences, tightening regulation, and technological breakthroughs, among myriad other factors, point to the dominance of EVs in the decades to come. We’ve got to use this moment in political time to rise up and speak out for the future of electric vehicles.