Destruction of the internal combustion engine
The Ford Model T didn’t end the horse, but it did replace it as America’s primary mode of transportation. Just as people still love and ride horses, people love and ride their old horses. But starting in 2035, you can’t buy a new device in California. The California state government is phasing out their sale. As Coral Davenport, Lisa Friedman and Brad Plummer report in this report New York Times Last week:
The law, issued by the California Air Resources Board, requires all new vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by 2035. The law also sets interim targets that 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold will be zero-emission by 2026. This need will reach 68% by 2030. Transportation is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, which causes the warming of the planet.
California’s law is authorized under a Clean Air Act exemption, which was first enacted as part of the landmark federal Air Act of 1970. California’s half-century ability to exceed federal requirements was removed by Donald Trump, but recently restored by Joe Biden. About a dozen states are now following California’s lead, amplifying the impact of this exciting move by this pioneering state.
As can be expected, there are those who oppose this infringement of freedom. Some have identified barriers to implementation: the power grid will be overwhelmed, there aren’t enough charging stations, electric cars are too expensive, Californians will simply drive to Nevada to buy their cars. The obstacles are endless.
There will certainly be people who will not follow this rule. But all these obstacles are beside the point. There will be bumps along the way, but electric vehicles will replace today’s vehicles because they are based on superior technology. That is why the car replaced the horse. You couldn’t just park a horse and walk away. They needed food, water, a clean stall, love and even medicine. Horses required more resources to maintain and were not as comfortable and powerful as the internal combustion engine. At first, there were more stables than gas stations, but that changed over time. We will see the same evolution by replacing the charging stations with gas stations. Of course, any problems with electric cars will be magnified by social media and the 24-hour news cycle, a fact of modern life that Henry Ford didn’t have to contend with. (BREAKING NEWS: Model T runs out of gas! Driver wishes he hadn’t sold his horse!)
Electric cars are more expensive now, but eventually, they will be price competitive. Over their lifetime, they are already cheaper, but soon even the retail or capital cost of electric vehicles will be as low as internal combustion vehicles. As long as the EV is powered by renewable energy, fuel costs will be low and predictable. Electric vehicles require less service and have fewer moving parts. Most importantly, automakers see a huge business opportunity in replacing America’s auto fleet, and are already betting on it. They are investing billions of dollars in electric cars. In accordance with Davenport, Friedman and Plummer:
Several automakers said their strategies align with California’s goal of promoting zero-emission vehicles. GM said it is still reviewing the rule, but the company also aims to sell only electric cars by 2035. “General Motors and California share a vision of an all-electric future,” said General Motors spokeswoman Elizabeth Winter. Bob Hollicross, Ford’s chief sustainability officer, said the company plans to invest more than $50 billion in electric vehicles and batteries by 2026, saying the rule would “set an example for the United States.” A spokeswoman for Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Fiat, Dodge and other brands, said the company plans to introduce 25 new electric models by 2030 to help California’s goals.
In fact, automakers are happy that the risk they took to invest in electric vehicles now looks safer than it did before California’s action. The EVs they market include cheaper models, but their initial offerings include trucks like the Ford Lightning 150, sports cars, SUVs, and other popular high-end models. They don’t ask their customers to sacrifice features, but actively design new fancy options that take advantage of new technology.
I see this as a model for the transition to a renewable economy: use technology to reduce the worst impact of consumer technology on the planet, but continue to develop and market features that people want. The materials used in the car must be recycled after the end of the useful life of the car. We’re already seeing that with rare earth minerals used in batteries and tires and aluminum. Most importantly, it’s changing the image of sustainability from a terrible sacrifice to exciting new products, features, and services. Auto companies seem to be doing just that.
Another notable feature of California’s move is the positive and technology-enforcing impact of regulation. These new rules are not “jobs”.to kill“But the job—Create, made We’ve been seeing this with motor vehicles for decades. Autotuning focused on safety first, requiring seat belts and then airbags. Regulations then focused on controlling pollution with catalytic converters and improving gas mileage. what happened? Once the engineers figured out how to comply with the rules, they had plenty of time to start improving the cars. They used lighter materials, replaced mechanical parts with electronics, turned our cars into mobile computers with an incredible array of features, from sensors that kept you from crashing into other cars to alerts that reminded you that a baby was in the car. The plane is converted. The batteries and charging times required by the first generation of electric vehicles will eventually be replaced by batteries that have a longer range and charge faster. We have already seen the beginning of these developments.
Federal policies such as those that created the interstate highway system, insuring home mortgages, and deducting mortgage interest and property taxes stimulated land-use development patterns in predominantly suburban America. The private sector built suburbs in response to public policy in the form of federal incentives. While there are efforts to build walkable cities and rebuild cities, the overall pattern of our land development requires the use of personal transportation. This is not going away and many Americans prefer this kind of life. As a resident of Manhattan, I prefer something different, but to many Americans, how people in my neighborhood live seems like a mystery. I remember once interviewing a faculty member for a job who was really curious about how to get my groceries and dry cleaning from the store without the drive-thru. In those pre-Amazon Prime days, I pointed to a friend riding a bike with a delivery bucket on the front and said, “Here goes someone’s groceries.”
We need to build environmental sustainability on the basis we have and acknowledge the appeal of the way of life so many people love. California is built on cars, suburbs, and highways. A 12-lane highway might sound scary to me, but Californians love it. But over the past half-century, it’s government that has led the way in cleaning up our air. They are doing it again with climate change and with electric cars. Even before this new law, last year, 12 percent of all new cars sold in California were electric, and this year, that percentage is more than 16 percent. About one million homes in California have solar panels. The electric vehicle is one of the elements of the family and transportation system that will one day be less harmful to the environment than the current system. California will get there first and will have to teach the world how to do it.