Policy, Punditry Predict the Paths to Electrification

Numerous electric vehicles, such as the 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge pictured here, are about to go on sale in the U.S. (Volvo Car USA)

There’s no question electric vehicles are the future. Most automakers ranging from Acura to Volvo have announced plans to electrify some or all of their vehicle lineups by the end of this decade. But the road they and society will take to get there is not yet fleshed out.

This week alone, for example, the state of Washington said it would phase out gas- and diesel-powered light-duty vehicles by 2030. Industry analysts noted that EVs could significantly impact sales of cars with internal combustion engines (ICEs) by 2025. Other analysts predicted consumer EV adoption is likely to be slower than the auto industry expects.

Starting with the news out of Washington, the state legislature passed a bill Thursday that would stop sales of new ICE-powered cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks after 2030. There are caveats, though.

First, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) needs to sign the bill to make it law. Second, the bill does not mandate 2030 as the exact stop-sale year for ICE vehicles. Instead, the deadline depends on the state raising road taxes through a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax. A VMT tax charges people for the miles they drive and is a way to raise money from EV drivers who don’t pay the tax applied to gasoline sales. The bill says that as soon as 75% of the cars registered in Washington pay VMT instead of the gas tax, the sales ban would kick in.

Washington state’s bill brings us back to the question of EV adoption. One auto industry expert, Kiran Govindswamy, vice president of drivetrain, vehicle engineering, and NVH at FEV North America, spoke at a digital conference organized by the SAE International this week. Govindswamy said the timeline for when EV sales would pass a “tipping point” – that is, when gas-powered car sales would start to decline noticeably, and EVs would pick up the slack – is likely to happen in 2025, both in the U.S. and the global market.

Another expert, speaking at the same conference, said that while the industry and governments are taking action to promote EVs, questions remain about buyers’ interest in actually purchasing them. Long-time EV watchers have heard this many times before, but the impediments to widespread consumer adoption remain the up-front purchase cost, range anxiety, and uncertainty about where to find and how to use public charging stations.

On the expense front, many experts believe the price of an EV will equate to a gas car when battery costs drop down to $100 per kilowatt-hour, which FEV said it thinks will happen in 2028. When it comes to charging stations, the government can play a significant role there, too, and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan would install 500,000 new units by 2030. Finally, once these two things happen, the range issue is likely to take care of itself as well.

That’s the plan, anyway.