Stateside, similar legislation could come into force sooner than you think

It’s 2019 and we’re still happily buying and driving gas-powered and diesel-powered cars but the days of the internal combustion engine - at least the one as we know it now, powered by fossil fuels - are numbered with the looming threat of global warming growing seemingly by the minute. As almost every major player in the automotive industry pushes for electrification, we see customers do so too with more and more EVs being bought every year. Moreover, countries all around the world are preparing laws that could see the sale of ICE-powered vehicles outlawed. This may become a reality in the United Kingdom by 2035 and the U.S. could follow suit sooner rather than later although such a dramatic shift won’t happen overnight.

Can you feel it? The wind of change is blowing hard nowadays. Researchers say that, by 2022, owning an EV will be cheaper than the cost of living with a diesel-powered or a gas-powered alternative. By 2040, it’s said that around 50% of the cars on our roads will be electric and you can see how this may happen as the sales of EVs have gone up by an astonishing 92% in the first six months of 2019 to 765,000 units sold across 41 different markets around the globe. It’s still a niche with just 1.7% of the global market being taken up by BEVs but this percentage grows all the time and the process will be accelerated once nations start enforcing partial and then across-the-board bans on fossil fuel-powered vehicle that’ll leave people and business no choice but to switch when the moment comes to buy a new car.

The end of ICE cars is closer than us gearheads would like to admit

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For years and years, internal combustion engines have been the go-to engines to power anything from buses to trucks and from RVs to bikes. But it wasn’t always like this. When humanity first started to move away from horse-drawn carriages, gas was at a premium.

It's not to say that it wasn't around, as the first oil refineries date back to the late 1850s with the first one, finished in 1857, located in Romania.

But it wasn’t cheap to make and, as such, cheaper alternatives were in vogue in those early days after Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine” in January of 1886.

Steam cars, for instance, were already around when Benz’s tricycle was unveiled and, for much of the 1890s and early 1900s, steamers outnumbered their gas-powered brethren. The first all-electric car also predates the three-wheeled Benz by a couple of years. Inventor Thomas Parker was first to delve into the niche of battery-powered vehicles which he fitted with some high-capacity rechargeable batteries of his own device. By 1897, a fleet of electric cabs was (more or less) silently making its way through London.

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At the time, electric cars grew in popularity at a rapid pace because they were less noisy, easier to operate (lacked a gearbox or a crank lever), and lacked the smokey and shaky nature of early gas-powered cars.

In 1900, 78% of the cars in the U.S. were powered by either steam or electricity. But then, as more and more oil reserves were found all over the world, dailying a gas-powered car became cheaper and more convenient if you also had to drive longer routes as battery technology caged electric cars within the boundaries of cities due to the limited infrastructure.

On top of that, gas-burning cars became cheaper to purchase too and, soon enough, it’d cost you twice as much to buy an electric car than it would to become the owner of a similarly sized gas-guzzler. With no major breakthroughs in battery technology and no interest to further develop the infrastructure to sustain the widespread usage of electric cars, they began to be phased out by manufacturers who tried to stay in business by shifting their focus.

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Now, a mere 100 years later, automakers are trying to get us to accept the electric car once again in a strange case of deja-vu. True, interest in this form of propulsion was reignited after the Second World War but it wasn’t until the dawn of the ’90s that major players in the industry started to develop production models featuring hybrid propulsion as more of a marketing ploy aimed at the eco-conscious share of the client base and also steered towards the ones that wanted a more fuel-efficient car. It’s hard to deny that, had we not essentially ignored electric propulsion for so long, the status quo we’re battling with today would’ve been a lot frailer in the very least.

As it is, however, the majority of those that still rely on 'traditional' cars, consider a dramatic move from ICE-powered cars towards electric cars as hard to grasp in the next couple of decades, which is the timeline some say we're faced with.

Take the U.K. for instance. There, Secretary of Transport Grant Shapps is urging for a blanket ban that would affect the sale of both diesel and gas cars.

"If we’re to become the world leader in green technology, we must always be looking to expand our ambitions," he said, quoted by Motor Sport Magazine. "I’d, therefore, like to see government look again at the 2040 target [for the implementation of the ban], and thoroughly explore the case for bringing this date forward."

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He referred to the opinion of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change that suggested 2035 as a more appropriate date given current pollution-related developments. Shapps, member of the Conservative Party who has vowed to spend $1.23 billion to promote electric car makers, suffered a blow earlier this year when the Government turned down a proposal formulated by the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee that argued the date should’ve been brought forward to 2032.

Moreover, the U.K. is struggling to meet its CO2 reduction targets set in place for 2020 and 2030. According to Money Expert, the country was only able to reduce its emissions by 2.5% last year, the lowest value since 2012. When you factor in that transportation is the sector that pollutes the most in Britain, accounting for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, you begin to understand why even the 2035 date for the implementation of the ban may be optimistic.

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That's not to say that it shouldn't be done, but it's particularly hard when EVs are still expensive to buy and the recharging infrastructure is still far from even attempting to rival the gas station network.

Oh, and the ban won’t apply to gas and diesel-powered cars that people and businesses already own although we guess there will be more attractive incentives to trade in your ICE car for an electric one after the ban is brought in.

What’s clear is that the U.K., a country where electric vehicles accounted for just 1% of new car sales in 2018, isn’t alone in trying to impose what may be seen as an absurd decision by some. Denmark, too, is adamant that no new car sold past 2040 should feature an internal combustion engine and it urges for more widespread policy. Danish Climate and Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen told Reuters that "we are in a bit of a hurry" when it comes to fighting and reversing the effects of pollution.

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Due to the urgency of the situation, Denmark pleads the E.U. to take a serious stance on the matter after, previously, Denmark's own plans to end sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2030 were largely dropped when it became apparent that they violated current E.U. rules.

Norway, on the other hand, continues down this road and announced that no new car sold in the country after 2024 will be ICE-powered. France and the Netherlands have also laid out similar plans and the voice of all of these countries is about to be heard that much louder in the coming months when a "no-gas" alliance will be established.

Already the change can be felt in the capitals of many city centers with downtown areas becoming no-go zones for cars produced before 2004. The city of Amsterdam, for example, said it will ban all cars and bikes powered by fossil fuels by 2030 and, according to the L.A. Times, "come 2024, a diesel car won’t get you around Paris or Madrid as the capitals ban all passenger vehicles running on the fuel. A few years later, all drivers of internal combustion cars will lose access in and around London, Rome and Barcelona, Spain."

What about the U.S.?

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With so many countries in Europe attempting to get rid of means of transportation that pollute (with an emphasis, however, on personal cars and bikes, not trucks and buses), you may be wondering what’s going on in America. Well, for starters, you may be surprised to find out that the country that is home to Tesla is lagging behind China by a big margin and Europe as a whole when it comes to the sale of new EVs. According to a nation-wide study conducted by Jato, a total of 317,000 BEVs and PHEVs were sold in the U.S. compared to almost 380,000 in Europe and about 1.4 million in China.

To put it into perspective, in the U.S., the market share of BEVs is just 2.10% as of 2018 versus over 50% in Norway.

Sure, Norway is a much smaller country with a total population of just 5.3 million people and only 2.7 million privately owned cars but what you should look at is the effect of a unitary policy that’s nonexistent in the U.S. Where incentives are actually attracting people to switch to EVs and PHEVs, the sales are, however, booming. California, the leading U.S. state in this department is the world’s second largest EV market if Europe is split by country. According to Jato, "sales of BEVs and PHEVs totalled 157,600 units last year, up by 77%. As a result, California’s total was more than double that of Norway, which was Europe’s largest market." EVs counted for 7% of total vehicles sales in the state last year, beating China where PHEVs are still a lot more popular despite the introduction of 150 KW recharging stations.

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California was able to lead the standings in the U.S. thanks to its large number of incentives (no less than 24) and the value of rebates that range between $2,500 and $7,000, in addition to access to the HOV (High-occupancy vehicle lane), three more private rebates (between $1,000 and $3,000) and many discounts that apply when you recharge your car. The problem is that the gap between California and the state that’s ranked second in terms of sales, Florida, is really big and in a number of states there’s virtually 0% penetration of PHEVs and BEVs into the market.

In light of all this, could a measure similar to those discussed in Western Europe be proposed and pass in the U.S. in the near future? Well, Democrat Mike Levin had a stab at it earlier this year when he put forth a bill requiring that half of all car sales by 2030 be BEVs.

After that, the percentage grows by 5% every year so that, in 2040, no new cars sold across the United States should be powered by ICEs.

"I think it’s really important that we not just have big, bold principles but that we actually have concrete actions that will help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," said Levin in May.

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Having Republicans as the majority in the Senate most often stalls a bill written by a democrat (not to mention one such as this one) and this is something that Levin has been aware of all along. "My great hope is that we’re laying a foundation ... that we have a road map," he underlined. Levin’s bill predates another by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who, in April, announced a ’Green New Deal’ that aims to "reduce the amount of driving in L.A. by nearly 50%," and to "ensure 80% of motor vehicles driven in L.A. are electric," by 2035. Garcetti’s proposal was met with criticism. It was said that the proposed 2050 deadline for all of the changes noted in the ’Green New Deal’ (inspired by the nation-wide ’Green New Deal’) would come "20 years too late".

There’s, at least, the semblance of a desire in the state of California for such a hard-lining decision. In 2018, a bill similar to Levin’s was introduced but it didn’t make it far being opposed by the "California New Car Dealers Association, saying the state lacked enough public charging stations to keep all those electrics on the road," according to USA Today. "It’s not surprising there are elements in government who want to move us away from internal-combustion cars," said Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal quoted by USA Today. But "given the high cost of electric cars and that a great majority of entry-level buyers can’t afford them, it’s too early about talk about taking gas-powered cars off the road." Canada is adjusting to future realities as well with British Columbia passing a bill mandating that 10% of all vehicles sold by 2025 be zero emission ones, while the sale of fuel-burning cars and trucks will be banned outright by 2040. This is, currently, the harshest law of its kind in North America.

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Moving forward, you must also factor in the conversation what people want to buy nowadays.

That's SUVs and pickup trucks in abundance over sedans and compact cars.

Some of the bills we’ve seen put SUVs and pickup trucks away from the clutches of a ban and, on top of that, even if SUVs are considered, automakers simply don’t make enough PHEV and BEV SUVs to sustain such a shift.

Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, told Curbed that "the key is more electric SUVs, given current demand, which Kia and Hyundai have just introduced.” If these vehicles are exempt from a potential ban, it’d dramatically lessen the effect of the ban, he suggested. That’s why climate activists are calling for a ban on all crossovers and SUVs equipped with a traditional drivetrain. "The car industry needs to up its game, and phase out all diesel and gas cars (yes, even hybrids). We want to see an end to new car sales by 2028," said Greenpeace pointing out that 9% of the global greenhouse emissions come from cars, light trucks, and crossovers.

In the light of all of this: no nation-wide policy on incentives, manufacturers that are lagging behind when it comes to introducing zero-emission vehicles of all shapes and sizes, reluctant law-makers, the underdeveloped infrastructure, and the lack of a meaningful plan to get rid of all of the dumped ICE-powered cars, we think a ban won't come anytime soon.
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And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that any bill must be promulgated by the President and, let’s not forget, Trump was all about revoking California’s authority under the ’Clean Air Act’ to set its own pollution standards in 2018 and he managed to do just that recently, officially to allow for "one set of national fuel-economy standards," according to the EPA Administrator Dan Wheeler. Currently, emissions requirements for new cars and trucks have been set at 2020 levels through to 2026. So, as long as Trump is in power, he’ll veto any bill similar to those in Norway or the Netherlands that reaches him.

And, even if, somehow, one does get through, we won’t be breathing cleaner air overnight. According to Quartz, the turnover period in the U.S. averages 11 years (that is, how often someone changes his or hers old car for a new one) and, as per FleetCarma.com, some 18 years pass before just 50% of vehicles on the road to comply with a new emission-related law. Furthermore, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, told Reuters that the brand he represents needed almost two decades before hybrid vehicle shares represented an underwhelming 3% of the total figure. "What’s it going to take to get to 4 to 5 percent" share for electric cars, Lentz said. "It’s going to be longer."

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Happily, though, the war is not lost {yet} and most of the world's top automakers are betting on an all-electric future and are willing to spend dazzling amounts to make it a reality.

Daimler AG is bent on spending $11.7 billion to put out 10 all-electric and 40 hybrid models in a bid to electrify its entire lineup in the next few years. Volkswagen, meanwhile, will spend $40 billion by 2030 to build electrified versions of its 300-plus global models. Audi, part of the VW Group, is pushing for an electric future too with its E-Tron models and Audi Sport boos Chris Reinke is already foreseeing a future where you’d only see gas-powered cars in the world of motorsports.

And there’s also hope as costs of owning and buying an EV start to go down. A research published by BloombergNEF back in April suggested that buying a new EV will be cheaper than a rivalling gas-guzzler by 2022. Just two years ago, the same publication estimated that the turning point would come no sooner than 2027 but the dwindling price of lithium-ion batteries mean help make EVs cheaper as the price of the battery makes up less and less of the total MSRP of the car (will drop from 33% now to just 20% by 2025). It’s been suggested that the inevitable disappearance of incentives (the Chinese, for instance, will remove subsidies completely next year) could slow down the rate at which EVs will become more affordable but the trend is there.

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Also, we mustn’t forget that, with more EVs being purchased every day, there’s a growing array of second-hand zero-emission cars out there too. In the U.K., EVs can be found on the used car market for under $9,000. A recently released study conducted in five European countries concluded that PHEVs and BEVs are already cheaper to own and run than their gas-sipping peers.

However, as researchers at the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) have shown in their report, tax breaks are key in this equation. But ICCT’s Sandra Wappelhorst notes that incentives will not be needed by the time EVs will rival standard cars in price from the get-go. " “It will happen [between 2025 and 2030], because battery costs are dropping and that means that the initial price of the vehicles will drop as well."

The only problem left to resolve, then, seems to be that of repair costs. News broke out this past week of an Australian who had to pay a whopping $33,000 to replace the lithium-ion battery on his 2012 Nissan Leaf with a sub-$54,000 MSRP in 2012.

Source: Motor Sport Magazine

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