By Leah Y Parks
The arrival of the all-electric Chevy Bolt marks a milestone in the worldwide electric vehicle wave and an important indication that the American auto industry will have a significant presence in this market.
Why do so many experts consider this car so important, and how are the early-adopter states poised to benefit from welcoming its arrival?
Motor Trend Magazine named the 2017 Chevy Bolt its Motor Trend Car of the Year, in great part because it sees the car as a “game-changer.” The Bolt is the first midlevel long-range electric vehicle to hit U.S. roads. At a roughly $30,000 price point after tax incentives and a 238-mile range, this all-electric car is considered fit for mass-market adoption. There are more to come.
General Motors chose to deliver the cars first to California and Oregon. Cars were first delivered to California in November 2016. And by Jan. 9, cars were zooming around Oregon roads as well.
The electric car industry is poised to grow exponentially. The technology has matured, and we are at the cusp of massive EV adoption. Even depressed oil prices are not slowing their rise.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and Navigant Research predict electric vehicles will cost the same as gas-powered cars by the mid-2020s. Navigant Research expects that by the year 2025 more than 37 million vehicles will have a plug worldwide.
Tony Seba, instructor of entrepreneurship at Stanford University, foresees the end of the gasoline-powered car and estimates that “all new mass-market vehicles will be electric” by 2030.
These predictions are being made not only by analysts, but also by executives in the auto industry itself.
Ford Motors CEO Mark Fields said this month that the “era of the electric car is dawning.” He sees the number of electrified vehicles exceeding gasoline-powered cars within the next 15 years.
Tesla has started production at its lithium-ion battery 'Gigafactory' with the goal of producing 1 million cars per year by 2020. It plans to start shipping the 400,000 pre-ordered mid-range Tesla Model 3s by the end of this year.
Chinese car company BYD, backed by both Warren Buffet and the Chinese government, is also building gigafactories similar to Tesla's and has become the world’s top selling EV manufacturer. It plans to sell cars in the U.S. in the next two to three years
European companies Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes are also investing heavily in the electric vehicle market, with plans for plug-in vehicles to comprise 15 to 25 percent of their sales by 2025.
Ford is investing 4.5 billion in 13 new electric vehicles, including a 300-mile range SUV and a hybrid F-150 pickup truck.
Countries, states and urban centers embracing this technology can position themselves as leaders in the industry. The economic growth potential is enormous.
A recent report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission finds that hybrids and EVs will account for 62 percent of light-duty vehicle sales and offer roughly $315 billion in global business opportunities by 2030.
States like Oregon, California and Washington are already seeing benefits from supporting the clean-tech industry.
In Oregon, for example, Solar World, Vestas and Energy Storage Systems are but a few clean-technology companies that have set up shop. The state's clean-tech business cluster benefits both rural and urban communities. Innovative companies are creating products such as clean-energy software for farmers and biodegradable polymers that nurture seeds and seedlings through dry soil conditions.
As part of its clean-tech industry, Oregon has developed a strong electric transport business cluster, bustling with electric motorcycles, charging stations, electric fork lifts, airplane tugs, streetcars, battery components, demonstration projects and more.
The challenge will be to fully embrace the opportunities that the EV sector provides. Continuing research and development, the implementation of infrastructure, and support by an enabling legal framework are key.
The U.S. position as the leader of this 21st-century auto industry is not secure.
China has emerged as the clear global clean-energy leader. It has the largest lithium-ion, solar and wind manufacturing companies worldwide.
We can expect the country to strive to dominate the electric auto market as it has done for solar and wind.
In 2015 and 2016, China invested nearly double what the U.S. invested in renewables. It also supports 4.5 times more renewable energy jobs than the United States. Despite a recent slowdown, China plans to invest heavily in renewable energy generation, promising $361 billion in renewable fuel investments by 2020.
China also announced plans to develop an infrastructure capable of handling 5 million EVs by 2020 and an additional 3 million new EVs per year by the year 2025. This will result in a 1,000 percent increase over present sales.
Germany, an automotive powerhouse, is committed to being a world leader in this sector. The German Federal Council (German Bundestrat) adopted a bipartisan measure in the fall of 2016 to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles in the country after 2030. The German government recommended that the European Union pass a resolution to do the same for all of Europe.
The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and India have also taken steps to implement laws for zero-emissions cars.
The U.S. cannot afford to fall behind in this market.
The Chevy Bolt -- a mid-level, 200+ range, all-electric car -- has arrived. Its entrance has been quiet but significant. This is just the beginning. The future of the transformed auto industry is unfolding before our very eyes.
The time has come to position the United States and our local communities as leaders in this exploding industry. A commitment to the electric vehicle is an opportunity we can no longer ignore.
Image credits: 1) Courtesy of Chevrolet (press use only); 2) FuelEconomy.gov
Leah Y Parks is currently an editor for ElectricityPolicy.com and Electricity Daily and is co-author of the book, “All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future.” She serves on City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler's Environmental Policy Task Force and has written extensively about innovations in energy storage, smart grid technology, energy infrastructure, and renewable energy. Ms. Parks holds a Masters of Science degree from Stanford University in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a BA from the University of Wisconsin in International Relations.
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