The future of the electric car is finally taking off

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There have been many false auroras for the electric car. France and the UK were among the pioneers of electric vehicles in the late 19th century, with well-heeled customers using them for short trips around town. By the early 1900s, however, the discovery of abundant oil reserves and larger road networks had helped undermine the case for electricity in favor of gasoline.

Today, more than a century later, polluting diesel and gasoline cars still dominate sales worldwide, but there are encouraging signs that 2021 could be the start of a sustainable electric future. Norway, a nation whose wealth is based on fossil fuels, last year became the first country in the world where the sale of electric cars overtook those powered by gasoline, diesel and hybrid engines. Electric vehicles accounted for just over 54% of all new cars sold in the country in 2020, a world record, and up from just 1% of the global market ten years ago. There is still some way to go, but Norway appears to be on track to meet the government’s 2016 target of banning the sale of all internal combustion engine vehicles by 2025.

As policymakers seek to rebuild their economies after the coronavirus pandemic, Norway’s success in promoting the adoption of EVs provides an important lesson in how targeted policies can help change consumer behavior and stimulate private sector investment. Early and generous government support as early as 1990 in the form of a temporary exemption from the national vehicle purchase tax was an important first step.

Since then, other initiatives, including reducing road taxes and removing charges for toll roads and public ferries, have helped drive adoption of EVs. Importantly, while a vast charging infrastructure was launched with public funds, it initiated subsequent private sector investments.

Norway’s legacy of fossil fuels may have helped cushion the lost tax revenue, but the country’s success offers a roadmap for others on how to promote a green industrial revolution. Britain’s Boris Johnson pledged last year to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 as part of a 10-point green plan. The goal is laudable but can only be achieved if it is accompanied by an improvement in the existing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Last September, the UK auto industry body pointed out that in order for customer demand to keep pace with the growth in the number of zero-emission car models available, at least 2.8 million new public charges are expected to be built by 2035 – an investment of £ 16.7bn.

Ultimately, the goal must be for electric vehicles to become commercial in their own right. A key tipping point will come when they cost as much to produce as conventional vehicles. Mass production and competition will help, and the interest of Apple, the iPhone maker, in entering the industry possibly through a tie-up with Hyundai, is an indication that both are on the way. . Norway has started to eliminate some of the fringe benefits of owning an electric car such as free parking, recharging, and no tolls. The next crucial question will be when to gradually reinstate taxes on electric vehicles. A major challenge for the industry will be how to produce cheaper and more efficient batteries.

For now, the optimism in forecasts that global sales of electric vehicles will increase by 50% or more this year seems well founded. At the same time, Tesla’s remarkable stock run, which made Elon Musk the richest man in the world, shows investors are betting electric cars are here to stay, no matter which company ultimately inherits it. of the electric future.

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