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Memo to Carmakers: The Future Is Electric

Electric vehicle sales climb in the U.S. and Europe. Photo by byronv2/Flickr

Electric car sales hit U.S. records this year, with almost 66,000 sold in July and August, more than double the number sold during the same period in 2017. One reason for the boom is the success of the Tesla Model 3, now the fifth best-selling U.S. passenger car. Globally, more than 4 million Electric Vehicles (EVs) are on the road with an additional one million anticipated by March. Strong growth in electric car sales appears poised to continue, with many new models able to go more than 200 miles on a charge expected to come on the market in the next few years.

The Veloz initiative, which produced the graphic above, is a new alliance of public and industry leaders that aims to accelerate the adoption of EVs in California (one of the authors of this blog, Dan Lashof, is a Veloz board member). The group’s Electric for All media campaign promotes the fact that electric vehicles appeal to a broad base of consumers who might have little else in common, as in this clip of a test drive shared by a punk rocker and a symphony goer.

Media campaigns like these can stimulate consumer demand for electric vehicles in the United States, but without federal leadership — and in fact with federal opposition — this trend could be reversed, due in part to the actions of some car and oil companies and their allies.

The Trump administration has proposed rolling back federal clean car standards and eliminating California’s ability to set its own emissions standards. Meanwhile, the federal electric vehicle tax credit is set to phase out. This one-two punch would mean fewer choices and higher costs for consumers.

Governors, mayors and businesses can push back against efforts to undermine clean transportation by rising to the ZEV Challenge and adopting or updating zero emission vehicle (ZEV) targets and action plans. For example, large employers should provide workplace charging and organize bulk purchase discounts for electric cars to reduce their indirect emissions from employee and customer travel. Cities and transit authorities should follow the lead of Los Angeles and enact concrete plans and programs to transition to electric buses. More utilities should seek public utility commission approval to invest in charging infrastructure, recognizing the benefits of EVs, not only for drivers who purchase them, but for all customers, because selling more electricity to EVs spreads utilities’ costs of transmission and distribution over more users, which lowers average rates.

Automakers Need to Stand Up for EVs

If car companies are genuine in their public commitments to cleaner cars, they must also become vocal proponents of honoring the emissions commitments they made to California and the Obama administration. It isn’t enough to call for “flexibility” and “compromise” between California and the EPA when such a “compromise” would mean automakers backing out of their prior commitments. The Global Automakers Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers are explicit in their desire to weaken emissions standards, with the former testifying that automakers’ prior agreement “must be adjusted.” –

A common claim by automakers is that current emissions standards can’t be met because consumers are opting for SUVs and trucks. Yet the vehicles standards are already differentiated based on vehicle size, and there is likely no vehicle segment that has experienced stronger year-over-year growth than electric vehicles. This is the surest indicator that consumer demand is strong and persistent for clean, efficient vehicles.

Car companies need to stand up for existing emissions standards and for extending the federal EV tax credit, because it’s what consumers want and it’s the only way to demonstrate that automakers are acting in good faith.  They should be working hand in hand with consumers and others with a stake in the industry and the environment to ensure charging solutions are available for people who can’t charge at home. They should also highlight and support government incentives that make EVs more affordable and invest in communications efforts to inspire even more people to join the electric vehicle revolution.

The future is electric. Car companies need to stop living in the past.

This blog originally appeared on WRI’s Insights.

Dan Lashof is the Director of World Resources Institute, United States.

Camron Gorguinpour is the Senior Global Manager for Electric Vehicles at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.