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Electric Vehicle Transition in California: Is the Era of Gasoline Cars Over?

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Five years ago, having an electric vehicle was like bringing your own bags to the grocery store or avoiding plastic straws: some people did it, but those who did were either avid environmentalists (often driving the snub-nosed Nissan Leaf), or wealthy techies (often driving the Tesla Model S). EVs felt like a novelty or a test of purity – they certainly didn’t feel like a doom.

But in recent years, everything has changed. There was the Super Bowl ad for electric vehicles, featuring Will Ferrell punching a globe and yelling, “We’re going to crush those sledders!” (Ferrell was referring to Norway, the country that sells the most EV per capita than any other country in the world.) There was the announcement by six automakers and 30 countries that they would phase out gas-powered car sales by 2040, and President Biden’s call to make 50% of new car sales emissions-free a decade earlier. There was the release of the GMC Hummer EV – a monstrous power-guzzling house on wheels that many environmentalists abhorred – the Ford F-150 Lightning EV and even the Mustang Mach-E EV. In short, automakers have taken their most valuable brands – even brands that appeal to a part of America that is decidedly not crisp and eco-friendly – ​​and rolled out all-electric models.

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In short, the transition from internal combustion engine gasoline vehicles to electric vehicles no longer seems like a niche or speculation. It seems inevitable.

And this week, in another profound development: California, which already leads the nation with 18% of new cars sold electric, is expected to approve a regulation banning the sale of new gasoline-only vehicles by 2035. electric vehicles, only a limited number of plug-in hybrids will be allowed to be sold. That’s a big deal: California’s car market is only slightly smaller than those of France, Italy and Britain – and while many countries have promised to phase out sales of gasoline-powered cars on such and such a date, few have concrete regulations like California. Sixteen states have traditionally followed California’s lead in setting their own independent fuel standards — they may soon follow.

Going from 18% to almost 100% electric vehicle sales in 13 years may seem almost impossible. But Corey Cantor, EV associate at research firm BloombergNEF, points out that in 2019, 7% of new cars sold in California were electric vehicles. In just a few years, that number has more than doubled.

“When things move so fast, it’s pretty surreal,” Cantor said.

Of course, roadblocks remain. Producing hundreds of thousands of electric cars will require supplies of critical minerals and a pace of factory manufacturing that currently does not exist. (Example: Ford has a three years backlog for the Ford F-150 Lightning, thanks to skyrocketing demand.) The Biden administration has invested $5 billion in a network of car chargers across the country, but a recent study on chargers in the San Francisco Bay Area found that more than a quarter were not working.

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For now, electric vehicle sales are mainly focused on more expensive vehicles, rather than smaller, more affordable sedans, but automakers are trying to bring prices down. And for consumers to take advantage of the new $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles in the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act, more minerals and batteries will need to be produced in the United States. The combination of high upfront prices, oft-cited “range anxiety,” and unfamiliarity with electric vehicles may cause some Americans to resist going electric for years.

Yet most electric vehicles are now cheaper over the life of the vehicle than comparable gas-powered cars. Soaring gasoline prices this year led many Americans – some of whom had never considered going electric before – to examine what it would be like to drive a car that draws its power from the grid.

“A few years ago there was always a question about electric vehicles – do people want them?” said Cantor. “Now that’s not even the question. It’s all about scaling.