No new gasoline cars on the road by 2035? Fifteen years to overturn more than a century of consumer habits, fuel infrastructure, and proven performance? The time it takes to go from birth to learner’s permit to transform the largest automotive market in the country?
Longtime automotive analyst and one of the smartest industry watchers I know, Rebecca Lindland (https://www.rebeccadrives.com), says California’s push to zero-emissions by 2035 (See Regulations, page 7) is nowhere near as wild as it sounds. Basic demographic shifts are already moving the market in this direction.
Baby Boomers have been the slowest adopters of EVs, but they no longer dominate the market. Boomers are between 56- and 75-years-old today. When California’s mandate begins, they’ll be between their 70s and 90s. The oldest Millennials (a group Lindland calls the Trophy Generation for self-esteem- building participation trophies) will be in their late 50s – prime earning years.
“Steve Jobs is a historical figure for the Onliners (21-years-old to 31-years-old today), as the oldest was barely 23 when he passed away in 2011, and Generation App kids (20-years-old or younger) were prepubescent,” Lindland says. “But Elon Musk is alive and well, and Tesla is their Apple... California’s proclamation doesn’t fit with the consumers in today’s internal-combustion engine market, [but] it will work with the cohorts to come.”
While a change as radical sounding as what California is mandating may sound impossible, 15 years can be a very long time. In 2005, Tesla was just getting started with unpowered vehicle bodies provided by Lotus, Facebook and YouTube were barely more than ideas, and I still thought newspaper journalism had a stable future.
By this time next year, GM’s $2.3 billion joint venture with LG Chem should be producing battery cells in Ohio. Ford’s Mustang Mach-e EV will have been on the road for months, and Tesla will be reaching 500,000 vehicles-per-year capacity.
Certainly, there are massive barriers to widespread adoption of EVs. Musk will have to make good on his promise of a $25,000 EV (even the lower-cost Model 3s tend to go for closer to $50,000), battery range must improve, EV charging stations will have to become as accessible as gas stations, and huge portions of the nation’s electric grid will need upgrades to handle charging demands.
Grid upgrades will likely be the biggest roadblock. EV ownership works well today because small numbers of owners charge their vehicles at night or other off-peak demand hours. However, as EV market share grows, more people will need to charge at the same time, requiring more power generation and higher-capacity transmission lines to get juice into batteries. That will be particularly challenging in California where building new power plants can be prohibitively expensive.
With a lot of infrastructure investments and R&D efforts, those challenges can be met.
It’s hard for us to imagine a California without V-8 powered Corvettes blasting down the PCH, but by 2035, the outlook for the EV market doesn’t include many brown leaves or gray skies.