As America celebrates the 52nd Earth Day, electric vehicle enthusiasts are saluting the 20-year anniversary of the introduction of the first mass-market hybrid vehicles and the 10th anniversary of practical electric cars.
2021 is a year that many believe is the tipping point, with plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, and battery-electric vehicles finally attain mainstream status and begin overtaking internal combustion vehicles.
After all, it’s the mainstream automakers making all the noise about electrification.
Ford now has an electric Mustang—the Mach-E. Toyota claims that the plug-in hybrid version of its best-selling RAV4 crossover, the RAV4 Prime, is the second-fastest vehicle it sells, bested only by its Supra sports car. BMW has more EVs and plug-in hybrid models than any other car company. Volvo created an entirely new brand—Polestar—just for its EVs.
Even the pickup truck—the symbol of hard-working America, of muscle and grunt and bellowing exhaust pipes—is enrolling in the EV camp.
There are at least eight battery-electric pickup trucks slated to hit the U.S. market in the next two years. That includes the GMC Hummer and Chevrolet Silverado from General Motors, the Ford F-150, an electric pickup from Ram and Tesla’s much-hyped Cybertruck. Other models are coming from startups including Rivian, Bollinger Motors and Lordstown Motors.
Electric Vehicles on the Horizon
Pledges are easy to make and harder to keep, but number of automakers have said they will stop making internal combustion models. (Some hedge by saying they won’t introduce any more new combustion-engine cars.) Two of the world’s largest automakers say they see nothing but electric cars and trucks in their future, Volkswagen by 2030 and Toyota by 2040.
Also on the electric-only bandwagon: Jaguar, which said 2025 will see its last new internal combustion model; Ford’s European division will build only EVs and PHEVs after 2026; Bentley, Volvo and Mini all vowed 2030 cutoff dates; General Motors and Audi both set 2035 goals and Mercedes-Benz is eyeing 2040.
Most other automakers say EVs and PHEVs, to a lesser extent, will be an important part of their lineups moving forward.
To add pressure, California last year adopted a state goal of banning the sale of new internal combustion vehicles after 2035. Four other states—Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington—followed suit, although with later deadlines ranging from 2030 to 2050.
There’s still a long way to go. EVs and PHEVs today account for only about 2% of the annual new car market. Even if every new car and light truck made after 2040 were electric, it takes an average of 14 years to turn over the fleet, making 2055 the year when the bulk of the nation’s gas-powered vehicles are primarily consigned to junkyards and recycling plants.
The Biden Administration has pitched a $174 billion plan to promote, develop and help pay for EVs and a charging infrastructure and has set a federal goal of making the U.S. a carbon-neutral nation by 2050. It’s part of the $2 trillion infrastructure package that also would invest $300 billion on bridges and roads, road safety, public transit and railways
Add to that the host of major automakers voicing intent to build nothing but EVs by then, as well as the many Asian and European governments and U.S. states, declaring war on vehicle noise and emissions, and it’s not difficult to see a future of electrified transportation.
One big boost has been battery technology advances that industry insiders say have increased reliability and boosted energy density so that capacity relative to pack size has been doubling every four years.
That’s why while the first EVs couldn’t deliver even 100 miles per charge, and new models such as the just-announced Mercedes-Benz EQS are topping 400 miles. Battery packs of 80 to 100 kilowatt-hours are becoming common while the first EV struggled to top 40 kWh in a battery package compact enough to fit on the car.