Electric Cars Will Revolutionize Politics, Too

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.


Electric vehicles (EVs) are poised to have a major influence on the automotive market in the near-term future. We’re talking about pure electric vehicles, not stop-gap gasoline-battery “hybrids.” Like any paradigm-shifting technology, electric cars have started out with significant shortcomings. To date, they have been marked by exorbitantly high selling prices and driving ranges that are too short to be viable for daily, carefree use. But this is changing for the better, quite rapidly. Driven by the potential of huge market demand, R&D has dropped battery pricing very quickly and driving range is increasing to a point where EVs will soon be a workable alternative to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

In the opinion of many, the range needed for electric cars to be accepted by Joe/Jill Average Consumer without undue driving range anxiety is 350-400 miles. That’s a full work week’s driving with some safety margin built in, assuming an average 25-mile each way commute. That comes to 50 mi/day x 5 days = 250 miles. If you’re stuck in traffic because of an accident or unplanned construction, you still have 100-150 miles of ‘idle time’ safety margin. Looking at it another way, the drive from Boston to NYC is about 225 miles and LA to Las Vegas is about 260 miles, so a 350-400 mile range is just fine.

Electric cars are getting really close. This recent article (Aug 2017) from Ward’s Automotive

thinks by 2022, in about 5 very short years, they will be fully viable. Let’s paint that as overly optimistic and say 10 years. That’s still essentially immediate. We all remember ten short years ago—2007—like it was yesterday.

In the near term, the uncertainty/incompleteness of a nationwide charging station infrastructure will limit EV use to around town/commuter use, and restrict their use for cross-country treks and inter-state car-based vacations. In the early stages of widespread EV market penetration, it’s likely that two-car households will have one EV for short-range trips (where at-home, overnight recharging is possible) and one ICE vehicle for longer-range trips where the absolutely certain availability of remote refueling is a requirement.

For anyone under 65 or so, there’s a very good chance they will own an EV in their lifetime. For people simply going to work, an EV would be fine. They’d drive it every day and recharge it at home overnight one night a week. The idea of a remote “charging station” wouldn’t even enter the picture for them—and I suspect that’s the way a lot of people would use EVs early on.

Other than the inability of the Liberal/Green sect to be emotionally/intellectually capable of taking “yes” for an answer (reducing the oil companies’ stranglehold on their current dominant energy-providing position will rob the Green lobby of their most prized bogeyman), there is not really any net downside to anyone to the EV revolution. It’s not a perfect solution, but the prospects are quite good for a very solid Won-Lost record in upcoming seasons. Far more upside than down.

While there can be no disagreement that ICE cars are getting remarkably clean and efficient (the 2018 Accord—a full-sized, 5-passenger car—gets the remarkable mileage of 30/38 city/hwy and accelerates 0-60 in around 7 seconds!), the emotional/political tide of the younger buying generations is against them, and the thrust of that tide is inexorable. Much like scenario where the early flat-screen TVs had pictures that were inferior to the day’s best CRTs, the flat-screens took over anyway. The emotional pivot-point for EVs has been reached and the days of the 100% market dominance of the ICE are numbered.

Although much attention and publicity has been showered on the flamboyant, attention-seeking CEO/Founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, “Tesla” as a company is simply not part of this calculus. They’ve assumed the lead role and paved the way in people’s minds to the realistic possibility of actually owning an EV, and that’s a worthy contribution, but focusing on one man or one company misses the forest for the trees. Tesla’s eventual profitability or total demise is a minor aspect–very minor–of this story.

This is the story: EVs—from whatever sources—are coming in big numbers. Will it be 2022 like Ward’s says? 2030? 2040? Who knows. But with their lower maintenance and the fewer moving parts of electric drive vs. internal combustion engines, EVs are particularly well-suited to the coming expansion of driverless car-for-hire fleets, when individual car ownership is no longer the accepted business model that it is today. Make no mistake—a large, fancy, status-laden car or SUV is not the material goal for Millennials that it was for Baby Boomers and to a somewhat lesser—but still meaningful—degree for Gen X-ers. Today’s 27-year-old simply has other material/social things on their mind besides a Cadillac XTS or a BMW 7 Series. For many Millennials, a car is simply a “transportation appliance,” carrying no more emotional or egotistical importance to them than a lightbulb. It simply does a job they need done, whether that job is providing light or getting from Point A to Point B.

The flat screen TV vs. CRT analogy is essentially spot-on accurate. EVs may not be as “good” yet as ICE cars—just as early flat screens weren’t as good as CRTs—but the genie is out of the bottle and people will want a car free of petro-politics and petro-pollution. The supposed advantages of EVs in the consumer’s mind (whether totally accurate at this point or not) are just too appealing and therefore, the market is headed electric.

Here’s the political impact that EVs will have: When EVs become a significant portion of the on-the-road fleet, oil will be displaced as a primary land-based transportation fuel. OPEC will not be anything close to being as major a factor on the world stage as they are today, from either an economic or political standpoint. There will not be anywhere near as many millions of polluting ICE cars on the road. “Warming” will cease to be a dominant, divisive issue since car-produced CO2 pollution will decline precipitously. Foreign policy based on oil and access to foreign-held oil reserves will end. “Drilling” and “spills” as political/economic/environmental wedge issues will disappear.

The EV vs. ICE analysis is a complex subject, with emotions, false perceptions, and the Government’s thumb on the scale (in favor of EVs to the detriment of oil-based transportation) all playing a part.  But once there is widespread EV market penetration, be that in 5, 10, or 30+ years, the social/political issues of climate change, foreign policy strategy and alliances, environmental stewardship, and social/economic buying patterns/marketing/ownership will change in a big way. Forever.