Call it Team EV.
And everyone is on it – or should be, if the impending electric-vehicle trend is to take off like some people predict.
So says Julia Rege, vice president-energy and environment at the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing 40 automakers and suppliers.
The effort to make EVs mainstream in coming years “is a team sport” that includes automakers, suppliers, government and consumers, she says at the Center for Automotive Research’s 2021 Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI.
For consumers to buy EVs in large volumes – something that isn’t happening now – will require “affordability, equity and convenience,” Rege says. “We need everyone at the table working together.”
The auto industry is committed to reducing tailpipe carbon emissions to zero, or something close to it, she says during a conference panel discussion. EVs advance that environmentally friendly goal.
But in a way, there’s no such thing as an absolutely zero-emission vehicle, says co-panelist Brian Daugherty, chief technology officer for the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Assn. that primarily represents suppliers.
“I love EVs,” he says, praising in particular their instant power delivery partly because of the absence of torque converters. “But don’t get caught up with the term zero emissions.”
His rationale is that although an EV itself may emit no harmful emissions, the creation of electricity to propel the vehicle does produce carbon emissions, especially if a power plant burns coal.
Panelist William Charmley, an Environmental Protection Agency director, says the federal regulator is on that case. “We look at upstream emissions all the time.”
That’s not the case in China, where coal-burning plants situated in outlying areas produce electricity for EV use in cities to abate that country’s serious urban air-quality problems, Daugherty says.
In the U.S., “the EV trend is “a tremendous opportunity for our country,” Charmley says. “We need products that excite consumers. It’s a massive transformation. We’re at a unique time in history.”
Rege’s organization advocates a “comprehensive plan” that takes current marketing realities into consideration and advocates ongoing innovation investments in conventional internal-combustion engines.
The auto industry is expected to offer 130 to 140 EV models by 2025. Currently, EV sales are about 2% of the U.S. market. (California leads with 8%.) Conventional wisdom is that EV market share will increase as new and improved versions debut.
“But if 20% of vehicle sales are EVs, and there are 140 models, it is tough to make money,” Daugherty says.
Rege calls for policies to ensure EV success. That includes building consumer interest, “making sure we have the right funding for charging infrastructure and also incentives, so the market comes along as these vehicles roll out.”
She speaks of the EV trend as “radicalizing vehicles.”
Rebutting that somewhat is Chris Nevers, senior director-policy at Rivian, a startup EV maker that plans to introduce its first model in September.
“They are still vehicles,” he says, responding to Rege. “I’d say they are radically better, certainly for the environment. It’s only getting better.”
CAR’s annual MBS conference (which was canceled last year because of COVID) is at the Grand Traverse Resort, a 585-room facility with several EV chargers in the main parking lot. In past years, the chargers went largely unused. This year, CAR’s Brett Smith announces to attendees, “If you have an EV, please remove it from the charging area if it’s charged. Other people are waiting.”
Steve Finlay is a retired WardsAuto senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].