The common belief that the simpler design of EVs and fewer mechanical parts would prove a detriment to car service providers is slowly changing course. There may not be an oil change but software- and hardware-related issues, along with an array of recalls, have shown EVs will be making repeated stops in the service department.
That’s why CDK Global reached out to dealership and service department leaders across the country and brands that sell EVs to find out where they stand today and what they think of the future. If nothing else, the EV Service: Today and Tomorrow study suggests that the current service model is unlikely to radically change for years to come.
When you look at EV sales and service, there are a lot of conflicting numbers out there. There are two important facts, though, that overshadow the entire conversation that need to be addressed head-on and then simply put aside. Essentially, half of all EVs sold today are Teslas. And half of all EVs, Tesla or not, are sold in California.
These giant figures are why you hear such different attitudes about EVs from traditional automakers and, of course, their franchised dealer networks. Overall, EV sales may be up by 50 percent in 2023 but to a dealer in the Midwest or Southeast, they may be staring at slow-moving inventory and sales in the single digits.
Just 2.5 percent of new car sales at franchise dealers nationwide are EVs. Not surprisingly, 2.4 percent of all repair orders at dealership service departments are for EVs. These numbers may rise as 2023 comes to a close, but it’ll still be far lower than any national number that’s being reported, which includes Tesla sales and, of course, California.
Yet, every respondent in CDK’s survey said they’ve already begun servicing EVs or will within the next two years, and 99 percent said they have at least a portion of their staff trained on EVs. Nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) has charging stations on site and 64 percent of those respondents have more than one charging station in the service department. The next time you see a story that claims dealers aren’t prepared for EVs, please keep this in mind.
The single finding that I come back to in our study is that dealers are somewhat pessimistic about EVs in the service lane but not about how much money they’ll make. Only 42 percent of service leaders feel positive about the future of EVs. There’s no sugar coating that.
But when you ask this same group where they see revenue going in the next two years, four out of five see both total revenue (79 percent) and EV revenue (78 percent) increasing.
Much of this is likely due to warranty work, which has always been profitable for dealers, but the latest wave of EVs have proven to require a bit more than most anticipated. Indeed, 89 percent of the service leaders CDK surveyed expect EV warranty volume to increase in the next two years.
Two of the primary reasons people choose a dealer over an independent mechanic or chain for service is for the factory-trained technicians and OEM-supplied parts.
When you look at the EVs from traditional OEMs today, and in the next few years, there are few, if any, options for service outside of a dealership.
Service retention falls quickly when a new car ages out of its warranty, but for EVs that may not be the case. And in many areas across the country, there simply won’t be another option for many years. That could be why 77 percent of service leaders said they expect retention to remain the same or increase for EVs.
Now, will independent shops eventually be able to invest in the advanced equipment, additional lifts, safety gear, and training that dealers already have to fix EVs? Yes. But this is one area where traditional dealers have a leg up on the competition, and they need to ensure they prove their value during this transitional moment.
Service departments will focus more on tire maintenance with the demise of oil changes to keep customers coming in and many respondents agreed on their importance. And while there are fewer moving parts in an EV, there’s more technology that’ll require skilled labor to address. Not everything will be solved by an over-the-air update.
EVs will need service and maintenance, and the infrastructure for it is already in place at the dealership.
David Thomas is Director of Content Marketing at CDK Global, a leading provider of cloud-based software to dealerships and original equipment manufacturers across automotive and related industries.
Just over three years ago, when California’s Governor announced an executive order allowing only zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) to be sold in the state, most media (and probably the governor, regulators, and supporters of the rule) understood “ZEV” to mean battery electric vehicles (BEVs) only.
Although the final rule included plug-in hybrids and hydrogen vehicles, we theorized a standard hybrid, with an internal combustion engine (ICE) powered by E85 could have emissions similar to BEVs. When total lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were tallied, as well as carbon intensity (CI) scoring correctly reflecting CI reductions being achieved by farmers and ethanol producers, a standard hybrid flex-fuel vehicle (FFV) can be a ZEV long before any EV.
The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) began testing our theory 10 months after the California executive order, using a hybrid vehicle the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) identifies as midsized, to avoid naysayers dismissing the results as coming from a specialty vehicle or tiny clown car that would get good mileage on any fuel. We also wanted a vehicle similar in size to the best-selling BEV on the market, the Tesla Model 3 Long Range. We bought a 2019 Ford Fusion Hybrid in July 2021 for $30k to $50k less than the most popular new EVs of the day, and before converting it to the Hybrid Electric Flex-Fuel Vehicle we call “HEFF.”
We filled it with regular gasoline and drove 3,688 miles to establish a real-world regular gasoline use baseline, rather than having to compare our real-world results with fictional best case showroom sticker miles-per-gallon (mpg) and EPA’s emissions estimates based on that mileage. EPA pegged our car at 42 mpg on regular, with lifecycle GHG of 255 grams per mile (g/m). While that’s much better than the 25 mpg and 429 g/m of the non-hybrid Fusion, our pre-transition Fusion hybrid results were just over 34 mpg and around 310 g/m. We also adjusted the “regular gas” number we use for comparison using generally accepted mileage differentials for cold weather, and have periodically run tanks of regular gasoline to recalibrate for winter temps, vehicle age, and battery capacity changes during the demonstration project.
Those results are used to estimate regular gasoline consumption and also when we record flex-fuel purchases, cost, and odometer reading with each fill. We record current regular gas price along with the baseline mileage to make a cost comparison. Although our goal is to demonstrate the low CI capability of a hybrid FFV and durability of a standard engine using flex-fuel, we track fuel expenditures because we know critics will always ask about mileage and cost.
Once we calculate real mileage and CI, we compare the results to the Tesla mentioned above, and depending on where you plug in, EPA estimates the 2019 Tesla 3 Long Range emits 80 to 200 g/m lifecycle GHGs, with a national average of 111, assuming a range of 310 miles per charge. However, unscientific anecdotal Tesla Uber driver estimates told us the actual range is from 225 to 240 miles, and Car and Driver’s more scientific 40,000-mile test confirmed the drivers’ reports, saying the 2019 Tesla 3 Long Range got 80 miles less than the expected 310 miles per charge. Changing Tesla’s range to 230 miles increases its real CO2 number to 110 to 270 g/m in different markets, and boosts the U.S. average to 150 g/m.
Our baseline mpg-establishing journey ended in San Diego in August of 2021, where Pearson Fuels, the nation’s largest E85 distributor, arranged to transform the Fusion to HEFF with an eFlexFuel Plus conversion kit. The app that communicates with the flex-fuel converter provides actual ethanol content of the flex-fuel purchased, since flex-fuel can have 51 to 85 percent ethanol. Since the amount of carbon in gasoline and ethanol is different, we need the breakdown to calculate how many grams of carbon are being burned, and we divide that number by miles traveled to get our CI. We also use the ethanol and gasoline content to calculate BTU content of whatever fuel is in the tank to compare the mileage one should expect given that energy content with actual mileage to judge the effectiveness of the conversion kit.
Recording price, miles and ethanol content of every fuel purchase, and calculating E10 use and cost, after two years and three months and almost 30,000 miles on flex-fuel averaging 72 percent ethanol, produced average lifecycle GHGs of 205 g/m CO2 at 26.2 miles per gallon – not much higher than real Tesla average numbers, and lower than a Tesla 3 in many parts of the country. We calculated regular gas mpg at 32.7, which would’ve emitted 375 g/m CO2. And HEFF (Hybrid Electric Flex-Fuel) chugged 1,135 gallons of E72 versus a calculated 906 gallons regular, but the E72 cost $2,942, compared to $3,183 for gas.
We have been able to calculate some other interesting numbers based on our test results so far. Had we been able to use true E85 – 83 percent ethanol – throughout the test, our emissions number would drop to 181 g/m, and further to 113 g/m if the ethanol was CARB-approved low-CI corn fiber ethanol. Blending low-CI ethanol with renewable naphtha would provide a CI of 71 g/m in our converted Ford Fusion Hybrid – lower than the same size Tesla could achieve plugged in anywhere in the U.S. All the flex-fuel blends just mentioned are real; they have been or are being sold today.
And although the flex-fuel hybrid – even a converted flex-fuel hybrid – is capable of achieving such results, a fact recognized by Toyota and Volkswagen and being put into use in the 2024 model year in Brazil, fuel regulations being adopted in the U.S. simply refuse to acknowledge that reality. Ethanol has been responsible for nearly all the air quality improvements seen in the U.S. in the past 20 years, and its ability to reduce carbon intensity is a proven fact. But people who claim to be interested in reducing carbon pollution are enacting regulations that increase the use of electricity that is still 60 percent fossil fuel generated, over plant-based fuels like ethanol, based on what they hope and believe will be done to make electricity cleaner over the next few decades. They use buzz-phrases like “extending the life of petroleum fuels” and “false climate solution” to avoid dealing with real numbers. Projections of cleaner electricity are assumed to be facts, and scientific facts of cleaner ethanol production are ignored.
The inclusion of plug-in hybrids and hydrogen vehicles in CARB’s final Advanced Clean Cars II rule provides a sliver of hope that regulators will eventually be as concerned about actually reducing CO2 emissions as they are enforcing the electric car solution they prefer and believe in. If environmentalists and regulators are truly interested in reducing carbon emissions, solutions are available today. HEFF is proof. But if you can’t trust HEFF, ask Brazil. Or Toyota. Or Volkswagen.
Ron Lamberty is the chief marketing officer of the American Coalition for Ethanol.
It is surprising to many people in the United States that globally, propane autogas vehicles exceed the number of battery electric and natural gas vehicles on the road. In addition, the emergence of renewable propane is expected to dramatically increase the number of autogas vehicles operating in the U.S. – currently estimated at 150,000 vehicles – due to its low carbon intensity and cost-effectiveness.
Propane is for much more than your outdoor grill. There are more than 4,000 uses of propane for homes, businesses, and industrial applications, including in the U.S. transportation sector. The Carbon Intensity (CI) of traditional propane is 79.6, less than gasoline, which is currently at 90. Today renewable propane produced in the United States has a CI score of 18-20. In the next five years, innovations such as GTI Energy’s new Cool LPG technology will increase the production of renewable propane globally.
In 2022, rLPG North America formed to bring an increasing amount of renewable propane to the U.S. market in partnership with BioLPG, LLC. Their goal is to utilize GTI Energy’s Cool LPG technology to effectuate the widespread potential of renewably sourced propane. Currently, most renewable propane comes from the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and renewable diesel. Renewable propane is a co-product of these fuels, which are derived from organic waste such as plant oils, beef tallow, and waste oils.
GTI Energy’s Cool LPG technology was recently recognized at the World LPG Global Science Conference as the technology with the most promise and potential to decarbonize propane and create a legitimate path to zero carbon emissions. Cool LPG technology converts biogas, or bio-syngas, into renewably sourced propane. Cool LPG will expand the number of feedstocks that can be used to produce more renewable propane, as it is agnostic to the feedstock source. This includes landfill waste, livestock and animal waste, food waste, and other sources of biogas. It is estimated that renewable propane derived from the Cool LPG process will have a CI score as low as (-)75 when produced from landfill waste and a score of (-)200 when utilizing dairy and animal waste. This means a blend of renewable propane and traditional propane could be used to provide a zero-carbon solution for small to large commercial fleets and consumers.
Nationally, the average CI score of the electric grid is 165. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) has garnered widespread government support and publicity, but it will be decades before the electric grid can accomplish a CI score equivalent to innovative transportation fuels such as renewable natural gas (RNG) and renewable propane. Companies and consumers who want to make a positive impact today have options. RNG provides a good option for Class 8 trucks and vehicles, while renewable propane autogas is ideal for Class 2 through 7 vehicles.
Over the past 15 years, operating a vehicle on propane autogas has averaged fuel costs 35 percent less than gasoline. Small and large commercial fleets can make a positive impact on emissions while also saving money – a rare feature for companies striving to meet their decarbonization and sustainability goals without extraordinary costs.
Renewable propane and traditional propane can be 100 percent produced in the U.S. In fact, more than 24 billion gallons of traditional propane are exported out of the United States. These exports could fuel more than 6 million commercial vehicles or 12 million consumer vehicles on an annual basis. Between today and 2035, it is projected that as much as 2 billion gallons of renewable propane can be produced in the U.S., enhancing the availability of a low-carbon transportation fuel that can make an immediate impact.
Why are propane autogas and RNG not more widely used as transportation fuels in the United States as they are in the rest of the world? Good question. The status quo and resistance to change are part of the reason. The other reason often cited is no longer valid – lack of viable technology. Today, there is vehicle technology to operate fleets efficiently and reliably on autogas or RNG. Companies such as Alliance AutoGas have more than 1,800 EPA-certified vehicle platforms available to businesses and consumers. Renewable propane will be compatible with current propane technology, so the question for consumers now is, why wait for renewable when we can be prepared for a clean, efficient technology right now?
Stuart Weidie is president and CEO of Blossman Gas, Inc. He also serves as president of the nationwide alternative fuels and equipment network Alliance AutoGas and is founder of the industry coalition AutoGas for America.
The propulsion challenges facing society are complex and multi-dimensional. Decarbonization is at the core of these challenges and, unfortunately, there is no singular fuel type or technology solution to solve them all. Regardless, the transportation segment requires decarbonization – and it requires it yesterday. This truth and its aggressive timetable are why the internal combustion engine is part of the larger solution to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions to address climate change trends.
Regulating tailpipe carbon will not solve the problem of carbon dioxide alone. Reducing the carbon intensity of electric grids will take time. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are great solutions for certain applications, but also need time to reach critical mass. In the meantime, we continue to rely on liquid fuels for combustion engines in conventional vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids for many on- and off-road applications. Therefore, low-carbon intensity fuels in conjunction with powertrain electrification/hybridization is needed.
Hybridization and low-lifecycle carbon intensity fuels can work together to contribute to a low-net carbon future. The internal combustion engine is ready to use low- and zero- carbon fuels to quickly move down sustainable fuels pathways, power hybrids, and enable more rapid vehicle electrification.
Any decarbonization strategy needs to utilize longer-term low carbon fuels / renewable fuels. The immediate impact of drop-in alternative fuels on legacy vehicle fleets is too great to be dismissed, especially with an existing delivery infrastructure. Industry and legislators alike need to realize it is not always about net zero. Having low-carbon content across a broad scale has a significant decarbonization impact across all transportation sectors. Low-carbon fuels offer decarbonization benefits today as we prepare for the future.
Stanadyne, a leading global fuel and air management systems supplier, is continuing to develop engine innovations enabling the efficient and economic use of low-carbon and future fuels. This continued investment is necessary, as future fuels are propulsion technology drivers with fuel system challenges still needing solutions. As we head down low-carbon fuel pathways, some fuels are thermodynamically challenging with their lower heating values. This and other characteristics make them challenging to use. Their lubricity and viscosity also can be issues, which affect engine start-stop functions and maintaining high fuel delivery pressures for cleaner combustion.
Consumers, vehicle manufacturers, and propulsion systems providers want diesel performance and total cost of ownership, but with a low-carbon fuel without the shortcomings, difficulties, and reduced range. There is a growing impatience for fuel delivery solutions to be developed. Automakers have stated a need for “hyper-collaboration” with suppliers to develop and implement clean propulsion options to meet state and federal legislation.
There are many technology pathways to achieve low- and net-zero carbon emissions. However, hybrid powertrains powered by low-carbon intensity fuels are one of the fastest tracks to decarbonization development and deployment. Alcohol, hydrogen, propane, compressed natural gas, dimethyl ether (DME) and other sustainable low-carbon intensity fuels can energize these small displacement, high-energy output, high speed engines. High-pressure fuel delivery systems operating at twice the flow help overcome alternative fuels’ low energy content. Many systems already can handle biodiesel and other drop-in renewable fuels currently available in the market.
Powertrain and fuel system innovation are key to a sustainable future. Stanadyne is accelerating engine innovation with its growing portfolio of renewable and future fuel complaint products. Our breakthrough direct injection liquid propane system, hydrogen direct injection design platform, and high-pressure direct injection pump and injector advancements are driving internal combustion engine decarbonization.
A low-carbon approach isn’t exclusive to fuels. Stanadyne takes a lifecycle approach by designing products for remanufacturing to support a circular internal combustion engine economy. More than two decades of remanufacturing expertise at scale and quality has kept 15 million pounds of waste out of landfills.
Advanced internal combustion technology will continue to be a dominant part of the fuel and technology mix for decades to come. New engine designs and fuels, like hydrogen and e-fuels, will drive decarbonization. As zero emission technologies continue to emerge, expect a world where engine technologies and fuels compete, complement, and co-exist.
Michael Hornby is Global Vice President of Product Engineering at Stanadyne
Though the amount of public charging stations across the country has grown sharply over the past year – increasing more in 2022 than in the prior three years combined – driver satisfaction with charging infrastructure has dropped significantly over the same time period. From long wait times to high costs, there are many hurdles that must be overcome to accelerate widespread EV adoption.
Specifically, as the EV market has grown, it’s become increasingly fragmented and, as a result, difficult to navigate. With its wide range of stakeholders with distinct business needs to the increasing variety of charging hardware that runs on differing software, a lack of compatibility across the ecosystem often leaves drivers unsure where they can reliably charge their vehicles – what has come to be known as “EV range anxiety” – or having to toggle between multiple applications just to refuel.
We can overcome much of these frustrations by improving interoperability and roaming capabilities throughout charging infrastructure. The concept of EV roaming, also referred to as eRoaming, opens customer access to an almost endless number of chargers. Similar to the use of roaming on a cellular network, eRoaming allows drivers to charge at another service provider’s charging station and have the charging transaction integrated with their normal method of payment. We’ve seen the success of eRoaming in supporting tremendous EV growth throughout Europe – where roaming has been the norm in countries like the Netherlands and Norway for the past decade – and it’s time we did the same in the U.S.
However, delivering EV roaming is an incredibly complex process, involving negotiated service and clearing agreements, comprehensive communications standards, various protocols, and support of multiple languages, currencies, tax rates, and regulations. Its successful deployment depends on eMobility providers (eMSPs) and charge point operators (CPOs) – traditionally separate players in the e-Mobility ecosystem – working together to share their capabilities through either a peer-to-peer Open Charge Point Interface (OCPI) protocol or leveraging a roaming hub, such as Hubject, GIREVE, or e-clearing.net.
What’s more, to enable true interoperability, EV charging management platforms must be compatible with all roaming hubs and support OCPI-based roaming, providing a scalable, live, and automated EV roaming setup between eMSPs and CPOs. At EVolve, a subsidiary of Vontier Corporation, our integrated smart energy management platform allows us to manage hundreds of thousands of EV chargers on roaming networks. From customer-facing tools that streamline the eRoaming experience for drivers to back-end technology that authorizes charging sessions, reconciles transitions between CPOs and eMSPs, and shares charge point data, our platform equips EV charging networks, OEMs, and other e-Mobility partners with a backward-compatible solution to easily deliver eRoaming and create a more reliable and convenient EV charging experience for customers.
Although a complicated landscape, what’s clear is that achieving widespread eRoaming will take the investment, collaboration, and cooperation of the entire industry. And despite differing business needs, this is an issue that all e-Mobility players stand to benefit from. Not only is improving roaming capabilities key to unleashing the true power of electrification – elevating outcomes for all corners of the ecosystem – but it will bring increased use to the charging points of CPOs and foster further brand recognition and loyalty for eMSPs, creating greater streams of revenue for both.
As we consider our goals for the years to come across the EV ecosystem, let’s all prioritize working together to enable eRoaming and increase interoperability to realize the full potential of the EV transformation.
Andrew Bennett is the CEO of EVolve, a Vontier company
In June, the CEO of German manufacturer MAN Truck & Bus SE (MAN), Alexander Vlaskamp, told Austrian Newspaper Der Standard that:“E-mobility is coming now. The technology is mature and most efficient. In our estimation 80 or even 90 percent of logistics trucks will be electrically powered…If hydrogen is to be used, it must be green. And we see today that hydrogen is far too expensive (and) therefore, hydrogen will only be used in a small segment in Europe, such as for special transport.”
I became aware of this pronouncement through a friend in the U.S. trucking industry, who attached the article to an e-mail, saying, “So, hydrogen is dead!” Even as someone who has never been afraid to hold strong opinions on technology, I remember reading my friend's e-mail and thinking, “Well, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it?” Then I took some time to read Mr. Vlaskamp’s full interview and, in fairness, what he said is nuanced. He is not saying all hydrogen is too expensive or that the technology doesn’t work. He is simply pointing out that the cost of ‘green’ hydrogen as a fuel is too high for his customers to do their business.
Fair enough, Vlaskamp knows his customers, and trucking has and will always be a bottom-line driven industry. However, he goes on to state that there is already enough electricity in Austria to deal with the trucking fleet transition, and that to support the 30 percent of trucks in Europe going electric by 2030, 20,000 fast-charging stations will be needed, at a cost of several billion euros! This is where he loses me and quite a few others, as we will see below.
Here in the U.S., as the battle over the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation spills over into Congress, companies and truckers are faced with impossible choices. Do they wait to see if the bills introduced by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA) in the House of Representatives and/or Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) in the Senate, forestall CARB’s rule, or do they start to plan for the zero-emission future now? They haven’t got much time to figure it out; CARB’s rule goes into effect for the first trucks in 2024. One thing is certain: Europe’s second-largest truck manufacturer muddying the waters regarding technology choices won’t help anyone! To try and make sense of whether hydrogen is an option for U.S. trucking, I decided to talk to three experts in the field.
Dr. Tim Lipman is an energy and environmental technology, economics, policy researcher and lecturer with the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on electric-drive vehicles, fuel-cell technology, combined heat and power systems, biofuels, renewable energy, and hydrogen-energy systems infrastructure. When I spoke to Tim about the MAN CEO’s thoughts on hydrogen and electric trucks, he had this to say: “Batteries can’t do it all, that is for certain, and I think everyone is underestimating the level of effort needed to get the grid ready for transportation electrification.” He pointed to the fact that fast-charging infrastructure for trucks might require megawatts of power, and whether that power is drawn directly from the grid or from on-site battery storage, it will not be cheap. He also stated that the engineering and technology challenges for charging sites could be significant, given the geographic locations of California’s truck parking sites relative to the grid, the anticipated load growth from truck charging, and the capacity of certain electrical feeder lines. Tim believes these challenges and their costs have already made several public bus fleets (subject to a separate CARB zero- emission rule) reverse course on battery-electric buses in favor of hydrogen fuel cell electric buses.
On the costs of hydrogen, currently retailing somewhere between $16 to $36 per kg, Dr. Lipman was very clear that it is too high. He points to the war in Ukraine, and the entry of California refiners into the low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) credits program, as being significant contributors to the current cost issue. The Ukraine war has caused the costs of natural gas, a raw material for the steam reformation of hydrogen, to rise sharply; and the conversion of some California refineries to renewable fuels has halved the payments available for LCSF credits from CARB for the sale of hydrogen. However, he believes that the recent announcement of $7 billion in federal grant funding to establish regional clean hydrogen hubs in 16 states will have a big impact on driving down costs. Because of his involvement in California’s successful application to the U.S. Department of Energy for one of these hubs, Tim was reluctant to give his thoughts on how much hydrogen could retail for, simply saying that the hubs will make hydrogen a lot cheaper.
Finally, Tim took some time to explore the comments on ‘green’ hydrogen by MAN’s CEO, noting that it might be more helpful to look at the fuel’s production and carbon intensity. Tim explained that the term ‘green’ hydrogen means production of the gas from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity. This pathway is preferred by many in the environmental movement, as it dispenses with the steam reformation of methane completely. Hydrogen from any form of methane is viewed by some as a bait and switch strategy by a fossil fuels industry, the currently leading producer of U.S. hydrogen, seeking to extend the use of natural gas.
However, Tim pointed out that other production methods, such as the steam reformation of bio-gas (i.e. methane created from animal manure or wastewater bio-digestors) could be less carbon intensive than ‘green’ hydrogen. This is due to the fact that the releasing of bio-gas directly to the atmosphere has a much more detrimental impact on climate than converting it to hydrogen. Therefore, if we look to carbon intensity and climate impacts as our north star (and don’t get hung up on the hydrogen color wheel), investing in these other low-carbon production methods could increase hydrogen supply and bring down costs significantly. This certainly would change the economics of the fuel dramatically for Mr. Vlaskamp and his customers.
I also spoke with Dr. Matt Miyasato, Vice President of Strategic Growth and Government Affairs for FirstElement Fuel, the largest retailer of hydrogen fuel stations in the world. Prior to joining FirstElement Fuel, Matt served as Deputy Executive Officer and Chief Technologist at the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Matt was taken aback by the MAN CEO’s comments, stating: “This is really premature! There is no silver bullet, and we are going to need all the solutions.” Matt went on to say that electricity is a great solution for fleets traveling shorter routes (up to 40 miles), with fixed hubs that are well supplied with electricity and a duty cycle that allows for overnight charging. However, he too cautioned regarding the ability to install the charging infrastructure, even in the best of circumstances. He expressed concern with the existing grid infrastructure, the possible need for battery banks to charge multiple vehicles, the huge amount of electricity needed, and the rate at which vehicles can charge. In fact, Dr. Miyasato’s main objection to Mr. Vlaskamp’s comments was that they totally discounted the needs of many drivers and fleets. For some truckers, the time required to recharge batteries is simply not practical or cost effective. Time is money in the trucking business, and extensive wait times to recharge trucks won’t cut it.
That’s not to say that the hydrogen infrastructure is perfect. Matt did own up to issues related to the cost of the fuel and the ability to permit, roll out, and maintain stations. However, he also noted that no one had yet built an electrical retail infrastructure for long-distance truck routes (those over 200 miles), whereas his company planned to launch their first truck fueling station in Oakland, California, in December 2023. He said, “With what we know today about costs and engineering, it would be very short-sighted to write off any technology path at this point.”
Finally, I spoke with Jaimie Levin, Director of West Coast Operations and Senior Managing Consultant for the Atlanta-based Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE). Jaimie previously worked as Director of Environmental Technology at the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) where he oversaw the alternative fuels deployment program. He currently heads up the NorCAL ZERO advanced technology demonstration project, which is bringing 30 Hyundai Xcient fuel cell electric trucks into service at the Port of Oakland in northern California. These Class 8 vehicles have a range of between 400 and 500 miles and a payload capacity of 39,000 lbs. This project is in the road trials phase, with 10 trucks currently deployed hauling steel from the port to California’s Central Valley.
Jaimie stated that the current crop of Class 8 battery-electric trucks, while working fine in the hub model described by Dr. Miyasato, were “really working against what truckers need.” He cited four critical factors for truckers – range, payload capacity, fueling speed, and resiliency. On range, Jaimie states that trucks with variable routes can’t have limits. They need to be able to do whatever route and distance are required by a job. On payload, he cited the total weight limits on the California and national highway system as being a serious issue for battery-electric trucks. The weight of current battery trucks that can travel 250 miles could be as much as 2,000 lbs. more than their diesel counterparts. In an industry where payload is ‘the’ thing, that would reduce carrying capacity and profit. On fueling speed, Jaimie stated that truckers can’t wait around for an hour for their rig to charge up. Costs and deadlines simply won’t allow it. Lastly, on resiliency, he talked about the strain put on California’s grid in the last few years by wildfires, extreme heat, and public safety power shutoff events. He notes that in trucking, you can’t have uncertainty on whether you can refuel your vehicle or not. An excellent point, considering that 77 percent of California communities rely solely on trucking for the movement of their goods.On the cost of fuel, Jaimie reiterated that it needs to come down, citing the same factors previously noted, and hopes that the hydrogen hubs will impact prices. On the cost of the trucks themselves, he believes that the economies of scale will have a big impact on driving down the total cost of ownership, making them comparable to diesel, but agrees that the initial cost of the truck itself will remain high.
I have spent some time looking at the future of battery technology – including lighter weight and faster charging options - and I discussed this with all three experts. While they see the new offerings as solving some issues with current battery trucks, they believe that they do not move the needle on power availability and the cost of infrastructure to charge electric trucks.
Hydrogen is far from done in terms of being a fuel for heavy-duty trucks, but its cost needs to come down quickly! Also, issues with the electric infrastructure and the location of California’s truck parking will hinder the rollout of battery-electric vehicles. This means neither technology is perfect and neither meets the needs of every trucking duty cycle. So, rather than trying to pick the winner in this technology horse race, truckers will need to explore their options based on their own unique locations and business needs. This won’t be easy but eliminating technologies out of hand makes no sense at this point.
Damian Breen is the founder of Environmental Communication Strategies and former Deputy Executive Officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California.
Requiring 60+ percent of U.S. vehicles sales to be pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) by 2030 leapfrogged the administration’s own 2021 executive order that called for 50 percent electric vehicles – including plug-in hybrid and fuel cell EVs – by 2030. More on that below.
That 2021 executive order was a stretch goal (then and now), but the auto industry backed a 40-50 percent EV sales target – presuming the requisite public policies would also be in place.
When the companies that will build the millions of EVs required by these regulations say the pace and balance of EPA’s rules are out of whack – in fact, we told the agency those rules are “neither reasonable nor achievable in the timeframe provided" and opens the door to China – regulators and policymakers should believe them.
It’s not too late to course correct. Here are five ways for EPA to fix the proposed rule while supporting increased automotive electrification and carbon reduction.
1. Don’t write off plug-in hybrids and fuel cell EVs.
The current EPA rule calls for 37 percent of new light-duty cars and trucks to be BEVs by 2027 (and the aforementioned 60+ percent by 2030). Keep in mind, BEV sales were just under 6 percent in 2022.
But EPA’s proposal goes further and completely writes off plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). A 67 percent BEV-only approach by 2032 will unquestionably reduce consumer choice and push automakers to non-compliance with such unachievable requirements. The administration’s 50 percent executive order from 2021 included BEVs and PHEVs and fuel cell electric vehicles. Why take PHEV technology off the field?
2. Don't siphon finite resource from EVs to gas-powered vehicles.
EPA’s proposal also sets new rules for criteria pollutants from gas-powered vehicles that are already near zero emissions. A backpack leaf blower produces more ozone-forming pollution in one hour than driving an SUV for 6,000 miles.
But automakers support criteria pollution reductions, most recently in California where we developed a path to reduce particulate matter by 67 percent between 2025 and 2028. EPA should get behind those criteria pollution standards.
That said, EPA’s rule requires automakers to eke out some incremental improvements by installing expensive new technology on all internal combustion engines – a powertrain the administration wants to discourage (and California has already banned for new vehicles sales by 2035).
The point: automakers are investing massive amounts of capital in electrification, but every dollar invested (required to be invested, that is) in internal combustion technology is a dollar not spent on zero carbon technology. And vice versa.
3. Sync up EPA’s rules with yet-to-be-released Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.
A vehicle tailpipe is regulated by three federal agencies and four sets of regulations. One vehicle overseen by competing, overlapping (sometimes conflicting) rules that aren’t coordinated. It’s expensive and complex and frankly why the country and automakers need a single national standard to reduce carbon in transportation through a streamlined regulatory structure.
At the very least, if an automaker complies with EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rules, they shouldn’t be at risk of violating the Transportation Department’s coming CAFE rules and subject to significant civil penalties (that create no environmental benefit but do levy additional costs on consumers, workers, and manufacturers).
4. While you’re at it… sync up the rules and eliminate conflict with state standards too.
Let me revise that. A vehicle tailpipe is regulated by three federal agencies and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) using seven sets of regulations. EPA should get with CARB to ensure both programs are on the same wavelength and not creating unnecessary compliance burdens (that deliver no corresponding emissions reduction benefits).
5. Keep score (and keep track) of conditions outside the vehicle.
I’m a broken record about policies and conditions outside the vehicle, necessary for a successful EV transition: residential and public charging, critical mineral availability and grid capacity. EPA should develop a roadmap and methodically track this data so the country – and all sectors of the economy responsible for the transformation – can collectively assess progress.
EPA should release a public report taking stock of the overall EV market, the mineral and processing supply chain, and state of refueling and charging infrastructure. For example: How is the transition going? Is it meeting EPA’s milestones? If not, what’s the fix?
When I raise these points with policymakers, I hear: “Well, things have changed since 2021” and the 50 percent executive order. The implication: EPA’s higher EV targets make sense because EV sales continue to grow. We’re on the right path… they say.
I don’t see it that way, and most experts who’ve been building autos or studying the industry for any length of time don’t either. EPA’s proposal is an outlier when compared to the EV adoption models of S&P, Bloomberg, and other analysts. See this chart:
EPA is asking for a huge BEV ramp up in the next few years. On a graph, their model looks like a hockey stick. The pitch of that curve is most aggressive in the next few years when market conditions (consumer acceptance, supply chains, infrastructure) are most speculative.
The administration’s 50 percent goal in 2021 was aspirational, but it was also based on clearly defined climate goals – from the United Nations and the incoming Biden administration (reflected in its 2023 National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization). It was built on a foundation of credible assumptions. And data.
The 60+ percent BEVs by 2030 plan, on the other hand, is a house of cards (… a house of cars?). It rolls up rosy forecasts (like EV batteries will eventually cost automakers nothing) and other hopeful assumptions.
The next couple years are make or break. The auto industry is making huge progress on electrification and continued improvements to internal combustion engine technology. Don’t toss it away now. Let’s come out of this process with a balanced, achievable and durable rule that maintains customer choice and doesn’t blunt America’s EV momentum.
John Bozzella is president and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation. This editorial originally ran at https://www.autosinnovate.org/posts/blog/epas-rules-are-out-of-whack-five-ways-to-fix-them.
Consumer demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is at an all-time high – in fact, EV sales saw a 50 percent increase in the first half of this year, compared to 10 percent growth for combustion engine vehicles. Analysts estimate the U.S. will reach one million EV sales this year, and roughly one-third of U.S. drivers say they are considering an EV for their next car purchase. The Tesla Model Y is the best-selling car in the country.
These are the facts, yet I keep hearing claims about sagging EV demand. But to claim this is just flimsy cover for automakers who want to argue that a rapid transition away from polluting gas-powered cars and trucks is too ambitious.
Cox Automotive recently reported that EVs sit longer on dealership lots than do combustion engine vehicles. Based on that report, many media outlets concluded that EV demand is weak. Unfortunately, most analyses of Cox’s report ignore critical data and context.
For starters, Tesla, the best-selling EV manufacturer on the planet, does not use dealerships – so there is no data on the company factored into Cox’s report. Given that Tesla accounts for roughly 60 percent of all EVs sold in the U.S., to conclude that EV demand is low because EVs are sitting on dealer lots is judging demand based on only 40 percent of the market – and the weaker 40 percent at that.
For the EVs that are sold through dealers, Cox’s report looks at wait times for all EVs instead of differentiating by type – compact SUVs, hatchbacks, luxury electric trucks, etc. Internal combustion engine data is analyzed at a detailed level, instead of lumped together, so why do the opposite for EVs?
It’s 2023, and electric vehicles come in all sizes, shapes, and at wide-ranging price points. A closer look reveals that the EVs flagged for slower sales are largely big, expensive luxury SUVs or foreign-made luxury EVs. This isn’t just true for EVs: the slowest-selling gas-powered models right now are luxury cars and SUVs priced similarly to the slowest-selling EVs.
Vehicles ineligible for federal tax credits are seeing higher lot wait times than others. If consumer demand for EVs was the problem, all EVs would be sitting on lots, not just the expensive ones.
Smaller, more affordable EVs like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Models 3 and Y have set records and drove EV sales to all-time highs in the second quarter of 2023. That’s not a surprise, because the gas-powered cars with the tightest inventories in the U.S. are also smaller cars and compact SUVs.
The issue is not demand, it’s affordability, and it's affecting gas and electric cars alike. If the market for EVs appears weak overall, it’s only because automakers are making too many larger, pricier models and not enough smaller, less expensive ones.
Analysis of the car market cannot ignore the broader economy. High interest rates and a turbulent economy are changing consumer spending habits for all kinds of products, including cars. Earlier this year, analysts found new gas-powered cars are out of reach for many consumers as interest rates rise and the average price hit almost $50,000 (a 30 percent increase from three years ago). Manufacturers have reduced the number of affordable models, leading many people to put off buying a car or opt for a used vehicle.
Clearly there is enormous demand for affordable EVs. Luckily,automakers have more resources than ever from the federal government to make the transition to electric vehicles and to make more affordable EVs available now. With the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law, new tax credits for EVs make some models even more affordable than comparable combustion engine cars.
EVs are more popular than ever, and Americans want to buy them. We are moving from the early-adopter phase to the mass market, and car companies should adjust their production accordingly. Instead of producing bigger, more expensive electric trucks and SUVs, automakers must make more affordable EVs to meet booming demand.
East Peterson-Trujillo is a clean vehicles campaigner at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest, https://www.citizen.org/
Approximately 6 percent of the vehicles sold in the U.S. today are electric. That’s only 825,000 EVs. When you consider that 40 percent of those sales are in California, that leaves less than 500,000 divided among 49 states.
The good news – for the environment and EV sales – is that most prognostications point toward 40 – 50 percent of all vehicles on America’s roads by 2030 will be electric.So, what’s an EV manufacturer to do? The simple answer is that there’s a rainbow of solutions.
Some traditional manufacturers are still making profits from predictable internal combustion vehicles. They’re selling the ICE experience that wraps around their cars and trucks. For example, there’s the hot version from Dodge and the off-road variants from Ford. They are wisely finding low-cost methods to stretch the lives of their portfolio products while simultaneously stepping into the EV marketplace.
Quite a few pundits have disparaged Toyota for being slow to develop a pure EV portfolio. Their scientists, however, claim there is no single silver bullet. To support a move to lower carbon consumption, the worldwide leader in auto sales is remaining flexible. Their reasoning is that drivers across the country will not have access to a widespread full electric infrastructure for quite a few years. So, hybrid range, extended electric, cleaner gasoline, hydrogen fuel cells and, of course, full electric are going to play prominent roles for at least the next 20 to 30 years.
Tesla originally shook the industry when the investment community heaped kudos and cash on Elon Musk for being a futurist and an outsized disruptor. Now, nearly every manufacturer is sprinting into electrification, but, as usual, it will not be a one-size-fits-all formula. Manufacturers will still have to balance their portfolios to ensure profits and perform tried-and-true marketing methods.
There will assuredly be quite a few auto companies that fall away in the process. And some that aren’t making headlines today will be front page news tomorrow. Bottom line: we still have at least another decade or so of industry disruption ahead of us.
Playing it safe creates mediocrity and oftentimes failure. At Karma, research, data, a brilliant design team, and common sense are guiding our efforts toward fulfilling a unique market niche. Our American luxury brand will be a variant of: Distinctive. Aspirational. Exotic-Elegant-Electric. Or maybe something entirely different, but still addressing a clean mobility future. (We’ll be revealing our actual updated branding and marketing beginning in the latter stages of 2023.)
Whatever we decide, we expect to build a competitive advantage by being a mirror of our customers in an industry that will soon be bursting at the seams. We truly aspire to drive change beyond the norm, building vehicles that inspire positive transformation in the world.
Select a strategic direction, extol the differentiators, and state the story. An entire organization – inside and out – should enthusiastically speak with one voice, unapologetically dispensing core messaging over and over again.
U.S. businesses lose nearly $40 billion annually due to poor customer service. The EV world – where there are often unique customer demands – is not an exception to this rule. In fact, as the segment expands, superior service is actually becoming a differentiator. While we’ve all been rightfully focused on sales, many of the shiny new vehicles have become a bit road-worn and require regular maintenance and occasional repairs.
This is where a breakdown occurs. A quality customer experience should be mandatory. Developing well-schooled EV service techs is an astute investment that is too often overlooked.
The transition into EVs and, more broadly, the next chapter of automotive will be defined by the experiences that automakers create for customers. As media and digital interactions move deeper into the fabric of society, the ability and desire to create an unbroken connection between the life of the consumer and the products they consume will be an increasingly prevalent focus.
It will not be the buying, the service, or even the driving that build sales. Instead, it will be how the vehicle can be inserted into the continuum of a consumer’s life to complement their sense of self and future aspirations.
In April, Marques McCammon was named president of Irvine, Calif.-based ultra-luxury carmaker Karma Automotive. His 30-year auto industry career across four continents includes engineering, manufacturing, brand leadership, marketing, and software-based product advancement.
The concept of mobility is rapidly changing, with sustainable energy, carbon footprint reduction, and electrification driving the evolution. As a leading global mobility supplier whose enduring success is built upon unsurpassed quality, outstanding technology, and partnership, Schaeffler is dedicated to energizing the next generation with sustainable mobility solutions that satisfy customer demands.
The successful transformation of Schaeffler’s automotive business is evident from the fact that it secured $5 billion euros in order intake for e-mobility in 2022. Driving this success are Schaeffler’s products, technology, and people.
Schaeffler has worked to transform in products in three key areas: a mix of ICE, hybrid, and BEV powertrains to meet current and future customer needs; intelligent, safe and reliable chassis systems; and new mobility solutions geared towards a driverless future. Dedicated to a systems approach, Schaeffler innovations span from electronic propulsion systems to steer-by-wire systems to innovative bearing advancements.
The consumption and emissions targets of the future can be met through electrification of the powertrain. Schaeffler offers a full range of electrification options from 48-volt hybrids and plug-in hybrids to technologies for all-electric vehicles and alternative drives, such as key components for fuel cells. The company’s systems expertise makes it the ideal partner for customers evolving into the electrified future. Schaeffler predicts the global percentage of new electrified cars in the year 2030 will be 80 percent (40 percent all-electric and 40 percent hybrids).
The idea of a steer-by-wire system initially seems almost foolhardy, as the system eliminates the steering column and the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the steering gear. But on further investigation, this type of system has a wide range of benefits, including advanced driver safety. Schaeffler leveraged its experience in mechatronic systems to develop its intelligent Rear Wheel Steering System and took its first step towards becoming a steering system supplier. This intelligent technology turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front wheels, significantly reducing the turning radius and optimizes maneuverability in tight spaces. At higher speeds, it further improves handling by allowing the rear axle to turn in the same direction as the front axle, enhancing handling, stability, ride comfort, and improving vehicle safety.
Innovative bearing solutions play a key role in sustainable mobility by making powertrain and chassis systems more efficient. Schaeffler has developed an alternative to tapered roller wheel bearings – called the TriFinity wheel bearing. The TriFinity wheel bearing can reduce friction by 50 percent and increases stiffness by 33 percent compared to a tapered roller wheel bearing while maintaining the same package envelope. This innovative ball bearing design provides an alternative to tapered roller wheel bearings that didn’t exist prior to TriFinity.
Schaeffler has been leading the successful transformation in mobility and in the areas of digitalization and sustainability. The company has made significant investments in its U.S.-based operations to support growth in this sector. To that end, Schaeffler’s facility in Wooster, Ohio, represents its E-Mobility Center of Competence in the Americas, leading the region’s development of the next generation of powertrain solutions.
This facility, which recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, has transformed from a team of six employees assembling manual clutches into approximately 1,700 highly skilled employees pioneering motion for products like the e-axle, which is responsible for moving the entire electric vehicle, gearboxes, hybrid systems, batteries, and more. The Wooster facility is supported by Schaeffler’s Troy, Michigan competence center for chassis mechatronics and ultra-low friction bearings like TriFinity. The Troy center leverages decades of expertise in engine and chassis developments, now focusing on the next generation of technologies for these components and systems.
Schaeffler's nationally recognized apprenticeship program also helps the global supplier attract and cultivate top talent that it needs to drive its E-Mobility transformation. Schaeffler offers apprenticeship programs throughout the country, partnering with technical schools to offer a range of trades. The 3.5-year program consists of both classroom and on-the-job training with a high retention rate after graduation.
In addition to apprenticeship programs, Schaeffler has partnered with 30 universities in the Americas to grow its internship and co-op programs. The company recently also developed a unique collaborative partnership with The Ohio State University (OSU), launching its first North American Schaeffler Hub for Advanced Research (SHARE) program. Located on the OSU campus in Columbus, the collaborative program is dedicated to advancing energy storage technology by working with students and professors on solid state battery and fuel cell technology. Schaeffler has several successful SHARE programs in Europe and Asia, each with a distinct focus.
Additionally, the Schaeffler Academy has developed a variety of Fit4 qualification programs to support the required re- and upskilling of employees. The programs consist of modular training options with defined learning paths that consider the target groups’ different backgrounds and areas of experience. The ‘Fit4Mechatronics’ program currently offers more than 100 training courses providing research and development engineers with knowledge about mechatronics and electronics.
With a dedicated focus on the transformation of its products, technology, and people, Schaeffler is embracing disruptive change as it continues its mission of energizing the next generation of future mobility.
Patrick Lindemann is President of Transmission Systems & E-Mobility at Schaeffler.
People and goods traveling to and from homes, office buildings, stores, stadiums, factories, airports, and the rest of the built environment contribute to the largest single source (27%) of GHG emissions in the U.S. and the fastest growing source of global emissions. Published in January 2023, the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization outlines important parts of the administration’s long-term strategy for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The blueprint was developed jointly by the U.S. departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency – a notable level of coordination reflecting the urgency and the complexity of transitioning to a clean, carbon-free transportation sector. Three comprehensive strategies will guide policy decisions going forward and also help illustrate some of the ways the built environment can support transportation decarbonization: mobility that is convenient; efficient; and clean.
Even the greenest buildings imaginable induce travel demand, so owners, property managers, and developers of the built environment have both a strong interest in, and an opportunity for, accelerating the transition to zero-carbon mobility.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) suite of sustainability certification tools offers a playbook for those owners, managers, and developers to leverage their buildings to support the adoption of smarter mobility solutions.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used green building rating system across the globe, recognizes that green buildings are located, designed, and operated to maximize people’s access to active, public, shared, and electric transportation. Alongside tools for microgrids (PEER), parking structures (Parksmart), and existing building assets (Arc performance platform), USGBC and Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI) programs offer a variety of ways to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions.
Local and regional land use planning is inextricably linked with travel demand and emissions. Communities that coordinate land use and transportation planning by prioritizing walkable and transit-oriented development can enable a more healthy and equitable transportation system that improves convenience and reduces vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
It’s not just about bikes anymore. Micromobility, especially e-bikes, are increasing the appeal of active travel to new users. Green buildings are designed for multimodal access, encouraging occupants who choose to walk, bike, or use micromobility.
EV sales in the U.S. is expected to grow tenfold by 2030, and all of those cars and trucks will need spaces to plug in. As adoption accelerates, equitable distribution of EV charging infrastructure is an important consideration. Meanwhile, a looming charging infrastructure gap could pose a significant obstacle for the EV transition.
Siting charging stations in workplace, retail, and multi-unit residential buildings is a critical part of meeting future charging demand. EV ready building codes are helping to “future proof” new commercial and residential buildings – installing EV charging infrastructure during new construction is up to 75% less expensive than retrofitting an existing building. Networked charging stations enable intelligent load sharing and energy management, further reducing infrastructure costs for developers, owners, and local jurisdictions.
The global transition to clean transportation and EVs will be complex and highly dependent on decarbonization of electricity generation. Fortunately, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published a policy guide for Grid Integration of Electric Vehicles that provides a framework for maximizing managed charging. As noted above, commercial buildings and parking structures are ideal for siting smart, networked charging stations. Additional passive (time-of-use signals) and active measures (demand response, load shifting, bidirectional charging) are key strategies for grid integration.
Travel induced by the built environment are a challenging source of Scope 3 GHG emissions to manage. Programs and tools, like Arc, assess the building performance, helping owners and managers of existing building assets measure, inventory, and reduce emissions through investments in sustainable transportation infrastructure and TDM.
The road to net-zero emissions is a long one that requires more than installing EV charging stations. It will require investments in our infrastructure and reimagining the way we build our communities to ensure convenient, healthy, and carbon-free mobility.
U.S. Green Building Council’s Kurt Steiner is a Transportation Planner/LEED Specialist and Paul Wessel is Director of Market Development, https://www.usgbc.org/.
In recent years, state energy and regulatory agencies have modeled plans that conclude hydrogen is required to achieve deep decarbonization targets. Air pollution continues to worsen across the U.S. with hydrogen and fuel cells seen as part of the answer. For example, as a one-to-one replacement for diesel powered vehicles, equipment, and generators, hydrogen fuel cells have significant potential to decrease the negative air quality impacts this diesel equipment causes and eliminate their carbon emissions.
With California’s current grid reliability challenges and need for more power generation capacity – coupled with the state’s continuing “overdemand” – all energy and mobility solutions must be brought to bear. National Lab studies have demonstrated the grid infrastructure required to charge battery electric vehicles of all sizes. The use of fuel cell electric vehicles, fueled by hydrogen, avoid further compounding grid reliability challenges. The California Air Resources Board recent Hydrogen Station Self-Sufficiency Report determined that an additional $300 million investment in hydrogen infrastructure, coupled with existing incentives like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, would lead to financial self-sufficiency of a fuel cell electric vehicle and hydrogen station network by 2030, avoiding additional upgrade costs and strain on the grid.
At the federal level, the multi-billion-dollar commitment to hydrogen and fuel cell programs in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Job Act (IIJA) has spurred a flurry of planning, project development, and investment in the hydrogen sector. States in every U.S. region have expressed support for project applications to the $8 billion Department of Energy hydrogen hub program. The awarded hubs will showcase production of hydrogen, distribution and delivery infrastructure, and broad end uses of hydrogen and fuel cells in the electricity, industrial, and transportation sectors.
States from California to New York to Texas are committing significant funding and resources to support the development of these hydrogen hubs. The DOE and other agencies are launching additional energy manufacturing, clean electricity, zero-emission vehicle, and goods movement programs funded by the IIJA to further support hydrogen use alongside other clean energy technologies. Project developers and investors are simultaneously seeking guidance on the use of tax credits for hydrogen and fuel cells that came from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
On the passenger light-duty vehicle side, Toyota and Hyundai continue to sell Mirai and Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in California. There are now over 15,471 fuel cell electric cars sold and leased in the U.S. In February, Honda announced a joint venture with General Motors to deliver a new fuel cell system not only for its light-duty vehicles but also for use in heavy-duty trucks, stationary power generation, and construction equipment. In early 2022, BMW announced its continued commitment to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles with on-road demonstration of the iX5 to begin in 2023.
Traditional manufacturers of engines and heavy-duty vehicles are partnering with clean energy companies to rapidly bring fuel cell electric vehicles to market in high volume, heavily polluted transportation corridors, with the assistance of the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program. Already, on-road testing of fuel cell systems and vehicles made by Ballard Power Systems, Cummins, Hyzon Motors, Nikola Motors, and Toyota is underway. Off-road, the Port of Long Beach is working with Toyota and FuelCell Energy using a fuel cell to generate power, heat, and hydrogen, the latter used to fuel Toyota equipment at the port and Toyota Mirai vehicles coming off the ship. Byproduct water from the fuel cell’s hydrogen production is used to wash the cars.
Presently, the largest throughput of hydrogen is in the off-road and materials handling sectors. In creating the first commercially viable market for hydrogen fuel cell technology, Plug Power has deployed more than 60,000 fuel cell systems and over 200 fueling stations, more than anyone else in the world, and is the largest buyer of liquid hydrogen. Plug customers have completed more than 55 million hydrogen fills into forklifts and other material handling equipment used in warehouses, including those operated by companies like Amazon and Walmart, showing the economic value of fuel cell powered forklifts. Contributing to their increased productivity throughput are advantages like rapid hydrogen refueling and a smaller overall footprint than battery electric counterparts that require space for chargers.
The State of California is considering the level of support needed for the required hydrogen fueling infrastructure to service all on-road fuel cell electric vehicles. Documents from the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership illustrate the fueling stations needed for light-duty passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks that would create a refueling network for launching a self-sustaining market. This would serve to quickly decarbonize key transportation corridors and improve air quality in the urban, rural, and agricultural communities along these corridors.
Public transit agencies have been operating or conducting real-world testing of hydrogen fuel cell buses in their fleets . Following operational bus trials, many agencies concluded that both battery and fuel cell electric buses are required. Among the benefits cited for fuel cell buses are lower operating costs, often due to avoiding the investment required for battery electric buses such as charging stations and the need to expand capacity at local electric substations. In addition, the longer range and greater power density of fuel cell electric vehicles can support transit operations that must deal with varied, hilly terrain and longer routes.
California currently has 66 fuel cell electric buses in service with another 100+ committed to be placed in operation. Many transit agencies are set to follow the pioneering efforts of Alameda-Contra Costa Transit and SunLine Transit with their fleets of fuel cell electric buses and hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Among these are California’s Foothill Transit, Orange County Transit, and Humboldt Transit. Outside California, Stark County Transit in Ohio and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia are committed to using hydrogen fuel cell buses to meet their service needs.
Hydrogen is here. Debates on energy resources should include discussion of best fit, rather than either-or. There is significant public and private recognition across the U.S that an all-of-the-above strategy is needed to meet our varied energy requirements and decarbonization goals, and hydrogen is poised to make an immediate and growing contribution to a global decarbonization strategy.
Katrina Fritz is the Executive Director of the California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC).
The transportation sector is now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, contributing to poor air quality and the climate crisis, and disproportionately impacting underserved and disadvantaged communities. To address this, our goal is to eliminate nearly all GHG emissions from the sector by 2050 while working to achieve a fair and just transportation system that will support economic growth and benefit all citizens.
In December 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined forces with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development by signing and MOU to coordinate on transportation decarbonization. The first deliverable from that partnership was the January 2023 release of The U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization, a roadmap for how we can address these issues to provide better transportation and fuel options as well as zero-emission vehicles.
Light-duty vehicles (passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and motorcycles) are responsible for about half of all U.S. transportation GHG emissions. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (larger delivery trucks, work vans, and buses) are the second-largest contributor to transportation GHG emissions with 21 percent of all emissions. Aviation is the third largest contributor at 11 percent, including fuel used for all domestic flights and international flights departing the United States
Biofuel – derived from biomass or organic wastes – plays an important role in decarbonizing transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration projects continued growth for the aviation sector and as more EVs enter the market, aviation will become a larger portion of the transportation sector’s GHG emissions.
To reduce aviation GHG emissions, the aviation sector is scaling up sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) use. SAF is a “drop-in” liquid hydrocarbon jet fuel produced from renewable or waste resources that is compatible with existing aircraft engines – a critical near-term solution to reduce GHGs. This led to the creation of the SAF Grand Challenge.
Together, DOE, DOT, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed a roadmap to accelerate SAF research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) to meet the ambitious government-wide commitment to accelerate production of SAF to 3 billion gallons per year by 2030 – ultimately meeting 100 percent of U.S. aviation fuel needs with SAF by 2050.
DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) supports RDD&D of technologies that convert domestic renewable carbon resources into biofuels and bioproducts. This effort is already decreasing the price of drop-in biofuels for airplanes, big rigs, and passenger vehicles. To meet the ambitious SAF Grand Challenge goals, BETO has accelerated efforts to scale up these technologies. Scale-up is essential for reducing risks associated with deploying novel technologies at large scale, as is expected in a biorefinery. In doing this, technologies move from the laboratory into relevant and realistic environments.
Public–private partnerships are critical for ensuring that scaleup matches industry needs. For example, BETO is already funding projects with industry partners to turn industrial waste gases into jet fuel, convert biomass into refinery-ready biocrude, reduce GHG emissions from first-generation ethanol plants, and more. These large-scale pilot and demonstration projects enable researchers to test prototype components or subsystems in relevant operating environments. That way, researchers can identify further R&D needs for BETO’s subprograms. Large-scale projects also create larger volumes of target products, supporting quality control testing to verify existing infrastructure compatibility and potential end user specifications. They also provide data that analysts use to evaluate economic and sustainability performance.
BETO saw its first opportunity to fund SAF-focused research in 2021, awarding $64 million to 11 scaleup and demonstration projects. In early 2023, BETO awarded an additional $118 million to 17 projects with industry partners. In recognizing the need for strong designs prior to breaking ground on expensive construction, BETO requires projects to meet necessary criteria to advance from phase 1 into phase 2, which funds construction and operations.
By allocating funding across multiple years and different scales, BETO expects to collapse the time it takes to see success at the demonstration scale. Projects that meet criteria and are ready to go don’t have to wait years for additional opportunities.
As the demand for plane, train, and automobile transportation continues to increase, it is critical that we come together to find innovative solutions to the climate crisis. Biofuels can be a win-win solution, allowing our economy and way of life to thrive while lowering our carbon footprint on a national – and global – level.
Valerie Sarisky-Reed is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office
Perhaps the most well-known benefit of switching to an electric vehicle is the environmental impact due to the elimination of tailpipe emissions compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. But what isn’t as obvious is that they can also be less expensive over the operating lifecycle.
Why? For starters, we tend to focus on fuel prices, yet one thing that often gets overlooked is the reduced maintenance costs electric vehicles can offer. The U.S. Government's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy estimates that scheduled maintenance costs for light-duty battery electric vehicles are about 6 cents per mile, compared to 10 cents per mile for a conventional vehicle. Someone buying a passenger car for private use is less likely to worry about maintenance, but for large fleet managers these cost savings can be meaningful over time.
Another costly issue for fleets is unscheduled repairs caused by breakdowns. According to the Deepview True Cost Second Owner Study by predictive analytics and data company We Predict, unplanned repair costs for electric commercial vans are on average 22 percent lower compared to internal combustion engine equivalents after three years on the road. The reason for this is that electric vehicles have fewer mechanical parts than internal combustion engine vehicles. This is significant because reductions in repairs also mean more time on the road for busy delivery fleets. In a world where downtime is death for fleets, keeping vehicles on the road is critical to meeting the ever-increasing demand for last-mile deliveries.
Meanwhile, in March 2022, CNBC reported that diesel fuel was already costing over $5 (USD) per gallon nationally, with gasoline hitting $6 (USD) in some parts of the country. So there can be important fuel cost savings to be made for fleets that switch to electric vans. In fact, BrightDrop estimates fleet owners will save over $10,000 (USD) per vehicle per year in fuel and maintenance when switching to one of our Zevo 600 electric vans, compared to its diesel equivalent. Let’s take a closer look.
Why do we expect electric vehicles will need less maintenance? Moving parts are a big part of it, because it’s the moving parts that most often encounter problems. Standard internal combustion engine vehicles usually have over 2,000 moving parts in the drivetrain, while electric vehicles tend only to have about 20. For example, a battery electric vehicle has no timing or fan belt and no alternator. Additionally, an electric vehicle also lacks many of the complex non-moving parts that often fail in internal combustion engines, such as oxygen sensors, spark plugs, and catalytic converters. A 2020 CarMD Vehicle Health Index assessment of the top 10 most popular car repairs in America found replacing a catalytic converter was the most common, while replacing an oxygen sensor came second. According to Forbes, only one of these top ten repairs could ever happen to an electric vehicle (and it was the cheapest to fix at $15). The lack of moving parts also means that repairs on electric vehicles can be less complicated.
Additionally, electric vehicles usually don’t use transmissions, meaning that the common (and expensive) issue of damage to gears is not an issue. Many electric vehicles also use regenerative braking to repurpose expended energy back into the batteries. In addition to electricity savings, regenerative braking can also increase the life (and therefore reduce spending on replacing) of conventional brake parts, due to minimal use. Finally, electric vehicles don’t use engine oil and, although they do use engine lubricants, these rarely require a refill or change.
Electric vehicles can be cheaper to maintain and repair than their ICE or diesel alternatives. They also can be kept on the road longer by reducing the frequency of unplanned repairs, as well as reducing the amount of labor that would otherwise be spent dealing with these problems. All of these benefits take time to accrue. They can only be realized if fleet managers take a ‘total cost of ownership’ perspective that considers all costs over the lifetime of a fleet.
Perhaps the biggest concern that electric vehicle buyers have is that the battery will degrade over time, ultimately requiring an expensive replacement. We believe that such concerns can be overhyped or misplaced. Battery range has improved markedly in recent years, and all BrightDrop vehicles adhere to or exceed federal regulations, which require that electric vehicle batteries are covered by warranty for a minimum of eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Now is the time to switch fleets to electric vans. It's an opportunity not only to help reduce vehicle emissions, but also to help realize potential cost savings.
Steve Hornyak is Chief Commercial Officer and Executive Director at BrightDrop
One trend we hear from the market is the challenge small and midsize organizations face in finding accessible, scalable fleet management software that works for their business across all powertrains, gas, hybrid, and electric inclusive. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the global share of electric vehicles in a fleet is set to reach 31 percent by 2050. So, this challenge will continue in the years to come, especially as EVs become more widely adopted.
The reason? The market is awash with disintermediated software solutions, especially in the fleet management world. Many large companies don’t have this issue as they have bigger budgets that acquire these solutions tailored specifically to them, or their in-house IT teams create bespoke solutions fit specifically for their business. This offers larger businesses a significant advantage in terms of efficiency. Smaller organizations typically lack the depth of IT support to integrate and customize disparate software solutions – let alone the capital to do so – to create integrated solutions that make their businesses safer, greener, and more efficient.
This is why there’s increased pressure on software vendors and OEMs to provide integrated suites of fleet management solutions to all, from Main Street USA to the largest fleets.
Organizations of all sizes need a simpler, integrated platform to enable holistic vehicle management, efficient maintenance monitoring with proactive scheduling. and improved driver behaviors to help increase the safety of operators while lowering costs associated with fuel, downtime, or vehicle damage. A single platform can also enable organizations to consolidate the management of their larger fleet needs, including managing vehicles across all powertrains as noted, as well as connectivity to insurance, financing, charging, and electric vehicle optimization. Adopting an integrated platform is essential for all businesses – and it represents a first step toward competitive parity for small and midsize fleets.
Reaching the next level of efficiency and competitiveness is anyone’s game. As we’ve all heard, big data is the new oil that makes businesses run. One of the most critical applications of big data is the ability to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) and maximize the uptime of ICE vehicles and EVs.
Data helps organizations gain real-time insights into fleet operations to enable better decision-making and take proactive measures to ensure vehicles stay well maintained. Fleet managers are using data from connected vehicles to predict and prevent breakdowns in an incredible orchestration of activities that can drastically reduce vehicle downtime.
For example, let’s say my telematics system tells me I will soon need to replace a part in one of my vehicles. It will identify the exact part to be replaced and may also locate the part and have it shipped to my dealer. I can make an appointment with the dealer, where the vehicle will be off the road for a few hours or maybe a half day.
Contrast that to what typically happens, which is the late identification of an issue, taking the vehicle to the dealer, having them diagnose a problem, and then perhaps needing to order the part, waiting for the part, and then replacing it. This can take days instead of hours.
Data will also play a crucial role in deriving added value from connected vehicles. Once we have millions of cars on the road equipped with telematics, the amount of data generated will be massive. We’ll be able to use the data to monitor aspects of the vehicle – such as temperature, location, and brakes – and the surrounding environment. Through high-speed 5G connections, vehicles could contribute information to a giant data lake that, when analyzed in real-time, could provide information about the road ahead, traffic patterns, and potential hazards.
For example, suppose multiple vehicles report the use of anti-lock brakes and traction-control systems around a specific corner in a cold-temperature climate. In that case, analytics could infer there might be a patch of black ice and instruct other vehicles to slow down and take the turn carefully.
Or perhaps a deep pothole triggers connected vehicles’ sensors. A city could purchase data related to road issues and send crews out to make repairs before the issue causes damage to vehicles or injuries to passengers. The sensors could also help fleets prevent damage to expensive vehicles. Connected vehicles will and are using prognostics to diagnose and alert of potential catastrophic failures ahead of time.
To fully realize the benefit of connected vehicles, fleet managers must get their entire fleet connected. In the future, this will become easier as OEMs automatically embed modems in their vehicles. Companies like Ford Pro are already offering free solutions such as Ford Pro Telematics Essentials with their connected vehicles to help provide visibility into the health and performance of their vehicles.
The connected vehicle market is at a tipping point and is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. This is good news for everyone: connected vehicles and integrated solutions can help small businesses achieve competitive parity, decrease costs through predictive maintenance, and apply analytics to reduce GHG emissions and maximize EV battery productivity to create a greener and more sustainable world.
David Prusinski is Global Chief Revenue Officer of Ford Pro Intelligence
As the country comes to the realization that a future of electrified mobility is crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change, government leaders and the electric vehicle (EV) industry have made it their mission to build a network of 500,000 EV chargers across America.
At the same time, the past year has demonstrated how disruptions in globally interconnected supply chains can lead to severe bottlenecks and slow production. The EV charging industry is not immune to these conditions. In order to achieve the ambitious electrification goals set by our elected officials and business leaders, EV charging companies must ramp up their domestic manufacturing capabilities to ensure they can meet the demand, regardless of global factors.
There’s no better time than now to increase American manufacturing. With the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) earmarking $7.5 billion to build a nationwide charging network, there is more investment in the space than ever before. However, in order to qualify for these federal funds, EV charging manufacturers must meet the “Buy America” requirements – standards that call for equipment and projects to use American-made material and products, as well as be manufactured domestically. While domestic production of EV chargers holds much promise in solving supply chain concerns, this requirement also presents several challenges.
When considering the “Buy America” requirements for EV chargers, two provisions are most relevant. First, all steel in a finished product must be sourced locally. Secondly, under current criteria as clarifying language is pending, at least 55 percent of a finished product must come from the U.S.
Generally, meeting the steel requirement is not a challenge for EV charging manufacturers as chargers do not require large amounts of steel and steel can be locally sourced without undue burden. However, the larger challenge for EV charging manufacturers is sourcing domestically made chips, as most chip manufacturing is done offshore and imported to the U.S. From microprocessors to Wi-Fi and cellular modem chips, these necessary components are hard to source domestically, presenting a significant roadblock for EV charging manufacturers looking to meet the “Buy America” requirements.
In addition to the challenges presented by the “Buy America” requirements, there are also logistical challenges that come with relocating a manufacturing process, that was previously done overseas, entirely to the U.S.
In other countries, robust manufacturing corridors exist – areas of production where the various parts of a product are all sourced near one another – that help reduce the time and cost it takes to assemble critical components. However, in recent decades many of these components have been imported from overseas, and the U.S. has far fewer manufacturing corridors. This means domestic manufacturing facilities will have to re-invent their processes and supplier relationships to better centralize them and avoid the expenses and pollution incurred by shipping parts across the country.
As we transition to this new age, EV charging manufacturers are facing a plethora of challenges as well as unprecedented/exciting growth opportunities. From adhering to the “Buy America” procurement requirements to working out the logistics of a new supply chain, manufacturers have a lot to overcome, all while trying to keep up with the demand of a growing population of EV owners.
Right now, the biggest hurdle facing domestic EV charger manufacturing is time. In order to tap into the federal funds made available by recent legislation, manufacturers must build up domestic capabilities and expertise in new areas, from sheet metal fabrication to PVC manufacturing, quickly.
With these challenges, it may seem daunting to make the transition to domestic manufacturing. However, Blink Charging, a leader in the EV charging industry for close to 14 years, has long been aware of these concerns and is taking steps to overcome them.
In June of 2022, Blink acquired SemaConnect, a leading provider of EV charging infrastructure solutions in North America with a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Maryland. This acquisition brought the complete design and manufacturing processes of Blink’s EV chargers in-house, allowing the company to comply with the “Buy America” provisions in federal law. The acquisition also marks Blink’s emergence as the only EV charging company to offer complete vertical integration – from research & development and manufacturing to EV charger ownership and operations – creating unparalleled opportunities for the company to control its supply chain and accelerate go-to-market speed while reducing operating costs.
In addition, Blink recently announced its commitment to establish a new manufacturing facility in the United States, which will further increase its charger production capacity. While the search for the facility’s location is still ongoing, the plant will offer 200,000 square feet of space with the latest technology to manufacture both DC Fast Charging (DCFC) and Level 2 Chargers.
With one facility already up and running and another on the way, Blink is leading the charge in domestic manufacturing of EV charging infrastructure in the U.S.
Harjinder Bhade is Chief Technology Officer at Blink Charging
Not so long ago, it was generally accepted that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles could be used as bridge technologies until ‘zero-emissions’ vehicles could perform like existing vehicles, at similar cost. Unfortunately, politics in New York and elsewhere demand net-zero by 2050 with policies that preclude their use.
I have spent a lot of time the last three years evaluating New York’s net-zero by 2050 target mandated by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) from a pragmatic point of view. Pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of both sides of issues. Most troubling in the quest for net zero is the lack of consideration for tradeoffs.
In New York the mandated technology is ‘zero-emissions,’ either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cells. PHEV and CNG vehicles have direct emissions and so will be banned. The Climate Act fossil fuel accounting requirements inflate the global warming effects as compared to all other jurisdictions and mandate that upstream and life-cycle emissions also be considered. On the other hand, the life-cycle emissions and impacts of the ‘zero-emissions’ technologies are ignored.
The Climate Act’s net-zero by 2050 transition is extraordinarily ambitious. The Scoping Plan that outlines the framework to implement this transition projects that in order to meet the net-zero schedule, over 30 percent of all light-duty vehicles sold will either be battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) in 2025, and 100 percent by 2035. For medium- and heavy-duty truck sales, the Scoping Plan projects that at least 10 percent sold will either be BEVs or FCEVs in 2025, and 64 percent by 2035.
It's wishful thinking to presume that large percentages of people will choose BEVs and HFCVs, forgoing the flexibility of a personal car that has much greater range in all seasons, can be refueled quickly on long trips, and does not require expensive charging equipment at home. PHEV technology eliminates range anxiety, refueling, and home equipment concerns. It also reduces fuel use and air pollution emissions significantly and uses a smaller battery pack than a BEV, which reduces the environmental impacts of rare earth mineral supplies and disposal that the Climate Act ignores.
When all the physical, cost, and logistical issues associated with hydrogen use are considered, it will not play a major role in the future. BEV technology doesn’t appeal to a majority of car owners because of nuisance constraints, but the technology could work. The same cannot be said for battery electric heavy-duty vehicles since range, refueling, and charging infrastructure constraints are deal breakers that prevent heavy-duty trucks from meeting the 2050 net-zero target.
There are serious inhalable particulate air pollution issues associated with diesel truck emissions at freight terminals in New York City. The Scoping Plan claims that replacing these trucks with zero-emission alternatives provides significant benefits. However, the plan’s zero-emissions aspirations ignore technological tradeoffs and the reality that CNG heavy-duty trucks are a viable alternative that would markedly reduce inhalable particulate emissions. The problem with CNG is not technology since we know it works, but a problem with the development of fueling infrastructure and vehicle fleet turnover. It is not pragmatic to insist that heavy-duty trucks use unproven battery electric technology over other alternatives that can markedly reduce the air quality issues.
The use of PHEV and CNG vehicles for personal and freight transport offers the opportunity for significant air quality benefits, at a cheaper societal cost, with less impacts on personal choice, and sooner than the ‘zero-emissions’ alternatives. Failing to consider those benefits while insisting upon a riskier technological approach is not good social policy. Someday, there may be a better alternative, but in the meantime bridge technologies that provide most of the benefits are the more appropriate policy approach.
Roger Caiazza, a retired Certified Consulting Meteorologist who has worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years, is a blogger at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York
If we view the automobile’s history of environmental improvement in modern times – say, from the 1990s to present day – there is an important perspective to be gained. It has never been just about electric vehicles. That’s simply where we’ve ended up at present due to an intriguing alignment of influences and agendas, from technology advances and environmental imperatives to gas prices and political will.
Over the years, auto manufacturers and their suppliers, technology companies, energy interests, and innovators of all stripes have been hard at work striving to define mobility’s future. Fuels in their crosshairs have included ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, natural gas, propane autogas, biofuels, synthetic fuels, and of course electricity. Lest we forget, cleaner-burning gasoline and diesel have been part of the evolution as well.
As a nation, we have always approached this challenge with an open mind and a determination to explore what’s possible, and what makes sense. Rather than declaring a winner, for decades the approach has been to keep our options open as we define the best road ahead for environmental progress. Now, by government fiat and funding, battery electric cars have essentially been declared the winner.
This is troubling. As a die-hard auto enthusiast and auto writer my entire adult life – and a member/supporter of the Sierra Club for decades – I have developed some strong and well-grounded perspectives on cars, their environmental impact, and the future of mobility. My advocacy for electric cars is genuine and well-documented over the 30 years I have been publishing Green Car Journal, and before that through my writing as feature editor at Motor Trend. Honestly, it’s hard not to be a fan of EVs after a year of test driving GM’s EV1 and then spending many tens of thousands of miles behind the wheel of other battery electric cars over the years. Yet, I now sit back and wonder at the ways things seem to be unfolding.
As expected, electric vehicles took a high profile at the increasingly important CES show in Las Vegas and this attention will certainly continue at upcoming auto shows. News of innovations, strategic alliances, and all-new electric models proliferate today, showing how dynamic this field has become and underscoring the nonstop media attention that EVs enjoy. But progress does not mean electric vehicles should be our singular focus.
There are significant risks with an all-in electric car strategy. Not the least of these is that by deemphasizing the importance of petroleum and the potential use of other alternative fuels in the near-term – crucial components in fueling the national fleet as we appear to be heading toward an electrified future – we risk the stability of our economy and our national security.
Yes, sales of electric vehicles have surged in the midst of extraordinarily high gas prices and heightened concern about climate change. However, history shows us that gas prices spike, drop, and then remain at levels that find drivers once again becoming complacent. This predictable script should provide incentive to make smart moves like diversifying our energy sources as we build the necessary infrastructure for an increasingly electrified world, rather than bet it all on EVs. So many of the elements for the EV’s success remain unclear or continue to pose significant challenges.
If interest in electric vehicles is decoupled from high gas prices and surging because of the urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions, then we will see electric vehicle sales continue to rise, perhaps dramatically. But if increased interest and sales is largely tied to the high cost of gas, then a lot of regulators, environmental interests, and EV-leaning consumers – plus of course automakers that have gone all-in with electrics – are set for a serious reckoning.
All this isn’t to diminish the importance of electric vehicles. Rather, it’s a call to be mindful of the challenges ahead and look at the bigger picture. We should encourage electric vehicles – whether powered exclusively by batteries, a combination of internal combustion and battery power, or perhaps hydrogen – in every reasonable way possible. In particular, hybrids and plug-in hybrids must play an increasingly larger role in the years ahead. We have come a long way over the past 30 years, and we have a long road ahead in the effort to decarbonize transportation and mitigate its impact on climate change. We need to keep at it, aggressively, and we need to prepare.
Let’s just not make assumptions that all will go according to plan. California’s decision to ban the sale of gasoline cars by 2035, in particular, will certainly find unexpected obstacles on the way to that aspirational milestone. It happened before with California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate more than two decades ago, which failed to realize its goal of 10 percent electric vehicle sales by 2001. Beyond California, similar hurdles will exist in other ‘green’ states like Oregon, Washington, and Vermont that have now adopted California’s 2035 gasoline vehicle sales ban, along with other ‘green’ states that will surely follow California’s lead.
There’s a lot going right for electric vehicles today. But there’s also a wide array of continuing challenges that face EV proliferation. These range from persistently expensive batteries, high vehicle prices, and sold out EV production runs to shortages of essential materials, a nascent nationwide charging infrastructure, and a national grid woefully unprepared to reliably charge tens of millions of electric cars. Then there’s the question of whether consumer EV purchases will continue to accelerate or weaken in tandem with lower gas prices.
It’s one thing to devise ambitious goals and quite another to make them law, especially when so many assumptions are in play. Given all this, is a wholesale shift to electric cars and a ban on the sale of gasoline vehicles even possible just a dozen years from now? As a long-time automotive analyst and EV enthusiast, I have serious doubts.