The Electric Vehicle Revolution Will Come from China — not the US

By Jack Barkenbus, Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Energy & Environment, Vanderbilt University. Cross-posted from Alternet.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming, but it won’t be driven by the U.S. Instead, China will be at the forefront.

My research on EVs, dating back a decade, convinces me that this global transformation in mobility, from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric ones, will come sooner than later. The shift is already happening in China, which is the world’s largest automobile market, with 23 million cars sold in 2018. As Western countries approach peak car ownership, there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese families that don’t own a car at all – much less two or more.

Many of them are buying electric cars. By 2015, electric vehicle sales in China had surpassed U.S. levels. In 2018, Chinese sales topped 1.1 million cars, more than 55% of all electric vehicles sold in the world, and more than three times as many as Chinese customers had bought two years earlier. U.S. electric vehicle sales that year were just 358,000.

A key element of an electric vehicle’s price is the cost of its batteries – and China already makes more than half of the world’s electric vehicle batteries. Battery prices continue to fall; industry analysts now suggest that within five years it will be cheaper to buy an electric car than a gas- or diesel-powered one.

Forecasts predict the Chinese producing as much as 70% of the world’s electric vehicle batteries by 2021, even as the demand for electric car batteries grows.

Huge Government Backing

China has a fledgling, but ambitious, automobile industry. It has never been able to match the efficiency and quality of established automakers at making gas-powered vehicles, but electric vehicles are easier to build, giving Chinese firms a new opportunity to compete.

The Chinese government, therefore, has chosen to highlight electric vehicles as one of 10 commercial sectors central to its “Made in China” effort to boost advanced industrial technology. Government efforts include using billions of dollars to subsidize manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries, and encouraging businesses and consumers to buy them.

The government is also aware that electric vehicles could help solve some of China’s most pressing energy and environmental concerns: Massive air pollution chokes its major cities, national security officials are worried about how much oil the country imports and China is now the nation contributing most to global climate change emissions.

New Companies

Scores of Chinese auto-making companies have formed to profit from these subsidies. A major player is BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams,” headquartered in Shenzhen. More than a decade ago, billionaire investor Warren Buffett bought about a quarter of the company for US$232 million – a share that is now worth more than $1.5 billion.

The company’s initial plans to export vehicles to the U.S. proved premature and fizzled. BYD instead started to focus mainly on the Chinese auto market, as well as building electric buses for the global market, which it now dominates.

If BYD’s electric car plans falter, though, there are plenty of other Chinese firms ready to pick up the slack.

Further Support

In addition to the government subsidies to ensure BYD and its competitors have lots of customers, new government regulations are kicking in. The Chinese government now requires all automakers who sell in China, whether domestic or foreign firms, to make a certain percentage of their sales electric, through a complex crediting formula. The mandate will get stricter over time, perhaps requiring each company to make at least 7% of their sales electric by 2025.

Major foreign car companies have large investments in China and can hardly afford to abandon the market. Volkswagen, for example, now sells 40% of its output in China, which is a main reason the company is pushing hard to develop electric vehicles.

China’s domestic automakers have largely not yet engaged in the export market. Electric vehicle industry analyst Jose Pontes says there are three reasons for their reluctance: First, the Chinese market is big enough to absorb their current production. Second, many car companies in China are utterly unknown in the West, so customers would be wary of buying from a strange brand. And third, their cars do not yet comply with strict safety regulations in the U.S. and Europe.

However, all of those obstacles can be overcome with time and money. It’s possible Chinese electric car companies could enter the low- to middle-income market in the West, as Volkswagen did 60 years ago.

If – or when – that happens, inexpensive, efficient electric cars may spread through the West from China, surpassing Tesla and other American and European electric vehicle efforts. Only Western government attempts to protect domestic automakers with tariffs and other trade barriers could derail this development.The Conversation

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

89 comments

  1. cnchal

    I too can build electric cars, if the government were to slather me in money, and I never had to make a profit.

    > . . . As Western countries approach peak car ownership, there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese families that don’t own a car at all – much less two or more.

    Is the objective to make sure those hundreds of millions of Chinese families end up with a couple of electric cars each? How many giant holes and mountains of pollution will be generated to ensure that happens?

    Globalization is a disaster, no matter where one cares to look.

    Reply
      1. David of California

        The point is a tyrannical governmental system will produce the electric cars we buy.

        More subtly, those cars will not be produced by a squilELONaire ensconced in a fascist capitalist paradise.

        I feel stupider. I laugh when I hear how the Chinese think long term. Their cultural DNA is unstable due to its rigidity and lack of adaptability. Ideas come from the West and any Chinese person that has good ideas, come to the West. The Chinese culture has updated their image based language to be more symbolic etc. but their inability to generate new information and incorporate it into their cultural DNA relegates them to followers of the West.

        Reply
        1. lighter

          First you say the Chinese lack adaptability, but then go on to say they get their ideas from the West?

          Better check your hubris, or you’ll be left behind without knowing it.

          Reply
        2. Prairie Bear

          Yeah, I read this article and I thought of the Gaius Publius post they share on here a while back saying that there would be no “Chinese Century” because everything was going to collapse long before that. I think the post here is probably accurate as far as it goes, but projecting the trend out long term does not work out well for anybody.

          Reply
        3. Thuto

          If you’re trying to quibble with the premise of the post you’re not covering yourself in glory. A more coherent pushback with empirical meat on your theory about the instability of Chinese DNA would be nice instead of what sounds like a cacophony of Sino-bashing biases. The author of the post presents well researched (empirical) data about the current state of the EV market globally, or did you miss the part where he says he’s been closely studying the development of this market for a decade? Feel free to fetishize the West if you want but take issue with the post on its merits instead of making blanket statements about the defects of Chinese culture. Sino-bashing is not a counterargument.

          Reply
          1. David of California

            Hmmm, kind of snarky given I linked to an article showing the evolution of the Chinese Cultural DNA regarding language over the last 7 decades. Did you bother to read it?

            I’m being a smartass for a reason.

            I find it more dangerous to over hype the threat Chinese culture poses to the West while promoting the Tesla/squillionaire bashing hyper vibe I sometimes see at this site.

            Reply
            1. Yves Smith

              Telsa is now being widely discussed as a candidate for bankruptcy. And you are challenging our now-prescient-looking criticism (not that we didn’t have company, but that we could read the tea leaves).

              Reply
              1. David of California

                Thank you Yves, Sure I’ll challenge naked capitalism on Tesla. What do you have in mind? :)

                I like nakedcapitalism’s tilt, tending towards progressive, eco-friendly policy choices that have the target of making the world a better place.

                The company you keep when bashing Tesla, that concern’s me. In the last bash by Wolfstreet, I stated I had tried to find the 2025’s for sale with no luck. No fire sale that I could find, which I’m sure someone on your staff checked into? Bonds are a low volume market, easily manipulated. Please don’t quote low volume Trace prices as I have no respect for shallow markets.

                The first bashing vibe was last summer into the fall, the second started after the 1st quarter earnings call. I see this as the second wave of the Tesla bashing vibe.

                I’d hope you have better evidence than 2025 bond prices to join the bullying, please share!

                Obviously you are aware of the vin tracking by Bloomberg. I just don’t see a bankruptcy anytime soon.

                Reply
                1. Yves Smith

                  First, eco-friendly does not excuse poor production methods and scamming of investors and customers.

                  There are numerous reports of unacceptable product quality of the Model 3s, like bumpers falling off. Musk has also dangerously overhyped his Autopilot.

                  Second. Tesla is far from alone in making all-electric cars. I drove a GM prototype in 1994. The idea that electric cars are uniquely or even particularly dependent on Tesla is a canard that someone who is behaving an awful lot like a Tesla fanboi is too eager to promote.

                  Third, you haven’t been paying attention if you missed the discussion of Tesla BK odds in the press in the last few weeks. This a topic in the automotive press in 2018:

                  https://www.thedrive.com/tech/24261/elon-musk-and-10-billion-of-debt-why-tesla-will-go-bankrupt-in-2019

                  It intensified even before the AutoPilot death, the bad 1Q #s, and the bonds tanking after the liquidity injection:

                  https://www.ccn.com/elon-musks-april-fools-bankruptcy-joke-could-turn-prophetic-for-tesla

                  https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/04/teslas-onslaught-of-announcements-is-raising-red-flags-about-demand.html

                  And this is the latest spate:

                  https://sports.yahoo.com/tesla-may-avert-bankruptcy-but-it-will-still-needs-1-billion-in-cash-201304219.html

                  https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2019/05/tesla_is_at_risk_of_bankruptcy_if_the_stock_falls_by_20.html

                  Wolf’s beef, and that of many other Tesla skeptics (including yours truly) is that Tesla trades at an insane multiple premium to established automakers who DO have electric cars and dealer networks that can service them, when there is ample evidence that Tesla is a long way away from being competent as a manufacturer. Numerous reports of massive rework, unacceptably high levels of defects in newly shipped cars, evidence that Tesla is playing games to credit as sales product that was shipped to warehouses. Manufacturing experts looking at photos of their factories say it’s obvious something is wrong, there are way too many people on the floor.

                  If the multiple merely falls to a more reasonable level, Tesla will have trouble raising its needed $1 billion+ of funding because it just burned its last round of investors. See here for details:

                  https://finance.yahoo.com/video/alarming-theres-no-clear-catalyst-173008135.html

                  Finally, it is questionable how ecofriendly Teslas are given facts presented by other readers on this thread, such as (kurtismayfield) that 68% of electricity in China comes from fossil fuels, and 67% in the US. Much of that is coal fired electrical plants, when coal is arguably the dirtiest fossil fuel. And electric cars use materials like rare earths that are environmentally nasty to mine. Wired frontally challenged the claim that Tesla’s cars are eco-friendly when you look at the entire production cycle:

                  https://www.wired.com/2016/03/teslas-electric-cars-might-not-green-think/

                  Better trolls, please.

                  Reply
                  1. David of California

                    Wolf and his dealer friends and now Buffet and his auto insurance buddies, and of course GM, Ford do not want Tesla to succeed and would likely do anything to stop it.

                    Yes, I agree Tesla stock is expensive!

                    If you decide to address the Bloomberg Vin tracker or the lack of 2025’s available for sale to retail investors at any price, let me know. To me these two are the best real-time indicators available to the public of an impending bankruptcy.

                    I’ll address your links to missing bumper’s etc. with this link
                    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/11/consumer-reports-teslas-model-3-most-satisfying-car.html

                    I hope we are trying to find the truth here.

                    Reply
                    1. Yves Smith

                      The Blooomberg VIN tracker has been spectacularly inaccurate in the past, which you should know. Moreover, “available for sale” is not sold.

                      And your comment regarding Wolf is pure ad hominem and a violation of our written site Policies.

                      Funny how Tesla seems to bring out people not capable of making a well-substantiated case for the company.

                  2. Troutwaxer

                    “Finally, it is questionable how ecofriendly Teslas are given facts presented by other readers on this thread, such as (kurtismayfield) that 68% of electricity in China comes from fossil fuels, and 67% in the US. Much of that is coal fired electrical plants, when coal is arguably the dirtiest fossil fuel.”

                    That’s a poor argument. Electric cars and trucks solve the fossil-fuel problem for cars and trucks. The fact that we haven’t completely solved the fossil-fuel problem for electrical generation doesn’t mean that solving the problem for cars and trucks is remotely bad. It just means that one technology hasn’t caught up with the other. Should we have waited until the electrical system was completely green before addressing the problem with cars and trucks? I don’t think so!

                    This is why your argument looks very suspicious. The “electricity isn’t clean so we shouldn’t build electric cars” argument is right out of the fossil-fuel lovers handbook!

                    I wouldn’t expect the technologies to follow each other in lockstep. Eventually we will have both green cars and green power.

                    Reply
                    1. Yves Smith

                      Wowsers, do you regularly make stuff up? Because you patently did here. I pointed out the electricity generation is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. You simply handwave and assert that they “solve the fossil fuel problem for cars and truck” when that is flatly false and you offer no forecast whatsoever as to if and when that will happen.

                      In addition my argument was much broader than the part you cherry-picked. It’s also that the total environmental costs of building new electrical costs, including the energy cost of manufacture, call into serious question the assertion that Teslas are “ecofriendly”. So you cherry picked and engaged in argument by assertion. Let’s go into all the nasty materials they use, starting with rare earths. Oh, and how about the environmental cost, energy and otherwise, of building new infrastructure for electrical cars, like all the needed charging stations?

                      And then you engage in a smear by trying to depict me as an oil industry shill.

                      I’m not saying that electrical cars don’t have merit. But you are siding with the camp that wants to depict “green” technologies as magic bullets so people like you don’t have to give up their comfortable lives. I have said repeatedly and consistently that the only way we can possibly tackle climate change, absent the implementation of some carbon capture technology that doesn’t create significant problems of its own, is radical conservation. That means a LOT of sacrifice.

                    2. Troutwaxer

                      I don’t believe that you’re a shill. I’m noting that your argument sounds like that of a shill. (I’ve been reading Naked Capitalism for years, so I know better.) I’m not telling you you’re suspicious, I’m telling you why your particular phrasing appears to be suspicious.

                      I suspect that as self-driving cars and particularly routing algorithms get better the “too many cars” problem will go away. Individuals will stop owning cars and will simply call a car service when they want to go someplace. They’ll be placed in a car with other people who require the same routing and we’ll ultimately end up with something like 10-25 percent of the cars now on the road, which will be a very good thing.

                      As for making sacrifices, I’m currently trying to figure out how to get out of the rat race and into something more sustainable. It’s tough because I have a family member who has some problematic medical issues.

                    3. Yves Smith

                      You’ve engaged repeatedly in personal attacks, which you continue here. That’s ad hominem, which is logically invalid and a violation of our written site Policies.

                      You’ve also straw manned what I said, another violation of our site Policies.

                      You offer nothing in response, save for unsubstantiated personal opinion.

                      This is what Lambert call a reader assisted suicide note. We are only too happy to oblige.

      2. cnchal

        The point of the article was to detail how China will dominate electric car production going forward.

        The Chinese government, therefore, has chosen to highlight electric vehicles as one of 10 commercial sectors central to its “Made in China” effort to boost advanced industrial technology. Government efforts include using billions of dollars to subsidize manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries, and encouraging businesses and consumers to buy them.

        If – or when – that happens, inexpensive, efficient electric cars may spread through the West from China, surpassing Tesla and other American and European electric vehicle efforts. . .

        My comment was about groaf, groaf, groaf. the moar the better. Some believe the technology fairy will come to the rescue. I don’t.

        Reply
    1. Tom

      Yea it’s called supporting your industries when they are going through a new phase of technology unlike the idiots in the USA who are content with financialising and looting their own populace. Please refrain from such foolish comments

      Reply
      1. SufferinSuccotash

        As if Uncle Sam had nothing to do with developing the electronics industry as we know it (see ENIAC, SAGE, DARPA, the space program).

        Reply
        1. Svante

          Or, on the fossil fuel industry . Depending on if one begins after or before WW-I or in Pennsylvania, before the Civil War. Or bombing the rednecks on Blair Mountain for coal, or aiding then fighting the Japanese; selling trucks & Tetraethyllead to folks we thought were going to use them on deplorables in shithole countries? It used to be difficult, now it’s impossible to look up pertinent, well researched articles (many studies, taxpayer funded).

          I dare any of us to use Google to discover how much: money, labor, raw materials, industrial output, finance we’ve spent to steal other’s oil, gas, uranium, rare earths… and how many kids’ lives?

          http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

          Reply
    2. Edward

      Electric cars are not as immoral as combustion cars, because they aren’t as tied to global warming. I don’t see why electric cars can’t be profitable, especially as gasoline is phased out.

      Electronics do produce toxic pollution and personally I would like to see more bicycle use, but electric cars are a step in the right direction.

      Reply
      1. Robert Valiant

        What if the electricity comes from coal? Are those individuals driving coal/electric cars as immoral as those driving combustion cars? Alternatively, should a morality score for an individual electric driver be determined based on the average toxicity of all electric car use?

        Reply
        1. Edward

          The electric car is a part of a system that avoids fossil fuels. Adopting such a system isn’t happening all at once but in steps and piecemeal; the electric car may not immediately substantially reduce China’s fossil fuel consumption but it is a step on that path.

          Car use in general can be reduced by setting up car coops.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith

            Huh? See the comment below (kurtismayfield) that 68% of electricity in China comes from fossil fuels, and 67% in the US. Your view is at best aspirational and not matched by facts.

            A lot of this is coal fired electrical plants and coal is arguably the worst fossil fuel due to the particulate emissions on top of greenhouse gases.

            Reply
            1. Edward

              “Your view is at best aspirational”

              I could say the same about your comment; will China still be producing 67% of its electricity from coal in a few years? Perhaps we are both making assumptions.

              According to the article:

              “The government is also aware that electric vehicles could help solve some of China’s most pressing energy and environmental concerns: Massive air pollution chokes its major cities, national security officials are worried about how much oil the country imports and China is now the nation contributing most to global climate change emissions.”

              So the Chinese government sees electric cars as an asset in their efforts to combat global warming and their anti-global warming plans may include these cars. I don’t know how the electric car carbon footprint compares with the gas car carbon footprint in China in 2019, although electric cars are more efficient. My basic feeling is that regardless of what China’s current plans are concerning switching to renewable energy, using electric cars sets China up to “go green” in the future. A major obstacle to a green transportation system is being removed and such a transition will be easier for China.

              Reply
        2. rd

          China is also a leader of solar panel production.

          If you couple electric cars with local solar panel and wind power generation, you do not need as many coal fired power plants or big transmission lines.

          China and other countries can skip some of the infrastructure construction that has now gotten old and moldy in the West, such as power transmission to everywhere and landlines for phone, internet, TV etc.

          Reply
      2. Summer

        “Electric cars are not as immoral as combustion cars, because they aren’t as tied to global warming.”

        Massive amounts of mining will still need to be done for electric cars and their parts. And the raw materials are often not gathered with any morality in mind.
        I don’t expect the electric cars to be one iota more “moral.”
        Now it’s just being trapped by the circumstances of the times.

        Reply
    3. Joe Well

      >>if the government were to slather me in money, and I never had to make a profit.

      Haven’t you heard of all the auto bailouts just in the US?

      Most major car companies are wards of the state, not as much as airlines but similar.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Those weren’t bailouts. Those were cramdowns. Many factories were decreed closed.
        Many dealerships were decreed closed. GM was divided into “New Motors” and “Old Motors” and huge never-to-perform-again assets flushed into “Old Motors” and liquidated down to near-zero. What happened to all the shares of Old GM? I don’t know, but I feel like they shrank or disappeared. I stand correctable, of course.

        The FedGov lent “New GM” a bunch of money. I believe “New GM” has paid all of that lent money back.

        The bank bailouts were different. Those really were pure bailouts.

        Reply
    4. Susan the other`

      So then it stands to reason, cnchal, that we can build the best train system we can imagine. The US auto industry was always subsidized; it was an important cog in the MIC. China will turn to public transportation as well. Maybe when they get over being profiteers. And get over being enthralled with cars and going willy-nilly all over the place at a whim.

      Reply
      1. Robert Valiant

        I suspect that in the long run, even electricity can’t save Happy Motoring — except for the hard working and productive top 10% or so.

        I also suspect that if the true costs of Happy Motoring could be calculated, it wasn’t really a Good Thing for the world, after all.

        Reply
    5. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the Great Green China of tomorrow has a billion electric cars for a billion Chinese, where will they get the electricity to keep all those cars charged up and running?

      Reply
      1. Awul

        No reason for the 1B ever to have 1B autos. Small electric cycles like the ones that are ubiquitous in all their large cities will not go out of use.

        Reply
  2. Cordyceps

    Will Come from China — not the US

    You know an article is written in America, by an American, when you see words like this in the headline. It must be awful for a society to be so paranoid that it wonders without respite what it could be like to no longer be whatever America thinks it is.

    Reply
    1. Svante

      It’s Alternet. Well before Brock’s “Correct The Record” stomp down of honest journalism, attempts at fact checking and whistleblowing, Alternet was just one of MANY formerly excellent blog aggregators, publishing folks who’d been laid off by big city dailies, magazines, business insiders and government agencies. Suddenly, they’d do lame stuff like swipe pertinent URLs from their comments; basically cherry pick, cut and paste sections supporting their (usually K/ C Street) agenda, slap on some silly click bait Header, then of course… delete that part of the comment thread including the original link. Go figure? Then, unleash the sockpuppets and industry trolls on or banning the confused poster.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The Chinalectric Cars of Tomorrow could come “from” America . . in a sense . . if America dropped out of every Free Trade Agreement there is and then legally mandated that the only Chinalectric Car which could be sold in America . . . was a Chinalectric Car which was made in America. We could mandate that China build its Chinalectric car companies in America just like the Japanese did . . . to make in America the Chinalectric cars which are to be sold in America.

      By the way, that article didn’t seem like paranoia to me. It seemed like Free Trade Hasbara to me. It was contriving yet another excuse to keep America under Corporate Globalonial Plantation occupation on the theory that if we want electric cars, we will have to let China freely trade them here.

      But if we abolished Free Trade and re-protectionised our economy, we could build the capacity here to make electric cars here. Of course we can’t do that as long as Free Trade exists.

      Reply
    1. ej

      I bet you could find something in the archives of Popular Mechanics. Retrofitting would make sense, but, hey, this is the USA. Next are the batteries. They need lots of rare earth chemicals from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where you can guarantee workers are treated like sh*t.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        I also wonder why we need batteries and cannot just move to a system where cars are powered on the road by some kind of induction system like trolleys but more flexible.

        Especially when we already had electric buses, aka trackless trolleys, since the 1920s or so. So much of this discussion of electric vehicles does not make sense.

        Reply
  3. Ptb

    Good for them.
    Battery price on pace for $100/KWh by 2020 , if the exponential trend holds (50% every 2 years) .
    That will make a mass market (i.e. Toyota Corolla level) EV a reality.

    IMO, hybrids are the most attractive overall at this time. They offer the full efficiency benefits of EV’s, without the hassle of slow fill times. Recall that the grid in many EV markets (China, DE, JP) is still coal dominated, so electric power is not clean yet in the coming decade.

    Reply
    1. John

      But it will be as more and more renewable sources replace coal! EV owners now are preparing for that

      Reply
    2. a different chris

      >without the hassle of slow fill times.

      That won’t even matter. Nobody drives as far as the West, and even then 99% of us won’t drive far enough on a given day to not be able to charge overnight in their own home – skipping that weekly gas-station trip. A 300 mile range is just a stupid thing that people needed so they could envision “substituting” electric for gas until they get an electric vehicle and start to think about it.

      But there is another change on the horizon that people are talking about but don’t see the way electric cars will, well turbo-charge it: we really, really won’t own a car anymore.

      The problem for manufacturers is that an electric car will shortly be able to last forever. Just change the batteries, and that is a concept we’ve had since somebody invented the flashlight. Maybe every three million miles or so the wheel bearings. The motors will on average last forever, if you can average forever. I slept last night under the same ceiling fan I put in almost 40 years ago and it shows no degradation.

      So how do you run a business where the customer will never, ever come back ironically because they are satisfied for life? When the world finally stops adding people? How do you approach buying something that will outlive you? The only way this works is if the financial parasites, and we have plenty of those on hand, come up with an inducement to “pay per mile” rather than purchase.

      And they will.

      Reply
      1. barefoot charley

        Don’t forget the software updates! One day your forever car won’t support the updates, and the next day may find your car bricked like your venerable computers–for your own safety and convenience, need I add.

        Reply
      2. Jeff N

        Nobody junks a car because the engine went bad anymore.. they junk it because the trans went bad, a pump is leaking, the entire brake system needs service. Basically a $2k repair brings about the decision

        Reply
      3. Ptb

        Taxis still need to be filled, often during the day.
        Charging at home requires a detached house, preferably with a garage, and returning home every night.

        Equipment purchase decisions are made based on peak performance situations. Buying a car? You’re gonna have that ski trip or weekend at the grandparents’ with the family in mind.

        The market for hybrids is just bigger.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith

          I would never drive an all-electric car in a climate that had blizzards. The battery already drains faster when the car has to be heated, since unlike gas powered cars, you don’t get heat as a by-product of engine operation. Being stuck on a roadside in cold temperatures puts you at risk of hypothermia. No one can do the electronic syphon off a gallon of gas to allow you to get to the nearest gas station.

          Reply
          1. Svante

            Just driving a hybrid Prius in Birmingham was scary enough. And, yes, I’ve driven them on wet ice there. The Atkinson-cycle engine and crappy batteries aren’t as much of an issue as folks on a mission from god, trying to run over hippy cars. I doubt any Nissan Leaf or Kia Niro EV would elicit this conditioned response. I believe, as deisel hits $6, any number of the locals will just ceaslessly reenact the Squidbillies’ title sequence, until institutionalized, or cannibalism culls their ilk? I’m guessing sedan chairs, rocket packs & romantic poled gondolas for NYC (trebuchet to Brooklyn?)

            Reply
          2. MichaelSF

            unlike gas powered cars, you don’t get heat as a by-product of engine operation.

            Your points are good but I’m going to make a minor nitpick on that part of the statement. Electric motors and controllers on e-motorcycles have fins and/or heat sinks to pull heat out of them, and some high performance e-motos have motors/controllers that are liquid cooled to extract/control the higher levels of heat that is produced from them. You don’t have the large amounts of waste heat from combustion which makes it easy to have an inexpensive/low fuel-use cabin heater, but if making reasonable amounts of e-power there is heat produced that needs to be managed. E-power is not 100% efficient, and the percentage losses are typically going to be seen with heat being produced where you’d rather have the energy doing more productive work.

            Reply
      4. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or if the financial parasites were all rounded up, machine gunned, and buried in very large mass graves, pits and trenches. Then there wouldn’t be any more financial parasites around to have to satisfy. And then we could have last-forever electric cars and other nice things.

        Reply
      5. cnchal

        >. . . Maybe every three million miles or so the wheel bearings. The motors will on average last forever

        Dream on. The battery is a known replacement item, the suspension is clapped out just as fast as any other car, and the electronic crapola dashboards, sensors and computers with all that heavy wiring and multitude of connections is subject to extreme wear and tear, seeing water and brine solutions if not sealed properly. My bet is the electronics will fail before the suspension is clapped out, and at that point the car is scrap. Good thing the motor is still good. But try finding a good body with still functioning and trustworthy electronics.

        Reply
  4. Norb

    The major question facing governments today is what to do with surplus populations. Every politician you hear today espouse their primary role is to keep the population safe and secure. How is that possible if people don’t have meaningful stable employment or access to basic services?

    It seems politicians answer that question in two ways. The first is to imply that policies are directed at all citizens of a nation, but intend that the benefits and security will only apply to a subset of the population, leaving the misguided adrift to fend for themselves. These are the politicians with a private and public position. The second is to intend policy decisions to effect all citizens and to work over time to implement and actually strive for success in their creation. That view requires forward thinking and planning on a societal scale.

    China seems to have such a collective vision, where one must question Western motives and abilities. It seems that liberal democracy just can’t get the job done. The West has chosen austerity as a means to control the population where China has a stated vision of eliminating poverty in their county. Western liberal democracies no longer even pretend that poverty elimination is essential to their policies.

    People in the West always view poverty elimination as meaning that the underclass aspire to live in great excess. This is not the case. Poverty elimination represents a rising baseline of goods and services- of access to goods and services reducing pain and suffering. In this respect, the Chinese system has been a resounding success.

    A sober view of poverty elimination is the only way forward. It is the only way of remolding our complex society in ways that reallocate resources to manage human population. Solving the Rural/ Urban divide will be a major component in that surviving system. Finding work and limiting human travel will also be essential in such a workable system.

    Meaningful travel is more important that wasteful moving back and forth. Instead of seeing the world as a limitless opportunity for exploration and exploitation, limits must be accepted. Limits will be imposed one way or another. An elite class refusing to accept that life requires managing limits simply cannot remain in political control. Why not concentrate on social harmony and balance along the way instead of racing toward a hard crash out.

    That takes political leadership and vision based on a fair, just, and smart management of limits. Do more with less.

    Reply
    1. Summer

      “Solving the Rural/ Urban divide will be a major component in that surviving system.”

      You would be hard pressed to find any country that has solved the Urban/Rural divide problem – the jury is still out on China solving it in that country too. It is the problem that is eating alive any country involved in mass production and mass exporting of goods.

      “Instead of seeing the world as a limitless opportunity for exploration and exploitation, limits must be accepted.”

      It is telling that that people can see into the future what amounts to limitless growth of cities which requires massive environmental and social engineering with no other alternative.

      Reply
  5. Synoia

    But where will all these two family cars be parked? /s

    One can live and work in Shenzhen and not need a car.

    The future is electrically assisted bicycles and buses. Go to Shenzhen and see for yourself.

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      Do you mean “push assist”?

      I recently tried a push-assist bicycle share program in Western Massachusetts. It is quite an enjoyable if somewhat science fictional (for a first timer) experience. It would probably make cycling much more popular since it evens out the amount of exertion required reducing the stress going up modest hills, more like riding a stationary bike. But I imagine it still requires traditional chemical batteries?

      I just wish we could remove car traffic from most city streets (like by setting a 10 mph speed limit on all but the widest streets). The biggest obstacle to riding bikes or walking is just the cars: the danger, the exhaust, the noise, the waiting at intersections.

      Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Let the Chinese marinate themselves in 5G electro-hypersmog for the next 50 years. Then let us see if any strange new disease syndromes emerge in China.

      Reply
  6. Pelham

    Electric cars in China are effectively coal-powered. Great. And much the same here.

    What we need are sustainable liquid fuels for internal combustion engines, and real progress is being made on this front. It gets little notice, though, I suspect because so much money is being funneled into EVs, which also pose an environmental threat due to the huge demands for various metals needed for their batteries and motors.

    As for electric bikes and scooters: They’re fine in good weather — if you have vast stretches of bike lanes protected by concrete barriers from car traffic (a recent study showed that non-protected bike lanes may actually be more hazardous than ordinary streets). But what about the majority of time in many places where the weather is wet, sleety or snowy, streets and sidewalks are slippery or slushy and temperatures hover well below freezing for much of the year?

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      The weather argument against urban cycling has been refuted many times. Denmark has done it superbly. I rode quite a bit in Boston in January even at the beginning and end of snowstorms. They are slowly building the bike lanes in Boston and many other places, it is relatively cheap to do so by the standards of public works. Covered lanes would be nice but are not necessary.

      Reply
      1. Pelham

        Thanks for the reply. I’m genuinely interested to know how the weather argument has been refuted. All I have to go on are my own very limited observations. For instance, I live in a very progressive college town in the snow belt with lots of bike lanes, which in winter serve as places for the street plows to deposit piles of snow up to 4 feet high. And sidewalks are shoveled only in spots.

        I know the Danes love cycling, but do they do anything there to make the streets safer or passable for bikes during foul weather? In Sweden, I’ve heard, some sidewalks are heated enough to melt snow and ice, so maybe that’s a solution — although it requires a big investment in infrastructure.

        Reply
        1. Joe Well

          >>Thanks for the reply. I’m genuinely interested to know how the weather argument has been refuted.

          This is like the people who question whether universal healthcare has ever been successfully implemented by any country and then demand proof that it has, rinse and repeat. Similarly, bike-sharing has been written about extensively in the context of urban transportation. There are many successful examples around the world.

          The Denmark example is almost certainly the most written about and studied so many times that information about it is abundant. TLDR: they created both parallel cycling infrastructure and make car roads safer for cyclists, and it’s in Scandinavia so the weather is not always clement. And if they can plow the roads for cars, they can plow them for bicycles, too.

          Here is a very critical article looking at Copenhagen’s cycle commute. Despite that, it says that 44% of all commuting in the capital is done via bicycle, which is amazing. 24% of trips overall are by bicycle.

          Obviously, many people still commute by walking, automobile and public transportation, or some combination of that with cycling, but cycling takes a lot of load off the public transportation and the roads. Bicycles will never take over 100% of urban transportation, but no one mode ever does cover 100%. The idea is to get private automobiles down to a very small %.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          One could imagine a road-system where the car-ways were rigidly walled off from the bikeways so that it were rendered physically impossible to push snow off the carway onto the bikeway.

          Then imagine having the entire length of every bikeway paralleled by a bikeway-long bikeway-wide snowplow-dumpway for the snow to be laterally pushed off the bikeway onto the snowplow-dumpway as the bikeway snowplow keeps on plowing along. The far side of the snowplow-dumpway could be lined with a huge thick high wall the length of the bikeway-dumpway. A wall so strong that the bikeway-snowplow could push the snow against it so hard that the air would be squeezed out of the snow as it gets squeezed into being a semi-ice vertical layer up against that wall. That semi-ice layer would be ten times less volume than the air-filled snow before it has the air squeezed out of it as part of that plowing and squeezing operation.

          Reply
          1. wilroncanada

            Many cities and even small towns and villages in Atlantic Canada have sidewalk ploughs the plough sidewalks obviously. The same machines could and would likely be used to plough bicycle lanes. In some places where snow falls in more volume, they are riding snow blowers, This isn’t rocket science,

            Reply
            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              If this is being done now in the High Snowfall cities of Eastern and Midwestern and Prairie Canada, then it is do-able here. Let us hope a very pro-bicycle town or city will go study Canada and see how to roll out such a system here to see if an American test case city can make it work in the American test case city social environment.

              If they can, it could spread.

              Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I have also been thinking about this. A hybrid IC-electric car would not need super fancy blood-conflict rare earth elements or super-scarce lithium, because it would not need super fancy batteries.

      The battery could be a good old short-range lead-acid battery, because the battery wouldn’t have to be the fuel storage. The fuel tank would be the fuel storage, and the battery-electromotor system would be the way to extract the most possible driving from the energy released from burning the fuel.

      Between forcing down the amount of driving done overall and forcing up the amount of skycarbon sucked back down by green plant systems, we might indeed be able to sustain a sustainable-fuel mini-car mini-fleet for mini-amounts of mini-driving.

      Reply
    3. charles 2

      I agree that Power-to-Liquid may win at the end, if only because planes and tanks of the military needs it. This being said, the regenerative braking and power surge capacity of hybrids is here to stay.

      Regarding e-bikes,
      The cold and wet must be addressed by proper clothing.
      Bad Road condition can be addressed by a proper bike. The extra rolling resistance of fat tires is more than compensated by electric assistance.

      Reply
  7. charles 2

    Prices of batteries from China are misleading, because who knows if the battery makers really create or destroy value ?
    I am doubtful that battery technology based on relatively rare elements is going to be the foundation for mass market (including trucks). Seems to me it is more cake than bread, to reuse Marie-Antoinette apocryphal terminology.
    There will be quite a few iterations before a leading contender emerges IMO. Considering its vast Lithium reserves, China may go for Lithium (but Lithium still requires Cobalt, which is not easy to find), but may not be willing to share it with the world, especially if globalisation is reversed by the like of Trump.
    Batteries or fuel cells based on more common elements like Zinc seem to me to be more promising for the long term future. Check for instance Enzinc

    I concur with the commenters above that urban transportation is best served by public transport and e-bike/e-scooters, but not 100% of the planet is urban, and one still needs delivery trucks

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I agree with your assessment of battery technology. Thanks for the link to Enzinc. I’ll have to watch that company to see if it ever comes out with some products.

      Reply
  8. Ignacio

    If anything, this demonstrates how reluctant has been the well established car industry to shift to electric vehicles. They will only do it seriously if they are obligued.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Perhaps the car industry is unable to think beyond cars. An electric vehicle is not the same as an electric car, just as a car is not the same as a horseless carriage.

      Reply
    2. John

      I’m pretty sure it’s because profit margins on electric cars are lower than they are on ones with combustion engines.

      A poster above mentioned the longer lifespans, which is very interesting and something I didn’t know about. Perhaps another incentive for the auto industry to continue resisting this transition.

      Reply
  9. polecat

    I wonder .. down the long rocky road .. sometime after the end of the Humanicine, what newly exposed autoliths will adorn the continents ? .. twisted, metamorphosed, distorted … maybe with a partial, or even a fully fossilized hominid .. one cold, dead, set of bony digits grasping an even moarrrr flattened communcation device .. with the other unpryable from what was once their partner in amorous embrace …

    Reply
  10. Jim McRitchie

    Coming soon to a car near you, batteries made of viruses. Each gallon of gas is the product of 100 tons of plant material. M13 virus already works to power button battery. Soon your dashboard and other car parts can be made of layered M13 viruses and lithium foil. Read about it in The Age of Living Machines.

    Reply
  11. John

    Will someone knowledgeable on this topic tell me how far away we are from true mass adoption of EVs?

    Love what the Chinese government is doing but only 7% by 2025? How many years away are we, realistically, from having EVs controlling, say, 50% of the market in any place?

    Reply
    1. Ptb

      Global manufacturers, esp. euro, are acting like it’s happening in the next decade, sometime mid 2020s let’s say. However, the term EV is quietly being redefined to also include hybrids. (Which IMO is totally appropriate). It also doesn’t mean internal combustion vehicles are going to die out, except where legislated. Wild guess is an 80/20 mix (20% EV including hybrids) by end of next decade.

      Further into the future (30yrs) it depends on so much. electric pricing, how tech development turns out, like batteries or fuel cells or some form of storage, or less toxic nukes, or a solution to the diesel catalytic converter problem…

      Reply
  12. rjs

    so im reading this part: “In 2018, Chinese sales topped 1.1 million cars, more than 55% of all electric vehicles sold in the world, and more than three times as many as Chinese customers had bought two years earlier. U.S. electric vehicle sales that year were just 358,000.” and figure that per capita sales in both countries are just about the same.

    Reply
  13. GWJones

    For reference, (and speaking as someone who studied at the undergraduate level in China, fluent in written and spoken) the Wikipedia article on Chinese characters is irrelevant. The CCP has painted itself into a corner because it has never practiced democracy in any form, and the centralization of power by Xi Jinping over the past 6 years is proving a double-edged sword requiring even more oppressive measures against the population, especially against those elements in China who demand rights: political, social and economic.

    Reply
  14. SJ

    China is indeed the absolute leader in EV’s and will continue to be. How big thew market will be is a matter of conjecture and the whole limits to growth issue. But, Assuming the next few years look like the last few years then the trend will continue at least for while.
    The German car industry takes Tesla’s technology very seriously, but not necessarily Tesla’s manufacturing capability, although that can be fixed fairly quickly. In France and Germany the delivery time for a new Tesla 3 is 4 weeks (I know someone who just ordered 2 for his company),and that doesn’t sound like overly high demand.
    Chinese car data can be found here:

    http://autonews.gasgoo.com/china_news

    EV News here (for example):

    http://autonews.gasgoo.com/china_news/70015976.html

    Cheers

    Reply
  15. jfleni

    Garage experimenters started making electric cars almost fifty
    years ago, using junk-storage batteries,junk electric motors etc. Its time to make cars that run on hydrogen or other fuels
    because battery technology is running out of steam rapidly,
    and will always be inferior.

    Reply

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