Ford and GM this week announced that they’ve finally figured out that the future is electric. As the car industry changes direction, California must focus not on mandates but on creating an environment in which electric vehicles can succeed.
GM plans to have 20 new all-electric models by 2023, with two of them in the next year and a half. Ford will add 13 electric models in the next few years and invest $4.5 billion on research and development over five years.
If Ford and GM make good on their promises, it will be a game-changer for the American auto industry and for the planet. When two of the largest automakers in America and the world get on board with electric, the paradigm truly is shifting the way it needs to. One-third of greenhouse gases come from vehicle emissions.
Ford and GM aren’t the first to make this sort of pledge. Foreign automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and Volvo have already announced plans to shift toward all- or almost-all electric. Here in the United States, Tesla has had enormous success with its fleet of expensive electric cars.
It’s not just altruism on the part of automakers, though. They are responding, in part, to demands made by other nations. If Ford and GM were the second wave, so is California. Gov. Jerry Brown is reportedly eyeing how the state can replicate bans on non-electric cars being phased in by the United Kingdom, France and China.
Those nations’ polices have encouraged automakers to change, but does California really need to jump on the bandwagon at this point? Change is happening.
No one questions Brown’s and California’s willingness to stand up for the environment and against the worst instincts of the Trump administration, but we should pick our battles. More than 240,000 electric cars were sold in California between 2011 and 2016 without any requirement, and the federal government would likely push back hard against a California all-electric rule. Lawsuits could get expensive.
Instead, resources and passion would be better invested in supporting infrastructure to make widespread and even universal use of electric vehicles possible. When Ford, GM and others roll out millions of electric vehicles, we will need charging stations, a better energy grid and programs to ensure that electric cars are affordable to all drivers.
California can be a national leader that shows how to build for the future. A bill on the governor’s desk, for example, would allow cities to designate parking spaces alongside public streets for the exclusive use of electric vehicles using adjacent charging stations.
As more people switch to electric cars, California can take a hard look at other industries that emit massive quantities of greenhouse gases. If the auto industry can be convinced to change, hope remains for agriculture, energy and others.
Historically, the widespread adoption of innovative technology takes time. In the moment, when we see monster hurricanes fueled by warming oceans, it feels like things need to change faster. But a year or five is a short time to deploy innovations. Electric light bulbs took decades to become commonplace. Even the internet needed more than a decade to really take off.
Replacing the entire vehicle fleet with affordable electric vehicles will take time and support, not just one more mandate. But this week’s announcements show that America will rise to the challenge of climate change, even as the president keeps insisting it’s a hoax.