My latest article in Ars Technica and assorted EV thoughts

It’s been nearly a month since Ars Technica published my latest piece, “Are electric vehicles doomed? We don’t think so, despite poor sales,” but I wanted to share some context about it and a few additional thoughts. First off, I don’t know exactly how much real malaise currently plagues the EV market (it wasn’t my headline), given things are quite a bit more upbeat from my vantage point. Many advocates are certainly disappointed adoption hasn’t been faster, and I do broadly think both that expectations have been too high (and too blind to key barriers) and that there’s been too much focus on the light passenger vehicle market.

As I state in the final paragraph: “Advocates for transportation decarbonization have plenty to celebrate from the past decade and even greater cause for optimism over the next several years. They just need to look in the right places to see green shoots.”

I also (by design) entirely neglected discussion of two- and three-wheel EVs, since those represent a more fundamental mode shift away from the vehicles currently powered by internal combustion engines (aside from motorcycles/mopeds). I definitely wouldn’t downplay their importance in the transportation landscape, but just felt they are part of a bigger conversation.

It’d be easy to look at low oil prices (though they’ve recovered somewhat since I wrote that) and struggles in the global auto market and conclude we’re in for a tough few years. But national competitiveness concerns are quickly going to override market fundamentals. For instance, I do not expect the EV investment disparity we’re beginning to see between the Eurasian response to COVID-19 and the American one to go unnoticed, or unanswered by US policymakers.

I was only half-joking when I tweeted this a few weeks back:

We’re already starting to see some convergence between progressive aspirations for a “green” industrial policy to fight climate change and nationalist aspirations for a “green” industrial policy to fight China. There are a number of reasons I see politics swinging aggressively in favor of large-scale federal financial support for EV R&D and commercialization, but the growing specter of Chinese dominance in this arena will have a Sputnik-like effect for Republicans and moderate Democrats who have traditionally resisted major clean energy investments.

The second most important catalyst will be continued growth of an EV supply chain footprint in Republican states and the resulting jobs creation. Georgia claimed another major economic development victory with EV battery-maker SK Innovation’s decision to invest in a second plant earlier this month. While Tesla’s manufacturing investment claims should be taken with a large grain of salt (its Nevada Gigafactory never expanded to promised scale and Buffalo’s Gigafactory 2 has been boondoggle for New York State), siting the Cybertruck plant in Texas or Oklahoma may shift attitudes among the political class in those places.

Finally, here are few great reads from the past month I’d like to recommend:

  • With debate in Washington, DC over the US Postal Service’s future running hot, David Roberts at Vox lays out the case for electrifying its entire delivery truck fleet.
  • I absolutely love the work of Colin Mckerracher and his team over at Bloomberg New Energy Futures, and their brand new 2020 Electric Vehicle Outlook is of typical must-read caliber.
  • This working paper from Oxford researchers titled “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” offers a lot of food for thought on how fiscal stimulus measures will both support long-term economic growth and advance climate objectives.

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