Last week on the Washington Post carchat there were many questions about Volvo’s decision to go all electrified by 2019. Why they asked? Why only Electric vehicles?
In the face of the G20 conference just held in Hamburg, Germany, where nineteen of the countries in attendance agreed to the Paris Climate Change agreement, the United States the only country opting out, why is Volvo, and France, going all in with electric vehicles.
France is analogous to Volvo. Both are niche markets. Both the car company and the country are known for doing things differently; Volvo was the first car company to use safety as a moniker, touting that anyone that purchased their cars were doing so practically out of altruistic philanthropy. France is, well, je ‘n’ais quoi. Part of the reason we all love France is because they are so…French. There is a pretentiousness to them that the rest of us will never obtain and if we come close to it, they change the rules.
There was a time when Volvo almost ended up the way of Saab or Suzuki and other car companies. Even in its best year in the United States Volvo has never bested 1 percent of the market.
The first answer is that Volvo will not be only electric vehicles. Volvo will bring out multiple technologies that will end up as hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. While the Volvo XC 90 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) was quite a bit more expensive than the gasoline Volvo XC 90 the Volvo XC 60 PHEV is much more in-line with the gas version.
The difference is that we need France and Volvo; we need them to show us what people do when they are not afraid to look past the current politics, but to where they can stand out in the face of adversity.
The Chevy Volt has been out long enough to give us a look at real-world driving patterns. A Chevy Volt owner uses about eight gallons of gasoline a month; using part electricity, part regular unleaded gasoline. A midsize sedan that gets twenty miles per gallon (mpg) will use about thirty-five miles per gallon. At the current $2.50 a gallon the Volt owner is spending $20 a month, probably more on Starbucks frappuccinos a month than gasoline. The ICE car will cost less than $90 a month.
The underlying issue is not the actual internal combustion engine (ICE), that engine has actually gotten better at fuel consumption over the years. The issue is emissions and the energy used for those ICE vehicles. Anecdotally, a plug-in hybrid uses 1/4 the emissions-spewing energy versus the gasoline-only automobile; an energy that Scientists who believe in climate change say are changing the temperature of the terra-firma we live on by driving cars.
My colleague, Warren Brown, answered the carchat question saying that the reason Volvo went all electric is because they were purchased in 2010 by Geely, a Chinese company, a country that also signed the Paris Agreement. China gives more tax credits for electric cars than the United States. China is following the same zero-emission vehicle mandate by Senator Fran Pavley’s AB32 and SB32 that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is regulating as fiercely as they can. If CARB has their way, there will be no internal combustion engines on the roads of California by 2050. Volvo, France, China and CARB are paying no attention to the President of the United States. In fact, they are standing up in the face of adversity and creating a market for future generations.
There is another reason China wants electric vehicles. There is a war on between the United States, Korea, and China for battery production. The major producers of lithium-ion batteries (not in any order) are China’s Panasonic, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd. (CATL), United States’s Panasonic Giga factory with Tesla Motors, Japan’s Automotive Energy Supply (AESC) ( a joint venture between NEC and Nissan), Korea’s LG Chem and Samsung SDI. Currently, Volvo uses LG Chem batteries for the U.S. market, but will that eventually change? Volvo is currently using LG batteries, but they are leaving their options open because of the rapidly changing advancement in batteries, and (Volvo did not say this) because they are owned by a Chinese company.
For China, the use of batteries is to get off the dependence on foreign oil; ostensibly they will need to use the massive amount of domestic coal they own to produce the electricity for EV cars. For some people in the United States, getting off the dependence of foreign oil is the driving factor as well. There have been many wars fought over control of oil. Getting off the dependence of foreign oil may make us more dependent on places like the Congo, however, where a large cadmium market exists.
California is all about emissions. The State that commands twelve percent of the Nation’s car sales has mandated that none of its electricity will be made from coal, it is instead produced from Natural Gas and solar panels and wind.
If our current President was as interested as he says he is in bringing back coal jobs he should look at the strategic long-term moves that China is making; giving tax credits for electric vehicles, adding more taxes to retail gasoline. America still imports almost 10 million gallons of oil a day. If President Trump really wanted to Make America Great Again he could keep more of America’s oil in America, import less oil, create a demand for electric vehicles with batteries made in the United States, mine coal using carbon sequestration.
The electric infrastructure is another issue. There is still a Federal Tax credit for solar panels, but there is a move to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market.
The technology to be bi-directional is heating up. At the tech show in Hannover, Germany, Auto supplier, Continental AG, unveiled a world premiere bidirectional system called AllCharge. The technology makes it possible to charge vehicles to the maximum charging capacity of up to 800 volts and up to 350 kilowatts in the future. This bidirectional system also opens up new possibilities for a large amount of energy stored in the vehicle battery (“vehicle-to-grid” etc.) to be used during a black-out or when you are camping/glamping and need electricity. You just plug a mini-frig into your car and you will have all the comforts of home.
The change from gasoline to electrified is happening; it is not happening overnight, but there are companies and countries that are fighting in the face of adversity to bring about change.