If you like cars, the prospect of them shifting over to electric power en masse may be somewhat intimidating. If you like the history of the automobile, the continuing industry pivot toward electric power does a lot to validate its past. Electric vehicles were seriously viable 100 years ago, too. The reason why they weren’t adopted en masse back then is because technology, as it then existed, strongly favored the cheaper reality that long-distance driving was more economically feasible with internal-combustion power. The Detroit Electric, et al, couldn’t adapt to the country’s ever-expanding road network. It’s that simple, and a century later, that technological hierarchy is being shaken in some fundamental ways.
Led by chairman and CEO Mary Barra, General Motors has rocked the industry by announcing this week that it will use science-based processes to achieve total carbon neutrality by 2040. To reach that goal, North America’s largest producer of motor vehicles says it will entirely limit tailpipe emissions from its fleet of light-duty vehicles by 2035. This is enormous news, certainly equivalent as a landmark industry moment when with Ransom Eli Olds first started using a moving production line to build his cars. With its action, GM is committing to the United Nations’ urgent global effort to involve business in controlling climate change. Right now, GM envisions that 40 percent of its U.S. vehicle offerings will run on battery-electric power by 2025. The former Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, is being repurposed for EV assembly. GM’s announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration’s decision to convert the full federal vehicle fleet to EV-only. If you’re worrying about what this may mean for things like the Corvette, don’t. McLaren, to name just one lofty nameplate, has already demonstrated that electric supercars are a workable concept, too.