Fittingly, you could say, the U.S. auto industry last went through a revolution akin to the one that’s about to embark right around 100 years ago. The United States was muddling through a post-World War I recession that combined with rising economies of scale in the booming car businesses to drive several thousand mom-and-pop automakers into the ranks of history. This great economic weaning produced the Big Three as we know it, and formed the framework of the industry for close to the next half-century. The current revolution won’t be nearly so bloody, but will still transform our relationship with motor vehicles as nothing else in our lifetimes, and we’re including the OPEC crises in this calculation. The details will emerge later today, but the Biden administration took to Twitter this morning to call for half of U.S. new-sales to use batteries, fuel cells or hybrid gas-electric powertrains by 2030, in addition to new, forthcoming requirements on fuel efficiency and emissions reductions through 2026.
The day’s still young, but the tweet generated a nearly instantaneous response from the industry, led by a joint statement this morning from General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. “Our recent product, technology, and investment announcements highlight our collective commitment to be leaders in the U.S. transition to electric vehicles,” reads the statement. “This represents a dramatic shift from the U.S. market today that can be achieved only with the timely deployment of the full suite of electrification policies committed to by the administration in the Build Back Better Plan, including purchase incentives, a comprehensive charging network of sufficient density to support the millions of vehicles these targets represent, investments in R&D, and incentives to expand the electric vehicle manufacturing and supply chains in the United States.” A similar statement followed within minutes from BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and Volvo Cars, which form the so-called “California Framework” of manufacturers who jointly opposed a previous administration’s attempt to roll back emissions and economy objectives in that state, which constitutes the world’s fifth-largest economy. Obviously, not everyone will agree with this, and some will shout that EVs are being jammed down buyer’s throats, or some other windy equivalent. Here’s a fact to consider: According to Reuters, the global auto industry has pumped more than $90 billion of investment – that’s private capital, not taxpayer support – into engineering alternative-power vehicles that right now constitute barely 1 percent of overall sales. A lot of that is aimed at the booming market in China, which has had quotas in place for EV sales since 2019. The industry’s level of intelligent risk in making the investments is tangible proof that they believe U.S. buyers will embrace today’s longer-range, quick-recharge EVs in an equally big way. Half the market will buy then because they want to, not because they have to. It’s that free-market thing in effect.