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  • Writer's pictureBrad Nelson

Will Electric Cars Replace Gas Cars?

President Biden has announced that he wants half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to run on electric power, and he framed battery technology as a key to competing with China and fighting climate change. His plans call for investing in construction of a nationwide network of charging stations, incentives for consumers to buy electric vehicles (EVs) and subsidies for automakers and suppliers to retool to make them. So, will electric cars replace gas cars anytime soon?

Biden’s announcement comes at a time when technological advancements are increasing the range and variety of EVs while auto giants are investing billions to capture the emerging market.

Add in a large dose of media buzz and it starts to feel like gas- and diesel-powered cars will soon be electric-vehicle roadkill.

But read past the headlines and that outcome appears less probable.

Let’s look at some numbers that help answer the question: Will electric cars replace gas cars?

Pushing Electric Cars

Government regulations around the globe are demanding big investment in electric vehicles, including in China, Europe and California. U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements, for example, are set to a 41-mpg target for 2021 with a tailpipe-emissions limit of 163 g/mi (CO2 g/mi) through 2025.

The Biden administration intends to tighten fuel-efficiency standards further. For automakers, adding hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and EVs to their lineups helps them reach those average fuel-economy thresholds.

Consumers are being incentivized, too. Forty-five states offer EV incentives as of November 2020 and car buyers receive $2,500 to $7,500 in federal tax credit for purchasing an EV or HEV.

The Biden administration’s electrification goals are generally in line with what the major automakers are already planning. Virtually all of them have endorsed the plan, saying producing 40% to 50% electric vehicles is possible if there are enough charging stations for millions of cars.

GM* has been spending billions to electrify its cars and trucks and announced it will stop selling gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

However, almost in the same breath, GM announced its biggest, most powerful V8 engine ever, the ZZ632,* rated at 1,004 hp – hardly the moves of a company that plans to stop selling internal-combustion engines soon.

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Electric Cars are Nothing New

It’s worth noting that EVs are not new.

As early as 1842 an electric vehicle was powered by a non-rechargeable battery. By the late 1800s electric vehicles were common. But early EVs couldn’t make it 20 miles before recharging, which wasn’t realistic in a wide-open, rural country like the United States.

In 1969, Popular Mechanics published “How Far Can We Go with the Piston Engine?,” which predicted an “early end” for the internal combustion engine and suggested “…we’ll be running around with batteries, steam, fuel cells and atomic engines in another 10 years.”

What happened instead is gas and diesel engines continued to improve, reaching efficiency and pollution standards once thought impossible, while EVs have continued to struggle with price, charge times and range.

At best, charging requires 30-60 minutes; chargers that come with EVs typically require 10 hours for a full charge.

Will Electric Cars Replace Gas: Where Are We Now?

Most industry watchers agree: the internal-combustion engine is going to dominate new car sales through 2030.

Currently, consumers are more interested in new pickup trucks and small SUVs than electrified vehicles. The market is seeing a significant shift from passenger cars to SUVs, CUVs and light trucks. By the numbers, these trends are much more significant than electric vehicle and hybrid-electric vehicle sales.

• Hybrid and full-electric cars held just 1.9% of the U.S. auto market in 2019. • Fewer than 1% of total cars on U.S. roads use any electric power. • EVs are concentrated in California, with 45% of total EV registrations. Florida and Washington are second and third, at 5% and 4% respectively.

North America contains the largest and oldest vehicles in the world, with the lowest percent of electrified vehicles. The high cost of new vehicles is driving a trend to maintain vehicles longer, and the average vehicle in the U.S. is nearly 12 years old. Seventeen million new vehicles drive off car lots annually in North America, but only nine million are scrapped.

Not Enough Outlets

Something basic is standing in the way of Biden’s vision for vehicle electrification – not enough outlets to plug in all those cars and trucks.

EVs are not a viable option in regions where the density of charging stations is low or non-existent. In addition, 23% more power must be added to the grid to support the additional load. With a desire to have most of this power generated from renewables, that goal is a long way off.

On top of that, charge times need to be 15 minutes or less, closer to the average gas-station fill of about three minutes. Just to get a trickle charge takes 20-30 minutes or more with fewer opportunities to get them.

The U.S. has about 110,000 chargers; however, only 15% of those are fast-charging stations. Auto experts say that number needs to be at least five to 10 times greater to achieve the president’s goal. Installing that many will cost tens of billions of dollars.

“Neither the current trajectory of consumer adoption of EVs, nor the existing levels of federal support for supply-and-demand-side policies, is sufficient to meet our goal of a net-zero carbon transportation future,” stated the UAW president and other auto-industry trade groups in a letter to Biden.

The Future of Electric Cars

As electric cars continue to improve on price point, range and charging time, and charging stations become more common, we are likely to see more on our roads. For now, automakers seem to be positioning themselves to produce ever-advanced internal combustion vehicles alongside electrified vehicles.

At the same time, Americans are keeping their gas- and diesel-powered cars and trucks on the road longer.

For those reasons, even as more electric vehicles and hybrid-electric vehicles merge onto our roads, the internal-combustion engine will continue to dominate for decades to come.

Beyond 2050 the details are anyone’s guess when it comes to predicting if electric cars will replace gas. We know this: we will be here innovating lubricants for the vehicles on the road at that time.

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