The End of the Internal Combustion Engine
Two recent developments will speed up the world’s transition to all-electric cars … and the demise of automobile/light vehicle internal combustion engines (ICE).
- At the recent COP 26 conference in Glasgow, more than 100 entities signed the Glasgow Accord on Zero Emissions Vehicles to phase out ICE vehicles by 2035. Signatories included Ford and General Motors. Canada and the U.K. signed on, along with California, New York, Washington State, and the City of Dallas.
- The recently enacted $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in the U.S. includes $7.5 billion in funding for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The goal is to have 500,000 stations nationwide by 2030. We have roughly 100,000 at this time.
A Tipping Point
Politics aside, of these two developments, the infrastructure bill funding will have the biggest impact on our complete transition to EVs.
Most automakers have been offering at least one EV model for several years. But several technological and infrastructure issues have hurt their sales: the limited range for these vehicles on a single charge, the dearth of charging stations, and the fact that charging an EV even to 80% can take as long as 30 minutes. In the eyes of many consumers, these make an EV impractical as an “only car.”
However, new innovations in batteries and rapid charging are on the horizon. We’ll also see the proliferation of promising, on-the-go charging technologies that we’ve explored recently. I’ve been predicting a 1,000-mile range and 10-minute recharge time by 2025. We’ll need a couple more breakthroughs for that to happen but we’re quickly moving in that direction.
Along with that, when rapid-charging EV stations are as commonplace as gas stations, consumer hesitancy will fade away fast – well before 2035.
How Close Are We?
In 2020, electric vehicles made up 4.5% of new vehicle sales worldwide and represented roughly 1% of all the vehicles on the road. European countries led the way.
Let’s state the obvious, though. The transition to EVs will not happen at the same pace and by the same time in every country and region in the world.
Infrastructure and other resources are not and will not be equally distributed to make that happen. The transition also may not be as big a priority for countries that are facing far more serious challenges – like wars, coups, famines, and other imminent threats. So, we’ll see secondary markets for used ICE vehicles within less-developed countries for a decade or two. Localized auto manufacturers in those locations and others might even continue to produce ICE vehicles for local sale.
What’s the latest from the major international automakers on their transition to zero emission vehicles (whether battery or hydrogen fuel cell technology)? Here are a few details about their current plans:
- Audi – All new models released after 2026 will be EVs. However, the company will continue to build their current gas, diesel, and hybrid models until the early 2030s.
- Volvo – By 2025, 50% of their car sales will be EVs and 50% will be hybrids. After 2030, the company will only produce EVs.
- Ford – By 2025, 40-50% of their global sales will be EVs, and within Europe that figure will be 100%.
- Nissan – All their new cars sold in Japan, China, the U.S., and Europe will be EVs by the early 2030s.
- Volkswagen – All of their sales in Europe will be EVs by 2035, and shortly after that in the U.S. and China.
- General Motors – The company will sell only EVs by 2035.
- Honda – The company will sell only EVs in North America, China, and Japan by 2040.
- Hyundai – All of their models will be fully electric by 2040.
Bringing up the rear is Toyota, which is reportedly taking a heavier hydrogen battery approach and whose models will all be zero emissions by 2050.
The End of the ICE Age
Whatever the exact date, we’re rapidly nearing the final days of gas-powered cars, which will be a significant disruption to life and the current world order. While local government mandates may affect the timing for certain companies by a year or two, a world-wide shift to EVs won’t be driven by these edicts; the post-ICE world will be delivered by a handful of innovations.
When we get there, our world will look much different – and I’m not just talking about charging stations and sleek, quiet cars.
- Oil and gas sectors will decline.
Currently, light duty vehicles – passenger cars and small trucks – consume about 40% of the petroleum produced in the U.S. The demise of these ICE vehicles will significantly disrupt the oil and gas industry over the next decade. Combine this with the current trends toward greater utilization of solar, wind, thermal, hydropower, and nuclear and fossil fuel exploration and production will be niche industries rather than driving the economy.
- Our changing economy.
Remember how the deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s led to economic disaster in Detroit and across the “Rust Belt”? If energy companies continue to overly invest and rely on fossil fuel extraction and if governments don’t find a way to transition away from dependence on energy production taxes and fuel taxes, we’ll see similar localized economic busts in states like Texas, North Dakota, and New Mexico.
- Foreign policy will look different.
The U.S., Russia, and China are three of the top five oil producing nations in the world. Others in the top 10 include Iraq, the UAE, Iran, and Kuwait. The clout of these countries is bound to shift, and the strategic diplomacy objectives of every country on earth will shift too. Countries that can offer the world the best energy technology will have the diplomatic edge.
What about Heavy Trucks and Equipment?
Heavier, diesel-powered vehicles – e.g., farm and construction equipment as well as Class 8 trucks and military vehicles – will outlive ICE light-duty cars and trucks. But their time is coming, too. Tesla (of course!) has introduced an electric semi-tractor, reportedly with better performance than diesel trucks. Major interstate ground shippers like DHL and Walmart are very interested in making the shift to EV trucks once additional battery innovation catches up.
Adjusting Our Perspective
That’s the interesting thing about the future and it’s various time horizons. Will we see widespread flying cars? A comprehensive metaverse? Asteroid mining and widespread drone delivery systems? Yes, we will. But these concepts probably seem as futuristic and far-fetched as the idea that we’d all be driving zero-emission EVs did to a rational person in 1960.