Posted on July 21, 2017 by Charles Morris
The auto industry has a long history of trying to hold back the transition to electric vehicles. When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandated the creation of the first generation of modern EVs in the early 1990s, auto industry lobbyists went to work in the state capital, succeeded in killing the mandate, and quickly ended their EV programs.
Above: All-electric concept cars from Big Auto try to emulate Tesla but have yet to make it into production (Image: L'argus)
After the industry’s near-death experience of 2008-2010, CARB revived its zero-emission-vehicle mandate, and the automakers, even as they built a new generation of EVs, renewed their efforts to have the regulations watered down or eliminated. This time, to date, they have not been successful. Following the 2016 presidential election, the US legacy automakers immediately sent a letter to Washington urging the rollback of federal fuel economy (and safety) standards - the results of that effort are still pending.
The latest example of the automakers can’t-do attitude took the form of a letter to the Chinese government asking it to drastically weaken its zero-emission vehicle mandate, which would force automakers to make zero-emission vehicles 8% of their sales in the country in 2018, increasing to 12% by 2020.
Above: China's growing demand for electric vehicles (Image: Kirill Klip via Bloomberg)
As reported by Automotive News Europe, the letter was sent by trade associations representing just about every major automaker in the world (except Tesla, naturally). “Because we have common concerns with the proposed NEV [new energy vehicle] rules, we have joined together to offer, with utmost respect, six recommended modifications,” it reads in part. “The proposed rules’ ambitious enforcement date is not possible to meet, and if unchanged would lead to a widespread disruption of the product portfolio of most automakers operating in China. At a minimum, the mandate needs to be delayed a year and include additional flexibilities.”
In addition to delaying the mandate, the automakers want to weaken the penalty system for companies that don’t meet the quotas, and to be awarded credits for plug-in hybrids in addition to pure electrics (unintended consequences of this policy have already been seen in China, where many buyers purchase plug-in SUVs with no intention of ever plugging them in).
Above: Tesla Supercharger in China (Image: koenergy)
Meanwhile, some of these same companies, and their apologists in the media, insist that, once they finally decide to commit to electrification, they’re going to easily beat Tesla at its own game. “Anything Tesla can do, we can surpass,” boasted Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess in May. More recently, VW has been comparing its first native electric vehicle, which it plans to launch in Europe in 2019, to Tesla’s Model 3, predicting that it will be $7,000 to $8,000 cheaper.
Wired, among others, has been pushing the Goliaths-will-stomp-David narrative, with a 2016 article about how the Chevy Bolt beat the Tesla Model 3 to market, and a more recent one (April 2017) claiming that Detroit is already winning the race to build the self-driving car. Others do not agree: Bloomberg recently predicted that Tesla would come out on top in the electric car battle, and a German auto industry analyst wrote that Tesla will end up with a “near-monopoly” of the EV market.
Above: Tesla store in China (Image: Autoblog)
The irony here is monumental. The same companies that are confident they’ll be able to come from behind and surpass Tesla, even though (with the exceptions of GM and Nissan) their “Tesla-beating” EVs won’t be on the market for several years, say that they’re incapable of meeting China’s EV mandate. It sounds like what they’re saying is, “When we get good and ready, we’ll start actually selling some EVs, but not yet, O Lord, not yet!”
What does Elon Musk think about all this? Speaking at the recent National Governors Association meeting, he praised China’s commitment to electric vehicles: “Probably in ten years, more than half of new vehicle production is electric in the United States. China’s probably going to be ahead of that, because China’s been super-pro-EV. I don’t think a lot of people know this, but China’s environmental policies are way ahead of the US. Their mandate for renewable energy far exceeds the US. Sometimes people are under the impression that China is either dragging their feet or somehow behind the US in terms of sustainable energy promotion, but they are by far the most aggressive on Earth - it’s crazy.”