Ten Big EV Developments That Transpired During Covid (2020 – mid 2021)
1) Tesla sales soared globally and nationally, jump-starting the EV revolution and attracting big investments in EV companies. Tesla dominates the global market for BEVs; no other manufacturer has even a fifth of the global sales of Tesla. At one point Tesla’s model 3 sales in California made it the single most popular new vehicle model bar none. As Tesla stock soared in price (at one point giving Tesla a market valuation greater than that of all the legacy car manufacturers combined), investors sought out other firms in which to plunk their money. Rivian raised several billion in new funds. Other investors were not so lucky. Nicola apparently fudged the numbers and collapsed after the Securities and Exchange Commission went after them. Lordstown fibbed when they said they were ready to begin sales, and its stock also collapsed, in part because Ford announced that Ford was to market to exactly the same niche market (electrical utility fleets) that Lordstown had bet its future on.
2) The major legacy car manufacturers got into a publicity arms race over promises about the future of EVs, but didn’t actually produce many. Most announced they were going to spend X dollars pursuing electrification, and that they planned to have Y percentage of their sales electric by date Z (or cease selling regular vehicles ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) by a certain date. Given their inability to meet any of the previously announced EV sales deadlines, one has reason to be skeptical, but the fact that they feel compelled to (over?) promise may be better than inaction.
3) VW may be an exception, as they committed billions of their own money to ramping up charging infrastructure. Whereas VW was legally obligated to spend the fines leveled as a result of the diesel cheating scandal to construct the Electrify America EV charging network (by the end of 2021: 800 sites in the US, featuring 3500 chargers), VW recently committed to spending about $2B of their own unrestricted funds to more than double the size of the Electrify America charging network. To put their claims in context, the US presently has about 41K charging sites and 100K public chargers. By 2025 Electrify America intends to have 1700 sites and 9500 chargers. Electrify Canada will be similarly expanded, and VW expects to spend $86B by 2025 to pursue electrification. This one-upped GM, which had only promised $35B for the same time period. So there!
4) Tesla announced a vague plan to someday share its charging infrastructure with others, which will double the infrastructure for non-Tesla EV drivers. The financial details remain to be worked out. Presumably the fillup cost to non-Teslas will be higher than those to Tesla owners, though the costs might alternately be borne by the other car manufacturers (as being discussed in Europe). Regardless, when you find yourself somewhere with a nearly drained battery and a handy Tesla supercharger, the cost differential might be immaterial. How this would work physically (who needs to buy which conversion cables) remain to be determined. With the rapidly dwindling number of CHAdeMo connector users, this portends a glorious future in which the connectors become uniform and interchangeable. However, some car manufacturers (e.g., Porsche) are pushing for a doubling of the fast-charging voltage standard (from 480 VDC to 960 VDC), which might complicate things and raise the cost of building fast-chargers.
5) Biden targeted EV infrastructure for a massive buildup, but so far the Republicans have stymied it; the White House has plans for covering some of the blocked buildup using budget legislation. Political inertia is with the Democrats, but political power on the Hill is very close to gridlock. Stay tuned.
6) EV sales have spread out from sedans to SUVs and crossovers. There are now many all-wheel drive vehicles (AWDs) at mid- or higher price points, though availability is somewhat limited in some places. Among the car models with at least an AWD option are (ordered by base MSRP from low to high) (see link for pickup trucks):
Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model Y
Polestar (Volvo) 2
Tesla Model S
Tesla Model X
7) EV pickup trucks were supposed to emerge in 2020, but did not. First at bat is Rivian, but for the last year this new manufacturer has been promising deliveries in about “a month or so.” Ford and Tesla are teasing mass-market EV pickups, but no firm sale dates have been announced; Ford will sell them to electric power company fleets in 2022. GM is teasing a $117K Hummer EV: that’s a little rich for me, but the day of capable AWD electric pickups is nigh. I expect to see one locally in September.
8) Policy makers have woken up to the cost and complexity of rapidly expanding clean power generation and delivery of electrons for EVs, but no coordinated response is evident. For most, the major expenses have been penciled in for “later”. Texas ran into catastrophic grid failures during a winter cold snap, in part due to their inability to obtain power from neighboring states, which had power (Texas is the only continental state with a stand-alone grid). Texas legislators are now patting themselves on the back for bold new initiatives long adopted by other states (e.g., requiring the utilities to cold-harden their generators), but connecting the Texas grid to the rest of the nation is not on the table.
9) Climate-related natural disasters make the front page almost daily, but most media outlets cry for money to build structural defenses, not prevent climate change. Record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, smoke plumes reaching almost all of North America, chronic coastal floods, record-setting deluges around the world, and agriculturally debilitating droughts would seem to be enough to get the worlds’ attention, but media coverage has focused only on mopping up the mess.
10) The city of Durango and La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) wrote a seminal EV readiness plan, but near-term changes are underwhelming. For example, in the “lead by example” element, LPEA committed to buying two Ford EV pickups when they become available sometime in 2022 (or 2023). Meanwhile, fast charging (DC) has finally reached the local area, with Pagosa (2020), Durango (July 2021), and Purgatory ski area (late 2021) acquiring moderately fast-charging capability. Those chargers should boost visitation by tourists and provide solace to local EV owners who might suddenly need to go a long distance. The EV readiness plan has put all the right processes in place; the heavy lifting – you guessed it – comes later. Stay tuned.