Time To Accept Electric Vehicles As Mainstream

This week’s Courier Herald column:

This week I managed to catch the 2013 movie “Saving Mr. Banks”, the story of Walt Disney trying to secure the movie rights for Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers.  Both Disney and Travers jet across the Atlantic as the iconic studio head tries to gain the author’s trust, approval, and ultimately, her signature on their contract.

While there are a few glimpses of jet travel circa 1964 in the movie, there are also flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in the Australian Outback.  Horses and buggies were the common mode of transportation then, though at least one car is seen.  It would have been an outlier at the time, as Henry Ford didn’t bring us the assembly line and his Model T until Travers was 14 years old.  The Wright Brothers first flew when she was four.

During the time it takes the remarkable to become routine, there are both skeptics and those who resist change.  When I first learned economics more than three decades ago we were still using lessons about those that made buggy whips, with allusions to the “buggy whip industry” doing what they could to slow or stop the adoption of motorized cars. 

Those that had jobs making the whips used to make horses go didn’t care to lose their jobs to new technology.  To those who see a new product or tool that is about to displace their jobs, their way of life, and their ability to provide for their family, resistance is about more than adoption of new ways of doing old things.  It’s about a direct threat to their current way of life.

It’s been almost a full half century since the events of this movie, and while our changes in transportation have been incremental, more change is coming.  In 1964 the Space Race had just begun.  Today, we have multiple private companies trying to take tourists to outer space and to put people on Mars.

And cars, they are changing too.  Ford has officially unveiled an electric F-150 truck – with batteries supplied by a new factory here in Georgia.  Current models with internal combustion engines are America’s best-selling vehicle, so the addition of an electric powered vehicle should officially make EV’s mainstream.

Ford isn’t first or even alone in their plans to shift production of current vehicles to future ones powered by electricity.  GM has announced plans to phase out all internal combustion engines by 2035.  Audi has announced it will not develop any new gas powered engines going forward.  Nearly every major automaker has electric vehicles prepared to sell within the next 24 months.

As with most shifts in business and culture, there is a political facet tied to this transition.  Also like most issues, when one side declares themselves for something, their opposition reflexively opposes it.  Too many conservatives have already decided to jump into this trap.

Yes, it’s true that a lot of Georgians electricity is produced by coal, but that is changing.  According to the US Department of Energy, Natural Gas (35%) has passed coal (33%) as our main source of our electricity.  Nuclear power is currently 28%, a carbon-free number that should increase dramatically when new generating units at Plant Vogtle come online. 

Solar and other renewable energy sources will continue to grow, especially as battery storage technology improves so that solar may be stored to use as baseline power.  Not coincidentally, electric vehicles are the catalyst that is currently pushing the envelope on battery technology.

At the heart of the matter, however, is that most who use the “EV’s aren’t really green” argument typically are folks that don’t buy in to any environmental causes, and tend to use it to mock those that do. It once again results in older, conservative voters lecturing younger, environmentally sensitive voters – demonstrating to the younger generations that the old folks are out of touch and don’t care about issues that matter to them.

In “Saving Mr. Banks”, the movie turned when Walt Disney figured out that Mary Poppins wasn’t sent by author Travers to save the children, but to redeem Mr. Banks.  Older conservatives that would like to stop the erosion of their majorities might consider that it’s not the kids that need to be saved on the issue of electric vehicles.  That’s the medicine that needs to go down, with or without a spoon full of sugar.


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