Quantcast
Popular

The Road Ahead for Electric Vehicles to Create a Sustainable, Equitable Future

By Eliot Metzger and Alyssa Fischer

Last weekend, Elon Musk shared the first images of a production Tesla Model 3—the much-anticipated new electric vehicle that had hundreds of thousands of people lining up last year to place preorders. It was the latest in a series of major recent announcements about the future of the automotive industry.


Earlier this month, Volvo Cars announced all of its new models will be electric or hybrid by 2019. Meanwhile, France announced it intends to end sales of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040, which follows similar goals in Norway (2025) and India (2030). Next month, General Motors may grab the headlines as its Chevy Bolt is expected to roll out nationwide.

All the attention on electric vehicles raises the question: Is this the path to sustainable mobility?

Yes: Electric vehicles can be a cleaner alternative to conventional vehicles.

We are paying a heavy toll for our reliance on conventional vehicles. Health care costs, lost productivity and other consequences of road pollution amounted to $3 trillion in lost GDP collectively among OECD countries, China and India in 2010.

Electric vehicles offer a cleaner alternative, especially as more renewable energy is incorporated into the power grid. A recent study, factoring in emissions from the generation of electricity, shows the average battery electric vehicle in the U.S. today emits 214g of carbon dioxide per mile—far less than the 356g to 409g of carbon dioxide per mile produced by conventional gasoline vehicles.

Yes: A lot of people want to buy them.

What is perhaps most exciting about the Model 3 is the unprecedented demand. Never before has an electric vehicle—or any vehicle—had nearly half-a-million preorders a year before production. Electric cars officially have mass-market appeal. As a result, Bloomberg New Energy Finance is now projecting electric vehicles will account for more than half of new car sales by 2040 as demand increases and battery costs decline.

Electric vehicle market penetration is critical to efforts to address climate change. New electric cars will need to be more attractive, affordable and accessible to consumers who are driving today, as well as billions of people reaching middle income around the world who will be driving tomorrow. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, electric car sales will need to go from zero to 60 in a hurry. Scenarios from the International Energy Agency suggest that to keep pace with a pathway to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), we need the global stock of electric cars to increase from 1 million in 2015 to more than 20 million in 2020 and more than 150 million in 2030.

No: Electric vehicles are not, by themselves, going to get us to sustainable mobility.

Anyone banking on selling millions more electric vehicles is ignoring the elephant in the room—and the billions of vehicles already on the road. Estimates of the annual cost of congestion in the U.S., for example, exceed $100 billion. If the total number of cars continues to climb at its projected pace, we will not have a chance of limiting global warming, even if many of those cars are electric. Neither will selling cleaner cars solve the challenges of congestion, road safety, equal access to opportunity or other mobility issues. This is why the World Resources Institute and others champion the Avoid-Shift-Improve framework (see below), which emphasizes the types of investments that ultimately will allow people to move around in sustainable ways.

So Which Car Companies Will Embrace New Approaches for Tomorrow's Markets?

Automakers should see this month's news—and the news yet to come—as a call to action for a bolder transportation vision. World Resources Institute's Elephant in the Boardroom paper outlines three ways companies might respond:

1. Some will ignore the signals of market transformation. Investors are already looking to assess the leaders and laggards and better understand who is positioned to win or lose.

2. Some will improve on existing options and make incremental progress.They may sell cleaner, more efficient vehicles, but that by itself is not enough to solve congestion or climate change.

3. Some will embrace new business models and mobility services. We need more companies investing in the systems and services that meet customers' mobility needs without putting more and more cars on the road. Bill Ford knows this. As he said in 2011:

For most of [my 30 years at Ford Motor Company], I worried about how am I going to sell more cars and trucks. But today I worry about, what if all we do is sell more cars and trucks? What happens when the number of cars on the road doubles, triples or even quadruples?

This seems to be part of the reason Ford made a leadership change this year and is making investments in ride sharing and even bike sharing.

All these developments and recent announcements are welcome. But more is needed—quickly. It's a race worth watching. Who will be the first to grow their business without simply selling more cars to more people?

The Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) Framework

The first aspect of sustainable mobility involves investments in options that allow people to avoid unnecessary trips, like walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and options for telecommuting from home and shared-work spaces. These strategies can also include Transport Demand Management solutions like congestion charging, which can disincentivize people from driving in crowded areas at busy times, thereby reducing unnecessary congestion.

The second aspect encourages investment in infrastructure that allows people to shift to other transport options that are better suited to move people around the cities of tomorrow, like walking, biking and public transit. Research shows that connected cities that have strong public transit systems and safe infrastructure for cycling and walking boost GDP, create new jobs and create considerable cost savings.

Combining solutions from each of these two aspects with the third—improvement of transportation technology like electric vehicles—is the only sure-fire way create safer, cleaner, more convenient, affordable and sustainable transportation. We already know that cities around the world are growing at unprecedented rates and those urban residents are going to have more money to invest in their transportation needs. The ASI Framework can be a guide to disrupting the current transport industry and ensuring that these growing communities reflect our vision of a more sustainable, equitable future.

Companies that want to embrace a new approach for tomorrow's markets can find ways to advance the ASI Framework and move beyond outdated models of selling more cars to more people.

Eliot Metzger is a senior associate in the World Resources Institute's Business Center. Alyssa Fischer is the strategy and management associate for the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular

5 Recent Victories for the Oceans

By Andy Sharpless

In the last several weeks, Oceana and its allies won five important victories that will help protect biodiversity and increase abundance in our seas:

Keep reading... Show less
Snow in Atlanta on Jan. 17, 2018. Lisa Panero / Flickr

Climate Change and Weather Extremes: Both Heat and Cold Can Kill

By Garth Heutel, David Molitor and Nolan Miller

Climate change is increasing the frequency and strength of some types of extreme weather in the U.S., particularly heat waves. Last summer the U.S. Southwest experienced life-threatening heat waves, which are especially dangerous for elderly people and other vulnerable populations.

More recently, record-setting cold temperatures engulfed much of the country during the first week of 2018. This arctic blast has been blamed for dozens of deaths. Some scientists believe that Arctic warming may be a factor in this type of persistent cold spell, although others question this connection.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo

One Year Into the Trump Administration, Where Do We Stand?

By John R. Platt

What a long, strange year it's been.

Saturday, Jan. 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration officially taking office after a long and arduous election. It's a year that has seen seemingly unending attacks on science and the environment, along with a rise in hateful rhetoric and racially motivated policies. But it's almost been met by the continuing growth of the efforts to resist what the Trump administration has to offer.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Chris J. Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

Greenpeace Slams Coca-Cola Plastic Announcement as ‘Dodging the Main Issue’

By Louise Edge

Friday Greenpeace criticized Coca-Cola's new global plastics plan for failing to address the urgency of ocean plastic pollution.

The long awaited policy from the world's largest soft drink company featured a series of measures weaker than those previously announced for Europe and the UK.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
The two young Iowa vandals knocked over 50 hives and exposed the bees to deadly winter temperatures. Colby Stopa / Flickr

Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa

Two boys were charged with killing more than a half million bees at a honey business in Iowa last month.

"All of the beehives on the honey farm were destroyed and approximately 500,000 bees perished in the frigid temperatures," Sioux City police said in a release.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy

Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars?

According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO

Monsanto's Roundup Destroys Healthy Microbes in Humans and in Soils

By Julie Wilson

We're only beginning to learn the importance of healthy gut bacteria to our overall health—and the relationship between healthy soil and the human microbiome.

We know that the human microbiome, often referred to as our "second brain," plays a key role in our health, from helping us digest the food we eat, to boosting our brain function and regulating our immune systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke refused to meet with National Park System Advisory Board members last year, prompting most of them to quit. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

From National Parks to the EPA, Trump Administration Stiff-Arms Science Advisers

By Elliott Negin

The Trump administration's testy relationship with science reminds me of that old saying: Advice is least heeded when most needed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!