Nations, companies driving toward cleaner cars

The British government’s recently announced plan to ban the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 shows the growing momentum globally toward a cleaner transportation system.

The ban is central to the British climate goal of zero emissions from the transportation sector by 2050. At the moment, the ban does not appear to be wishful thinking—a minister from the Department for Transport confirmed that Theresa May’s new government intends to honor its climate goals under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The United Kingdom joins other developed and developing nations that are taking action toward cleaner cars:

  • France made a similar announcement last week, identifying climate goals and improvements in air quality as reasons to ban gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles by 2040.
  • Both the Dutch and the Norwegian governments have discussed plans to implement similar bans by 2025, though legislators have not yet acted.
  • Parts of the German government have been advocating for a gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicle prohibition. The Merkel administration has a goal of putting one million electric vehicles (EVs) on its roads by 2020 (though the target will likely not be met).
  • India’s government plans to switch entirely to electrified vehicles by 2030.
  • In 2018, the Chinese government is expected to implement a program based on California’s ZEV program that would require at least 8 percent of an automaker’s total auto sales in China be EVs.

Automakers are also steering toward clean transportation. In July, Volvo became the first major automaker to announce a switch entirely from traditionally fueled vehicles. It will only produce cars that include an electric motor (either EVs or hybrids) beginning in 2019.

Other companies are continuing to innovate in the EV space:

Though not an automaker, Royal Dutch Shell is planning to partially pivot to hydrogen and biofuel production in response to anticipated reductions in oil demand within the next two decades. CEO Ben Van Beurden said he plans to buy an EV next year, citing concerns for the environment.

In the United States, cities and states are helping lead the transformation to clean transportation.

A consortium of dozens of cities is looking into buying more than 100,000 EVs of all types. Seattle’s transit agency plans to have the largest fleet of zero-emission buses.

States from Oregon to Texas to Connecticut offer incentives for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles. And 10 states follow California’s ZEV program that requires a growing number of zero-emission vehicles as a percentage of total auto sales.

U.S. electric utilities are also innovating, with 44 companies offering some incentive for customers to adopt EVs.

Making a U-turn in the drive toward clean innovation, at least for now, is the U.S. federal government. Federal greenhouse gas emissions targets through 2025 for vehicles, which were finalized under the Obama Administration, have been reopened for review through 2018 despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finding that the standards are affordable and achievable. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently suggested that federal fuel economy standards through 2025 could be frozen at 2021 levels, pausing required improvements in the national fleet’s fuel economy.

More and more estimates show that global EV demand will rise considerably in the coming decades. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Energy Information Administration both increased their most recent adoption outlooks, with BNEF predicting that one third of new vehicles worldwide will be electrified by 2040. OPEC’s 2017 prediction for global EV sales by 2020 increased 500 percent over the 2016 prediction.

Nations, states, cities, and companies are leading the way toward a clean transportation future because it makes environmental and economic sense. The U.S. government should be doing all it can to foster this innovation, not curtail it.