Virginia could sever its tie with California’s electric car rule. Will it matter?


California has banned the sale of gasoline-only vehicles by 2035. After that, all new cars, trucks, and SUVs must be electric, with an exception for one-fifth of new vehicles to be gasoline/electric hybrids.

At least 17 states are tied to California’s emissions standards, including Virginia, according to Attorney General Jason Miyares, who isn’t particularly interested in it.

Virginia Republicans now want to decouple Virginia law from the California standard. State Sen. Steve Newman, of R-Bedford County, says he is already working on potential legislation. This is understandable philosophically and politically. Philosophically, Republicans aren’t as concerned about carbon emissions as Democrats and no doubt believe Virginia’s laws should be made in Richmond, not Sacramento. Politically, no Republican will ever suffer from running against California.

Suppose Virginia cuts its ties with California rule. The question is not whether this will save gasoline consumers in Virginia, but for how long.

Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover all pledged last year to end sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles in ‘core markets’ by 2035 – and in all markets. ‘by 2040. Meanwhile, two dozen fleet operators – including Uber and LeasePlan – have pledged to use only zero-emission vehicles in their fleets by 2030, “or sooner where markets allow it”. If Uber means that, people driving gas cars won’t be able to land rideshare gigs after that.

Even before this commitment, some of these companies were planning even more ambitious conversions. General Motors has set itself the goal of phasing out gasoline-powered cars by 2035, in all markets, not just the “leaders”. Volvo said last year it planned to go all-electric even sooner, by 2030. Ford said its European cars would be 100% electric by the same year. Granted, what sells in Paris, France may not be what sells in Paris, Virginia, but it certainly shows where the market is heading. As its name suggests, Jaguar goes even faster; he says it will be fully electric by 2025.

Companies that weren’t part of this global commitment are still moving towards an electric future, but at a different pace – sometimes slower, but sometimes faster.

Stellantis – formerly Fiat Chrysler – announced in August that it would phase out gas-powered versions of so-called “muscle cars” such as the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger by the end of 2023. These models will continue, but with electric versions.

Volkswagen says 2026 will be the last year it produces gasoline-powered cars. Honda announces that it will stop producing gasoline-powered cars by 2040. Toyota, the most conservative of the major automakers, has set itself the goal of phasing out gasoline-powered cars by 2050.

Some of those timelines may slip, but the point seems clear: Gas-powered cars are disappearing. Virginia doesn’t have to join California’s ban, but the free market – the most classically conservative of things – is going to enforce a ban no matter what Virginia does. Or, if you want to be picky about it, automakers will decide what kind of cars are available, whether car buyers want electric vehicles or not. Republicans may have the political thrill of bashing California and the philosophical satisfaction of Virginia making its own decisions, but they won’t save the gas-powered car. They might be able to extend its life by a few more years, but the future will be electric, one way or another.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be gas-powered cars. There will still be used cars on the road for many years to come, but if you want to buy a new gas-powered car, your choices in the future will be very limited – and eventually you probably won’t have a choice at all. .

That’s not to say Virginia should or shouldn’t be bound by California’s rules, but to show the economic reality against which this political debate is being fought. The automotive market is about to undergo a fundamental transformation. It all sounds fantastic now. While EV sales are exploding (up 42.7% in 2021 from 2020 nationally), the percentage of EVs on the road remains quite low. Even in California, which accounts for more electric vehicle sales than any other state, less than 2% of vehicles on the road are electric, according to Axios. In Virginia, the figure is just 0.27%. Electric vehicles represent a greater percentage of New car sales – 5.6%, according to Cox Automotive – but there are still plenty of older models on the road.

If left to consumers, the adoption of electric vehicles could be quite slow. But as we have seen, this will not be left to consumers. Automakers have already decided to go electric. They didn’t make this decision in a vacuum – they see things like the California ban (which has been a long time coming). California is a big auto market — the biggest in the country — so if California bans gas-powered cars, that rules out a lot of car sales unless automakers adapt. They adapt, regardless of their personal thoughts on carbon emissions. Even the most pro-fossil fuel leader wants to sell cars. In the end, automakers love profits more than they love the internal combustion engine.

There seems to be a lot of things that need to change for this transition from gas to electric to take place: charging stations will have to become as ubiquitous as gas stations are now, and this charging process is going to have to become much more fast. The power grid will need to be able to handle more electric vehicles. There is a debate about this. The Washington Post reports that “plug-in cars are the future. The grid is not ready. But Forbes says “electric grids can easily handle electric vehicles.” If the Post casts doubt on electric vehicles and Forbes says easy, don’t expect me to get it. But I’m willing to bet on one thing: if all these automakers bet so heavily on electric vehicles, there will be plenty of incentive to figure out the details. But make no mistake, that change is coming: the Bluefield Daily Telegraph recently reported that even coal-country Tazewell County is now looking into where to put charging stations. “We have many residents with electric vehicles,” county supervisor Charles Stacy told the newspaper. Moreover, tourists have them. In the last session of the General Assembly, even House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore of R-Scott County asked for $15 million “to establish a grant program to expand the infrastructure electric vehicles in rural and underserved communities across the Commonwealth”. He didn’t get it, but the point was made.

I totally understand why Republicans don’t want Virginia to be under California’s rules, but I have a harder time understanding some Republicans’ (obviously not Kilgore’s) antipathy toward electric vehicles. At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, former President Donald Trump lashed out at electric cars, quoting a friend who he said pleaded “let’s get rid of this stuff.” This seems strange for several reasons. First, Republicans, more than Democrats, like to talk about “innovation” in the marketplace. This is innovation in action. Second, it is the Republican-voting states, much more than the Democratic-voting states, that benefit the most economically from this transition to electric vehicles. Look at all the states gaining major factories to make electric vehicle batteries: Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. Six of those eight states voted Republican in 2020, and the other two didn’t vote Democrat much. I’m tempted to joke that Democrats may be the ones buying electric cars but Republicans are getting the jobs to build them but the first part of that statement isn’t quite true : I only met two people in southwest Virginia. with electric cars; both are Republicans. This is not a scientific sample, but the fact is that economic reality is more complicated than political slogans.

If Trump is serious about rebuilding America’s manufacturing base, he should champion electric cars rather than mock them, because it’s clear that the growth of the electric vehicle industry (and the desire to “relocate” the supply chain procurement) is driving one of the country’s most important economic development announcements. (Virginia Economic Development Chief Jason El Koubi recently cited electric vehicle manufacturing as one of seven drivers of economic growth right now.) When Glenn Youngkin was running for governor in the fall last, he repeatedly explained that Virginia was losing to other Southern states. on large employers; all the examples he cited concerned power plants connected to electric vehicles.

Anyway, what I mean is that the debate about whether Virginia should be tied to California’s gasoline car rules is good philosophical debate and may even be good policy , but it will not change the fundamental facts of the market. One day even Bristol and Martinsville races will be electric, and when that day comes fans will be booing and hollering for their favorite driver like they do now.


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