Only one and a half decades ago, General Motors Company CEO Rick Wagoner told Larry Burns, GM’s chief of research and strategy at the time, that few sectors remain the same for a century. However, Wagoner observed, with considerable trepidation, that the automobile sector has also been the exception. It followed Henry Ford’s Model T business model, which was “gas-fuelled, powered by the internal combustion engine, moving on four wheels” a century before. Wagoner wondered aloud, “What would the vehicle of next one hundred years look like?”
“Back then, the focus was on improving the internal combustion engine,” he explained. “I was thinking, ‘What would be different if we started the industry today?’”
President Joe Biden gave a pretty clear response about how unique when he signed an executive order earlier in the month setting the aim of “50% cars and light trucks sold in 2030” being electric. He directed government entities to execute regulatory policies to attain that goal in order. The president stated, “There is a view of the future which is now starting to happen.” Clearly, improving the internal combustion engine is not part of this objective.
Automakers are investing tens of billions of dollars on EV research over the next ten years in reaction to government policies. Goals can be inspiring. However, no matter how much money is invested, transforming such a massive industrial and consumer ecosystem that is so fundamental to the economy will be difficult, resulting in an EVS share of new car sales of around 25% by 2030. The obstacles must yet be overcome.
The introduction on the road of the very first commercial electric automobile of modern times, the Tesla Roadster, in 2008 provided an early glimpse of what is now Biden’s vision. The all-electric Roadster appeared to be a rarity at the time. Furthermore, its presence was a bit of a surprise. J.B. Straubel, a young electric vehicle fanatic, had lunch with Elon Musk five years ago at a fish restaurant located in Los Angeles, seeking to persuade him of the possibility of an electric plane.
Straubel moved to an electric automobile after Musk expressed no interest. It was a concept advocated by Thomas Edison upwards of a century before, but it had fallen short in the wake of the Model T. Musk, on the other hand, leaped at the opportunity in 2008. Musk later stated that “Tesla wouldn’t exist, basically,” without the lunch.
The Roadster was not precisely a mass-market automobile, with prices starting at over $100,000. However, there were soon more early participants. The Nissan Leaf was debuted in 2010, the same year General Motors released the Chevy Volt, by Nissan engineers who had been developing an electrical vehicle for more than two decades. In 2016, GM followed up with the Bolt, a big project completed in double-time under Mary Barra, then-leader of development and current CEO Mary Barra.