When even Dodge is planning an EV, internal combustion’s days are numbered

This anecdote will date me: During the 1979 oil crisis, I was filling up my VW one day when an old guy on the opposite pump began bitterly cursing about having to pay $1.50 a gallon for gasoline — $5.60 in today’s money. He probably expected to hear a “damn right, mister,” but I nodded toward my car. Sure, I said, gas prices are nuts. But I get almost 30 mpg on the highway. If my choice is to walk 30 miles, a buck fifty still seems like a bargain.

This, of course, pissed him off even more.

One problem with humans is that our view of life is colored by where we’ve come from — our past experiences. As a kid, I remember “gas wars” in which competing stations sold regular for as little as 19.9 cents a gallon. That’s the world this man was from. He was driving some ‘60s or ‘70s beast that got 12 mpg. In postwar America, cheap gas and profligate burning of it were birthrights. So, he felt entitled and angry.

Meanwhile, I felt only minor inconvenience. Why lose your cool over something you can’t control? I was a college student, just a couple of years into owning my first car and still over the moon. I’d have paid anything to drive it. Four decades and many hundreds of thousands of miles later, I’m the old guy now, but a car still seems like a privilege and a marvel.

Any car, even an EV. But many Americans still cling to past expectations of what a car is. Some are even hostile to EVs if you go by internet commenting, which admittedly is a dubious yardstick for public opinion: Electric cars are worse cars! Charging takes too long! Range is pitiful! They cost too much! They don’t make engine noises! The government’s forcing them down our throats!

A lot of that is true. There’s a learning curve, and yes they have problems — just like any newly introduced vehicle or technology. Yet satisfaction among actual EV owners is high. My neighbor, for example, is hoping GM will buy back her car in the big Chevy Bolt fire-risk recall. What would she do with the money? Buy another Chevy Bolt! She loves the car that much.

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Broader acceptance is coming on fast. Nearly half of Americans in a Pew Research poll this summer said they’ll consider an EV as their next purchase. This is 2021, and that’s already jibing with projections that EVs will be half of all sales in 2030. We might hit that mark early.

But the poll also says half of Americans still won’t consider one. Some are measuring EV capabilities against the cars they’ve owned — understandable, but apples and oranges. And then there’s also the basic human resistance to change. It would be interesting to see a Venn diagram showing the overlapping sets of EV skeptics, climate change deniers, COVID minimizers and vaccine resisters. The diagram might simply be a circle labeled, “We don’t like being told what to do. Even if it makes sense.”

Imagine an alternate universe in which electricity became the dominant fuel at the dawn of the automotive age (as it well could have), and only today were we starting to consider gasoline power. The objections would be just as vivid. Drive around with a tank of explosive liquid, what are you, nuts?! Why would I pay big bucks at some “filling station” when everybody knows cars are repowered at home? Combustion cars stink! They can go 400 miles without refueling? Big deal, when’s the last time I needed to do that in one sitting?

Now, EV early adopters are hard to tolerate, we’ll grant you that. When they incessantly boast about the superiority of electric cars — seemingly one brand in particular — they might not be helping their cause. Be annoyed at them all you want, but what good does it do to be dismissive of the actual cars?

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For one thing, you’re aiming at a moving target. EVs are evolving fast. The choices you’ll have in the technology, function and value of electric vehicles by the end of this decade won’t be anything like today; much as the EVs of today make the original 73-mile Nissan Leaf of a dozen years ago look quaint. We’re now introducing a new electric vehicle just about every week around here, from trucks and crossovers to cars with performance cred. Sooner or later, a car will come along that will draw you in. 

As we point out often, nobody’s going to make you quit buying gas anytime soon — plenty of internal combustion cars will still be on the road for decades to come, based on slow fleet turnover. But imagine this: Today, the base Leaf’s range remains one of the most modest at 149 miles, and its price just dipped to around $20 grand after the federal tax credit. If every two-car family woke up tomorrow to find one gasoline vehicle had vanished, replaced by an EV even as basic as that, you’d still have all the bases covered: range and economy. You’d never miss a beat, and emissions would be cut in half overnight. You might even see your gas consumption in the remaining ICE vehicle drop because you’ll find yourself preferring to drive the EV on a daily basis.

Some of the objections to EVs clearly are from folks who have not yet owned one. Building more public charging stations, as per the infrastructure deal, would be nice for peace of mind, but once you own an EV, you’ll discover you rarely, if ever, charge in public — you’d prefer not to. Refueling at home will always be the trick that makes an EV cool.

And like any tech, the prices will fall. Remember what you paid for your first flat-screen TV? 

But dear holdouts, resistance is futile. EVs are inevitable. Though Toyota still bucks the trend, the entire industry is investing billions and betting that the marketplace will meet it halfway. Automakers wouldn’t all be doing this if it wasn’t a solid play. When even Dodge is building an EV, you know internal combustion’s days are numbered.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to convince skeptics. But just as the global petroleum marketplace was oblivious to one man’s wailing at the pump back in 1979, today’s ICE holdouts face something far bigger than themselves — a global transformation fueled by hundreds of billions of dollars in automaker R&D and government incentives. There’s no stopping it.

So why not make peace with it? The change we’ll see in this decade will be fun, if you allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. The cars you get will be different than the cars you’ve known, but you’ll still love driving. And at least you’ll never curse at gas prices again.

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