Chevrolet Bolt EV being charged outside Go Forth electric-car showroom, Portland [photo: Forth]
It hasn’t emerged much into the public eye, but some advocates and auto-industry sources have had quiet discussions on whether the U.S. will continue to lead the world in electric-car technology in a new decade.
California remains the epicenter of plug-in car adoption, with roughly half the country’s electric-car sales over seven years recorded there.
Tesla remains the world’s best-known seller of electric cars, and has severely rocked German luxury makers, who will launch competing electric vehicles starting later this year.
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But China’s government-industrial goals, dangerous urban air quality, and command economy give it the ability to lead the world in adopting zero-emission vehicles.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is preparing to roll back corporate average fuel-economy rules adopted under the Obama administration, at the request of the Detroit Three, citing a broad shift in sales from cars to utility vehicles.
But where will the most innovation in electric cars—their technology, the vehicles themselves, greater levels of self-driving capability, and the transport-as-service ecosystem that surrounds them—come from in the future?
Where will we see the most electric-car innovation?
— Green Car Reports (@GreenCarReports) February 12, 2018
To get a sense of what our Twitter followers feel, we’ve launched a new poll on the social-media service.
It asks simply in what country or region the world will see the most electric-car innovation in future years.
The options are listed alphabetically, making China the first of the four choices. It’s followed by Europe, and then the United States.
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The fourth choice is “all of the above,” allowing for the possibility that innovation will continue to be evenly split among all three areas and no single one of them will pull ahead decisively in innovation.
One way to consider the question is to flip it asking where “electric-car innovation” will be strongest to the question of which market’s consumers are most willing to try new vehicles and powertrains and new models of purchasing transportation services.
There, the U.S. and Europe are mature markets that are essentially stagnant, where virtually all vehicles sold are replacements for existing cars. China is growing hugely through first-time buyers who may have less experience but also bring fewer preconceptions.
Another crucial question is the degree to which government can mandate change. There, the U.S. lags greatly, Europe is somewhere in the middle, and the legacy of China’s command economy and centralized planning put it furthest out front.
Undoubtedly there are other factors that weigh in as well—which unfortunately are hard to reflect in the minimal format of a Twitter poll.
It’s also important to distinguish between a country’s policies and the locations of the companies selling cars there.
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GM China, the Chinese arm of the largest U.S. automaker, for example, has numerous 50-50 partnerships with Chinese manufacturers and could launch EV technology in that market that U.S. consumers may not yet be ready for.
Finally, experienced automotive journalists know that predicting the industry’s future is easy on some fronts but perilous on others. Here be dragons, you might say.
As always, please note that our Twitter polls are far from scientifically valid, due to small sample size and self-selection by those who choose to participate.