Your next car will probably be electric – Future Proof

Almost exactly five years ago, I had an epiphany. I wouldn’t have to wait a decade to buy an electric car. I could do it now. Prices had dropped to the point where it wasn’t just possible, it made economic sense.

In the next few years, I suspect many more people will have a similar eureka moment. That’s because even though consumers have been hesitant to buy today’s electric vehicles, automakers are plowing money into EV platforms and battery technologies like their lives depend on it. Which they do.

The European Union recently released details about how the bloc will get to net zero emissions by 2050. The transportation sector isn’t exempt. Already, Norway plans to end the sale of new fossil fuel-powered cars in 2025. The Netherlands says they’ll follow five years later, with the United Kingdom and France after that. China wants EVs, plug-ins, and hydrogen vehicles to make up 25% of new sales by mid-decade. Together, China and the EU account for about a third of new car sales globally. So yes, car companies have to make the switch if they’re going to survive.

That government action has finally put the spurs to big companies like GM and Volkswagen (though VW had some help from their self-inflicted diesel emissions scandal). Earlier this month, Volkswagen showed a lightly disguised version of the ID.4, their first purpose-built EV to be sold in the U.S. (I’m holding out for whatever they end up calling this thing.) Around the same time, GM unveiled their new EV platform, which will underpin everything from 1,000 hp GMC Hummers to smaller, more sensible cars. 

GM also said they’ve developed a new battery tech with LG Chem which cuts the amount of cobalt in the cells by 70%. (Cobalt is an expensive mineral that’s mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the practice is rife with human rights abuses and corruption.) Along with other developments, it will help drive battery pack prices below $100/kWh, GM said. 

That’s a magical price in the eyes of analysts. When $100/kWh happens, EVs will be the same price as comparable fossil fuel vehicles. At that point. people in the market for a new car or truck will have to be pretty obstinate to ignore the allure of an EV.

And I can assure you, the allure is powerful. Before I was in the market for an EV, the closest thing I had driven was an experimental hydrogen-powered Mercedes called the F-Cell. (I still have the promotional travel mug to prove it.) Once I finally test drove an EV, though, I was hooked. The power, silence, and refinement of an electric drivetrain is real, people.

Our first EV was a BMW i3 with a range extender. We used the range extender maybe three times a year. If I had to do it again, I’d go battery only. For our annual road trips, we took advantage BMW’s Flexible Mobility program to check out a fossil fuel car. Having that option was great, especially in 2015 when fast chargers were spotty at best if you didn’t own a Tesla. The infrastructure has vastly improved since then

Today, we drive a Volkswagen e-Golf and a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Neither looks as futuristic as the i3 or has quite the same punch when you accelerate, but their EV powertrains are just as smooth and refined. Once you experience that, it’s hard to look back. I suspect other people will feel the same way soon.

About Tim De Chant

Tim De Chant is the editor of Future Proof. He was recently a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT, where he studied architecture, chemistry, and management. Before that, he founded the digital magazine NOVA Next for the PBS science series NOVA, and he earned his PhD in environmental science, policy, and management from the University of California, Berkeley.