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Most US cars are powered by internal combustion engines: gasoline or diesel are introduced, small explosions operate the pistons and rotate a crankshaft, the car ahead and carbon dioxide s & rsquo; # 39; extinguished.
But more and more environmental advocates, business analysts and auto industry leaders are predicting a radical change, with the growing popularity of battery-powered electric vehicles.
The transition to electricity is not just an environmental goal, an ambition that would help fight climate change. This is a commercial reality, according to industry analysts. But while the way forward is widely accepted, the speed of change – and the role that combustion vehicles will play during the transition – is far from clear.
"You can not stop it anymore, it's coming"
"Electrification, you can not stop it, it happens," says Elmer Kades, general manager of consulting firm AlixPartners. "We have fantastic growth rates, between 50 and 60% globally."
Electric vehicles currently represent only a tiny part of the automotive market, dominated by internal combustion engines. But many other models of electric cars will arrive in the exhibition halls in the next few years, and several factors have convinced analysts that this was part of a major industry transition.
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Government policies – particularly in Europe and China – are boosting electric vehicles, with regulators taking into account not only the devastating effects of climate change, but also the interest in improving the quality of electricity. air in the cities.
Car manufacturers around the world are preparing for a massive financial commitment. According to an analysis by Reuters, automakers plan to invest more than $ 90 billion in the move to electric vehicles over the next decade or so.
Electric motors are simpler, making them easier to maintain and allow them to last longer. Keeping them charged costs less than buying gasoline, an advantage that will increase even more if the price of gasoline increases.
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Plus, "they're fun to drive," says Tom Murphy, editor at Wards Auto, which ranks the best engines in the world. "They're nice, they're quiet … and there's a lot of torque," which means instant acceleration, he says.
On the other hand, gasoline cars are cheaper to buy than electric vehicles. It's also quicker to refuel than reload, and the country is already replete with gas stations, while its charging station infrastructure is still in its infancy.
But experts predict that batteries will be cheaper, the charge will be faster and chargers will become more readily available.
Industry observers say that at some point, the balance will change.
"Probably until mid-2020, buying and running an EV becomes comparable or cheaper than an internal combustion vehicle," says Sam Abuelsamid, an automotive analyst at Navigant. Felipe Munoz, a global analyst at JATO, predicts that EVs will be better sold than conventional vehicles by 2030.
Other analysts say this change could be slower – but most agree that it's coming.
Even people who like the internal combustion engine see the writing on the wall. John Woods owns a Porsche 914 from 1972. On a Sunday recently, he joined other car enthusiasts on a parking lot in Alexandria, Virginia, to run his engine and smile at his of it.
The internal combustion engine is "the beginning of automotive engineering," Woods said. "But the electric car will be the future."
"Engines do not really go anywhere before a good time"
The rise of electric vehicles, however, does not automatically mean the end of the reign of the gas car.
Put more battery cars in circulation is only half of the equation. The next question is: what happens to all the combustion vehicles already on the road?
One possibility is that they can be replaced fairly quickly by electric vehicles.
This is what environmental activists want to combat climate change. For example, the Green New Deal proposed by Democrats calls for the gradual elimination of carbon-emitting vehicles in a decade. – which would require not only a very fast production of electric vehicles, but also a sudden withdrawal of the combustion vehicles from the roads.
It is an ambitious goal. But a version of this quick timetable could be triggered by very high gasoline prices, or by bans or restrictions imposed on internal combustion vehicles (as some cities have mentioned, at least so hypothetical).
It could also be motivated by consumer choices, says Dan Neil, automotive columnist at The Wall Street Journal.
"Electric vehicles" are so much better machines than the machines they replace, "he says, that consumers could choose to put their fuel consumption out of service well before the end of their useful life. .
"Just like plasma TVs," he says. "Many plasma TVs have not seen the end of their useful life before being replaced by much cheaper, but also much better, LCD screens. "
Others are much more skeptical about an accelerated timeline and expect that both types of vehicles will coexist on the road for a long time.
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"The average age of a vehicle on the road today is almost 12 years in the United States," says Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant. "Even though … 100% of the vehicles sold were electric starting today, it would still take 20 to 25 years to replace the entire fleet of vehicles with electric vehicles."
Bill Visnic, editorial director at the Society of Automotive Engineers, is more direct. "The combustion engines are not really going anywhere for a while," he says.
More and more environmentally friendly combustion vehicles
Mary Nichols, the powerful regulator who heads the California Air Resources Board, agrees that internal combustion engines will not go away anytime soon.
"We can not turn them all into flower boxes or sculptures," she says. "So, I think we'll have to give them to continue to exist."
But Nichols points out that modern cars are cleaner than they were.
"I started working in this area of air pollution control in 1971," she says. "And meanwhile, atmospheric emissions from internal combustion engines have been reduced by more than 90% – twice. "
This is important for air quality, a major concern in the world's cities. In the meantime, improving energy efficiency has reduced the contribution of each car to climate change.
"This underscores the importance of ensuring … that we maintain standards for conventional vehicles that drive us to more efficient and cleaner combustion engines," said David Reichmuth, Senior Engine Engineer. Union of Concerned Scientists. "Over the next five years, we will sell a lot of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles, and not having those standards in place will generate a lot of emissions."
Finally, when considering the future of the internal combustion engine, it is the rise of the hybrid plug-in, which can work exclusively with the battery or use a combustion engine.
"It's not as if the internal combustion engine would just disappear in the near future," says Murphy of Wards. "It's a little more nuanced than that."
Experts say that the transformation of the auto industry is real and occurs much faster than skeptics would have predicted just a few years ago.
But fleet renewal will take time and the phasing out of combustion vehicles will probably not be fast enough to satisfy environmental advocates concerned about global warming.
"We are going in the right direction with electric cars," said Reichmuth. "But the question is how fast we get there, and, you know, if you look at what we're already seeing with climate change, we'll have to go faster."