Charlie Harper: It Is Time To Prepare For Electric Vehicles

Charlie Harper

Monday, October 31st, 2022

On October 27th, the European Union reached a deal to ban the sale of cars powered by gasoline and diesel fuel by 2035.  Given that 2024 models will begin hitting showrooms in just a few months, that’s just 11 model years from now.  In auto life cycles, that’s roughly two redesign periods.

In Japan, Toyota - a holdout on the rapid transition to pure electric vehicles – is reported to be scrapping its future auto development pipeline in order to refocus to better compete with companies like Tesla.  Toyota is the world’s largest producer of cars, and would join the next three largest – Volkswagen, Hyundai, and General Motors – in shifting their future product developments to focus on EV’s.

The world’s largest auto markets are China, The US, and Europe. The non-US markets have already decided that EV’s are what’s next for automobiles.  While the debate continues here, understand that the major manufacturers are global and their research dollars are spread over multiple continents.  

It’s too early to predict that internal combustion engines will go away entirely, but companies have definitely received signals that EV’s will enjoy the largest global potential customer base for them to receive a return on R&D investments.  These are the realities the manufacturers face. 

It’s time to study the policies surrounding EV adoption, and prepare for what a future that incorporates large numbers of electric vehicles into our everyday lives.  A joint study committee of Georgia State Senators and Representatives have been doing just that, and had their fourth meeting last week at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.   

The legislators are asking the right questions.  For many of these, we don’t yet have answers.  The Federal Government continues to rewrite rules and send money to states with strings attached, via legislation such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.  Manufactures, consumers, and state and local governments continue to try to make plans in an ever changing landscape of regulations and incentives.

The study committee is considering the state’s involvement in developing a charging network using federal and private dollars to ensure EV’s can travel our interstates and other state highway corridors used by tourists and for hurricane evacuation routes. A representative from GDOT noted that the state’s role here has no precedent, as the state never was tasked to build a gas station when cars began to replace horses as our mode of transportation. 

There is the issue of revenue with the loss of the taxes on gasoline as electricity becomes the predominant transportation fuel.  Georgia currently charges owners of EV’s an assessment with their annual tag renewal, but this doesn’t capture dollars from out of state motorists that currently pay Georgia taxes at our pumps.  

Weight of EV’s, and specifically the weight of future electric semi-trucks, is also a concern.  EV’s tend to be heavier vehicles, and that affects the amount of wear and tear on our roads and bridges. 

There is also the provision of who will sell EV’s to Georgians.  Georgia has a law that requires manufacturers to sell to the public through franchised dealers.  Tesla was granted an exemption for five stores a decade ago, with that loophole now closed to other startup manufacturers.  Rivian, currently planning to build a major manufacturing facility in the state, wants the same exemption.  Auto Dealers, seeing that many if not most future cars will be electric, no longer wish to allow EV’s to be sold through anyone but them.

Then there’s the subject of the power itself.  Who will sell it to the end customers and will it be in units of minutes charging verses kilowatt hours is a question rooted in the law that governs electricity sales in the state.  There’s the question of ensuring we not only have the capacity to generate this power, but also the ability to distribute it through the existing grid.

Many local governments don’t have a plan on how to issue a permit for an EV charging station, while others are incorporating plans for EV charging in multi-family housing developments and office buildings.

The issue that also must be addressed above the state level is the access to raw materials required in battery production.  Nations hostile to our economic interests currently monopolize many of the materials needed to make this transition.  As we’re currently seeing in Europe, no country needs to make energy transition decisions that subject their economic sovereignty and national security subject to economic blackmail.  We must have a plan to source these materials domestically and from secure allies before this transition is made here.

For Georgia, where Hyundai was breaking ground on their first exclusive electric vehicle and battery plant in Bryan County at the same time legislators were meeting to study this transition, it’s not just about the new jobs but the ones we already have.  Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson testified at the committee’s first meeting that over 50,000 Georgia jobs currently rely on the automobile manufacturing sector.  It’s not just about the new jobs, but the transition is about keeping the ones we currently have.

The industry will be making this transition.  The time has come to understand and accept that this is happening, and adopt sound policy for the transition, while opposing policy that is counter to economics, national security, or even common sense.