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Alternating Currents: New year and new president brings new optimism

I know we’re just under three weeks into 2021, but this year feels like a really important one for electric propulsion. For at least the last five years I’ve been repeating this mantra over and over every January, but I swear there’s real change in the air right now. It’s not just hopeful optimism. There are so many elements floating in the near term that will converge on a massive uptick in not only consumer interest in electrified cars, but actual honest to goodness sales. I wouldn’t be surprised to see EV sales double in the U.S. market this year.

OK, maybe that’s ambitious, but I still think it’s possible. 

If everything plays out the way I hope it will, the way I know it can, then we’re about to exit the EV doldrums. Electrified transportation will soon have the winds of a sea change to its back, and major progress will be made. There are dozens of important new models launching this year, and there couldn’t be a better time for it as a climate conscious and EV friendly government administration rises to power, and the potential of coronavirus vaccine rollouts boosts consumer confidence. 

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The 2022 model year is going to be an intensely interesting one in the U.S. market. Among luxury automakers Lucid will finally deliver the gorgeous Air, Porsche has teased it will be bringing its RWD Taycan S here with a 5-figure price tag, plus the lifted wagon Taycan Cross Turismo, BMW has shown the iX and hinted at the i4, Mercedes is readying a veritable fleet of electric sedans and SUVs, Audi will deliver the E-Tron GT sedan, etc. Among more mainstream (read affordable) brands, there are big launches this year in the form of Ford’s Mach-E, Volkswagen’s ID. 4, Nissan’s Ariya, and more. 

This is purely speculation, but with the Stellantis deal finally closing between Fiat Chrysler and France’s PSA group, longtime super polluters like Dodge will finally have access to inexpensive electric hatchbacks like Peugeot’s lovely 208 electric or the 2008 EV SUV. Stablemate Citroën offers two flavors of electric SUV and three flavors of electric van. If Dodge managed to sell enough of those things, then they won’t have to buy environmental credits from the likes of Tesla. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? 

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It is no happy accident that this is what is on my mind on the day of the inauguration of 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden. Not only has he vowed to make climate a priority, but on his first day — today — he has plans to sign executive orders rejoining the Paris climate accords, and setting into motion an ambitious plan to make America a net-zero emissions country by 2050. A big part of that plan involves electric cars. Not only has President Biden pledged to renew the fund for $7500 tax credits for new EV sales, re-upping the credits for companies who have already burned through them (namely Chevrolet, Nissan, and Tesla), but he has communicated a desire to install half a million new public chargers during his four-year presidential term. 

POLICY: What the Biden presidency could mean for transportation

Many of you reading this may not agree with Uncle Joe’s politics, Lord knows I don’t, but it’s refreshing to see a president who has made the climate and emissions a tentpole of his platform. By not only inventing a new position of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, but making it a cabinet-level position tells me that Biden will be talking the talk and walking the walk on environmental issues. Add to that party control of both the house and senate, and it’s possible, though still unlikely, that massive action will be taken in the next year. April 28, 2021 will be 98 days from today, and you can bet my column on that date will be a retrospective on how effective Biden’s first few months as president have been. 

The herd of elephants in the room in 2020 was obviously coronavirus. The economic uncertainty that comes with a pandemic and the death of 400,000 Americans quite clearly exerted some pressure on the new car market. Sales were, rightfully, down in 2020 pretty much across the board. While the car market as a whole was down, electric vehicle sales were actually much higher in 2020 than they had been in 2019. Any car company who is anybody saw a significant uptick in electric vehicle sales. At Volkswagen it was more than threefold. I don’t expect that trend to stop any time soon, and neither should you. 

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As the vaccines increase distribution and people are allowed to go forth and earn/spend their dollars again, it is likely that many who put off purchasing a new car in 2020 will kick that buy out to 2021. It is taught in business theory that the recovery following a recession is generally higher than the prerecession levels, and it’ll take a few months for things to begin to swing upward, but once they do, watch out buddy! I’m guessing by this time next year we’ll see a whole lot of ID. 4s and Mach-Es on the road. 

Mark my words, there’s a lot to be optimistic about in 2021. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? On second thought, don’t answer that.

Written by Bradley Brownell
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