It’s been an interesting year for electric vehicles. Thanks to cheap gas and a surge in popularity of crossovers and SUVs, demand has plateaued for popular models, such as the Toyota Prius and Tesla Model S, while other models, such as the Nissan Leaf, are struggling to attract any buyers at all. You would be forgiven for thinking the green-car push that gained so much momentum at the beginning of the decade is beginning to lose steam.
But the reality of the situation is much more complex. Gas might be cheap now, but it’s still a finite resource. And, as anyone who lived through the 1970s or 2000s knows, once there’s a shortage of dino juice, it affects just about every aspect of daily life. Plus, with the effects of climate change gaining widespread acceptance, officials are beginning to crash the boards to curb pollution as quickly as possible.
That’s why automakers and nations alike are finally making plans for a fossil fuel-free future. Volvo has recently announced starting in 2019, every new model it introduces will either be a hybrid or EV. Just a few days later, France announced by 2040, it will ban gas-powered vehicles from the country. If those steps sound like a massive undertaking, that’s because they are.
So despite the glut of big people-movers on the road today, their days might be numbered. On the heels of Volvo’s big announcement, here’s how the move to hybrid and electric powertrains will change the way we drive forever.
1. Change is coming, whether we like it or not
After years of legislating strict traffic laws in an attempt to curb pollution around Paris, France stunned the world with its announcement that the entire country will be finished with gas-powered cars by 2040. But it isn’t the only nation considering a move like this. Norway and the Netherlands announced in 2016 plans to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2025. And Germany and India want to make the jump to all hybrids and EVs by 2030. By becoming an early adopter, Volvo might have the market cornered by then.
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2. It will likely kill diesel cars
For decades, diesel has been the most common fuel in Europe. Due to high prices, millions have flocked to compact oil-burners for their efficiency and excellent fuel economy. But as the recent “Dieselgate” scandal has shown, it’s almost impossible to make diesel any cleaner than it is now — and that isn’t saying much.
With the European Union imposing stricter CO2 emissions limits for 2020, and even debating whether to ban diesel fuel outright, diesel sales are plummeting across the continent. Within a few years, buyers could be looking to companies, such as Volvo (which is launching the compact 40-Series in 2019, for EVs to replace their old, clattery diesels.
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3. It’s much simpler than the internal combustion engine
Remember the small electric motors in the RC cars you had as a kid? That’s essentially what powers today’s EVs, albeit scaled up and with larger batteries. The days of oil changes, coolant flushes, and even transmissions as we know them are coming to an end. EVs don’t need any of them, which means the cars of the future — even European luxury models, such as Volvos — will be simpler and easier to run.
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4. It could lead to a gridless future
Part of Tesla chief Elon Musk’s crusade is building a future that’s largely off the grid — and no, that doesn’t mean quitting your job and living in the woods. In 2015, Tesla introduced the Powerwall battery, which can power an entire household. Paired with the recently unveiled Solar Roof, this would store enough energy to power your home and charge your car without much (if any) of an electric bill. People might be wary of this tech at first. But once they realize the days of monthly energy bills are a thing of the past, they’re likely to come around.
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5. Performance will get even better
Here’s a quick comparison: The Bugatti Chiron has a 1,500-horsepower, 8-liter V16 engine. It costs $3 million, gets 8 miles per gallon, and goes from zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds. On the other hand, the Tesla Model X is a 3-ton minivan that can seat seven, costs around $160,000 fully loaded, puts out 762 horsepower, and can scramble from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds.
For all the energy that internal combustion engines need to produce to attain ridiculous speeds, EVs can do it easier, simpler, reliably, and a lot cheaper. Volvo’s performance brand Polestar has announced two performance models that will debut between 2019 and 2021, and both will be electric. Even if gasoline sticks around, it’s likely the fastest cars of the future will be electric.
Next: Luxury could lead the way.
6. It makes electric power a status symbol
The Tesla Model S is a luxury EV, but in many ways it’s still a curiosity. In recent years, Volvo has become a serious contender in luxury segments and brought some much-needed sex appeal to its lineup. From this lofty new position, the already-established brand’s hybrids and EVs will have a premium cachet to them, making them cars to aspire to.
And if it plays out like this, you can bet rivals, such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Jaguar, and Cadillac, will jump in, too. Automakers don’t like taking risks. But if there’s a clear market for something, they’ll move heaven and earth in order to compete.
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7. It could shift the focus of the automotive world to the East
In 2017, China has made some highly visible moves toward sustainable energy sources. On top of publicly embracing the Paris Climate Agreement, it is now the largest market for electric vehicles in the world. So it should come as no surprise that Swedish Volvo is owned by a Chinese company called Geely. Once Volvo makes the shift to electric power, Geely will initially build all of the company’s battery packs in China. (It will eventually build EVs in its Charleston, South Carolina, factory, too.)
If Tesla can’t deliver on the lofty promises of the massive Gigafactory battery plant and Detroit continues to drag its feet on alternative energy, it could make China the world’s EV epicenter. If that happens, automotive industries in the United States, Germany, and Japan will have some serious catching up to do.
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8. Volvo’s move isn’t as bold as it sounds
Volvo will soon begin its big EV and hybrid push. It wants to phase out all of its internal combustion-powered cars by 2024, fewer than eight years away. Although this sounds like a radical amount of change in such a short period of time, this shift has been years in the making.
Many of these developments — international regulations, infrastructure changes, a growing acceptance of EVs and hybrids — have been happening since well before Volvo made its big announcement. This move really is just great PR. By making a bold announcement about a greater industry shift, Volvo has put itself at the forefront of the green-car movement, a move that’s sure to resonate with the car-buying public. No matter how this all plays out, it’s hard to see a downside for the Swedish-Chinese automaker. Well played, Volvo.