One Finite Planet

Car Wars: EV rebels vs oil and auto empires.

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This is the exploration of a chequered history, the battles between EV and oil and auto companies that is still happening today. From companies forcefully taking back EVs from consumers to destroy them, to the battle between pop group A-Ah and authorities in Norway, to the Toyota spending billions to fight EVs and the wheels literally falling off their 2022 electric car, from industrial intrigue involving Interpol red notices, to the rise of Tesla and BYD.

A long war, and it’s not yet over.

I began this exploration in 2018 and wrote:

Statistically, for most of people in 2018 our next car will still be gasoline or diesel powered.  But will this next purchase become obsolete in its own lifetime as the world moves to electric cars?

Now in 2022, the question still applies, as the next car for most people will most likely be a gasoline/petrol or diesel vehicle.

But are the days numbered for ICE vehicles? Or will, as some would suggest, EVs will, yet again, be just a temporary solution that is itself pushed into the background. There are certainly both EV enthusiasts, and those who hope EVs fail.

This is not exploration of who will win, but instead an exploration of the war against EVs, its history, the motives of EV opponents, and some the colourful rebels.

History of the EV wars: ICE vehicles vs Electric Vehicles

The backstory:

Before the 20th Century: Cars pre-date Internal Combustion Vehicles (ICEVs).

In 1837 the first electric car was built in Scotland by a man named, Robert Davidson. Electric cars were being produced all over in the 1880’s when the lead acid battery was perfected, and steam powered cars date back to the 1700s.

Porsche designed the electric production car in 1898 Egger-Lohner C.2 Phaeton and presented Lohner-Porsche Electromobile with electric hub motors in 1900. Early electric vehicles came to be regarded as just experiments as internal combustion engine cars took over, elevating the first internal combustion cars to the status of being the first cars, but if internal combustion cars go the way of the horse and buggy, and are consigned a niche of nostalgia and recreation, perhaps we need to rethink our view of history of the automobile.

Rewriting History: What is a ‘car’?

Many articles quote a Mercedes as the first modern production car, the 1901 Mercedes 35HP, with the first patent for a ‘modern’ car being awarded to Karl Benz in 1886. However, Benz only invented the internal combustion engine car, or PHEV. If the EV does take over, then first modern car would predate the inventions of Karl Benz.

The car as invented by Karl Benz is only the first modern car if internal combustion engine cars remain “modem cars” and “obsolete technology”.

1920s: The Model T and the Internal Combustion Engine rises to power.

In the United States by the turn of the century, 40 percent of automobiles were powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity, and 22 percent by gasoline.

Wikipedia: The history of the Electric Vehicle.

While in the early days of cars, electric and steam power was more popular than the internal combustion engine, several factors boosted internal combustion vehicles, including:

  • The invention of electric starters
  • Lack of an electric grid beyond city limits in the early 20th century.
  • The mass production of the Ford Model T.
  • The discovery of oil in such volume it became the lowest cost energy source.

1990-2004: A New Hope.

With rebels Morten Harket from A-Ha in Norway, and engineers within GM in the USA, the Kewet and EV1, EVs gained cult followings, and a new age of EVs began. While many think the GM1 was first, Norway was actually ahead of the EV1.

In this round of the war, band members drove an EV around Norway, refusing to pay tolls or parking fines claiming EVs should be exempt. When the car was impounded and auctioned due to unpaid fines, they simply bought it back and started again.

2000: The first electric threat and the empire strike back: Who killed the Electric Car?

As best chronicled in the film “Who Killed The Electric Car?”, the first new wave of electric cars in the US became such a threat that car companies when to great lengths to destroy them, with no amount of protests, or offers to pay to keep their cars, from “owners” allowed them to keep the cars. I said “owners”, but technically, the car companies were the only owners, as consumers were only ever allowed to lease the cars at that time. GM were within their rights to end the leases, and take back and crush the cars, providing the industry with time to invent counter measures against electric cars.

If you can, it is really worth watching that documentary film “Who Killed The Electric Car?”. Although very USA focused, that is OK, because this was a drama that played out in predominantly in the USA and EVs continued in Norway. Interesting to see stars including Tom Hanks speaking at the time on how EVs were better to live with than ICEVs.

Order was restored through billions being poured into a strategy to promote hydrogen cars instead of electric cars and buy time. Hydrogen was seen as an alternative technology that protected both the automotive and fuel industries, while still delivering the vision of a “clean” future. A key question becomes, how much confirmation bias is required to see hydrogen power as a viable alternative?

Electric cars might have been acceptable for consumers, but they created an existential threat to the automotive and fuel industries. Provided no car maker broke ranks, the industries could combine to contain that threat.

2008-2020: Return of the electric car by Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn and BYD.

There is even a follow up 2011 film: “Revenge of the Electric Car“. Carmakers did not manage to maintain closed ranks against EVs, and ranks were broken by Tesla in the USA, Nissan/Mitsubishi/Renault led from Japan, and BYD in China, although I think the film misses that last one.

Tesla had no stake in traditional car manufacturing, so there was nothing to stop them going electric, other than size of the challenge of bringing a new technology to market from an unknown brand.

Nissan in Japan had just been saved from bankruptcy by Carlos Ghosn, who while leading the Nissan/Mitsubishi/Renault alliance saw an opportunity from breaking ranks that could allow Nissan to even threaten Japanese leader Toyota.

The observation has been made that perhaps without “very complex” characters like both Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn, perhaps we would not have EVs today. Of course, given BYD in China, perhaps China still would have electric cars, and would still be reading to threaten car makers outside China.

Tesla has transformed the perception of electric cars from slow geek utilitarian to high performance luxury and that genie will never go back into the bottle.  Electric cars are now desirable.

2020s: It is no longer all about climate: EVs surpass ICEV in many ways.

2022 Is already a turning point.

Electric vehicles have become desirable “real” cars much sooner than expected.

The problem for the established industry is, electric cars have reached a point where people want electric cars. Now the desirable cars are the electric cars. This was not the plan. This means still producing legacy cars for a long as legislation allows is, unexpectedly, no longer the clear path to maximum profit.

That the outright world car of the year award 2022 finalists are all electric cars, demonstrates the shift. It is now and anachronism that World car of the year awards still have a special category for ‘green car of the year‘, reflecting a time when a ‘green car’ winning outright was not thought possible. Green cars needed their own category as they were handicapped by being green. Yet now, in 2022, all three finalist for outright car of the year are all electric vehicles. Two of the last three years the winner have been electric, and now even all the contenders to win are electric. There are 6 awards categories in total, and only 6 of the 18 finalists are not EVs. Expect even less next year, and probably about time to make ‘world internal combustion engine car’ a special category. Even in the USA where EVs have been slower to take hold than in Europe or China, Motor Trend’s car of the year was the Lucid Air(electric) and truck of the year the Rivian R1T (also electric). The highest selling Porsche is the Taycan (their only fully electric model).

Various countries have already declared an end-of-life date for the internal combustion engine, banning the sale of new vehicles by 2025 (Norway started in 2016), India (2030), Germany (proposed by 2030), United Kingdom and France (2040), China (confirmed? but with not date!) and many other counties will plan and dates.

Towards the 2050 future: The net zero deadline approaches.

The climate imperative.

This disruption will catch out many legacy car makers, with the shift skipping the anticipated interim step to hydrogen vehicles. This page explores all the factors making it difficult for legacy automakers and will track major ‘legacy’ brands through the transition to see which, if any, survive, as new brands and Chinese brands gain market share.

Car makers were expecting to be pushed to a switch to zero emission vehicles, and have been studying and making plans for years. At COP26, carmakers signed a pledge:

Together, we will work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission[footnote 2] globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.

COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans.

While not necessarily this soon,

A forced transition to zero emission vehicles locked in by legislation is what car makers had planned for and can mean that consumers do not have to prefer the zero emission products, they just have to accept them.

was a , driven by legislation, not consumer choice. A forced transition would allow migration of production on a scheduled timeframe, and any disruption is easily managed. Plus, if EVs are being forced on buyers, then legacy cars would be in even increased demand as the migration progressed, and there would be no risk of ending up with excess stock. Legacy models would continue to sell as long as permitted, because it was assumed people want these legacy cars. It would even be possible that consumer backlash could see the rules get pushed back. Surely laws would not move so fast that the threatened the highly important auto industry.

The climate push towards electric cars is still present, but it is not just one factor making the cars even more desirable, rather than something people suffer because it is the right thing. Overall electric cars are rapidly becoming the most desirable of all cars. At the current rate, no one will want anything but an electric car well before people are required to buy electric cars.

The result is moving from a ‘green’ driving disruption, to a ‘new technology disruption’, at a pace far faster than anticipated, and faster than many legacy automakers can deal with.

What happened to hydrogen?

Many industry players originally expected that electric vehicles were only a small part of the future, with either synthetic fuels or hydrogen vehicles becoming the preferred path for most future vehicles.

The 21st century was set to be repeat of history, and between the 1990s to 2010 the thinking was that battery EVs would never be real cars or were as far in the future as flying cars. Just like in the 1800s, when the better range of internal combustion engine cars allowed them to relegate electric cars to a novelty, it was thought electric cars would remain ‘toys’ cars in the 21st century and hydrogen would power the any real cars that ran without fossil fuel.

The Nissan Leaf, first released in 2010 with a 21kW battery, was at the time considered a revolution and state of the art. This is what an electric car was good for: just over 100km (67 miles) of range if driven carefully, and with a motor power providing the performance of an economy vehicle. Factor in that most people would want at least of 30km (18 miles) of range in reserve when they recharge, even if only driving in the city, and the result a very limited vehicle. At that time, electric cars did not look like a technology that could take over. Fast forward to 2022, and there are electric cars with over 500 miles/800km (Lucid Air), 600 miles/ 1,000 km (Aion LX, Neta S) even over 1,000 miles/ 1,600 (Aptera) of range, and the world is turned upside down. That always superior technology of the electric motor, suddenly, now provides the ultimate in acceleration. EVs can now be real cars, and well before the industry was expecting such a change.

The thought was, batteries only niche vehicles, for example, little cars, very much like the first version of the Wuling mini-EV. The thinking was that the only practical solution to a replacement for fossil fuels vehicles was hydrogen. Getting Hydrogen cars right would take decades, and in the end the cars would not be so different

There is a full exploration of hydrogen vehicles on this page, but in summary, the thought was that hydrogen solved two big original problems for EVs, that have since been solved:

  • range.
    • prior to 2010, EVs had a maximum range of less than 200km, but not their a EVs less expensive to make than a hydrogen vehicle, with a range of 1,000 km and more than possible with hydrogen.
  • recharging time.
    • battery swapping is already faster than hydrogen refueling, but now batteries that charge in 10 or even 5 minutes will clearly reach the market before a large scale roll out of either hydrogen refueling or battery swapping is possible.

Hydrogen cars are complex

The benefit for the industry was complexity, and which ensures car remain the domain of those with the skill s. big problem with hydrogen has been cost. The cars are expensive, and the infrastructure to refuel is expensive. EVs with long range currently cost money, but less than hydrogen cars really cost when not subsidised. Hydrogen has never succeeded in su

New players such as Tesla, Rivian, Lucid and others, combined with the globalisation of the EV centric Chinese car industry, will take around 50% of the market. So, what happens to the existing big brands of the legacy car industry? Either half die out, all halve in size, or some combination of both.

EV Opponents: Why Oil, automotive industries are anti EV?

Why The Oil/Gas/Coal Industry wants fossil fuels, or at least hydrogen fuel.

For the fuel industry, there is an obvious threat, as the industry is based around coal oil and gas, and there has been huge investments in all three, that could become the dreaded stranded assets.

Hydrogen offers a form of lifeline, firstly because almost all hydrogen in the market today is made extracted from natural gas. Unfortunately the extracting the hydrogen from natural gas creates more emissions than just using natural gas for energy. There are proposals for “blue hydrogen“, where those emissions from extracting hydrogen are, in theory, captured through carbon capture and storage.

But even green hydrogen creates something of a lifeline for the fuel industry, as it is still a chemical energy source that must be physically transported and supplied. Supply can be controlled, which ensures profits can be made through the supply channels. Around 95% of all hydrogen is currently extracted from fossil fuels.

Today 95% of the hydrogen produced in the United States is made by natural gas reforming in large central plants. This is an important pathway for near-term hydrogen production. Learn about hydrogen production processes using fossil fuels

Energy.gov: Hydrogen Resources.

Oil and gas companies can start supply now from fossil fuels and transition their source of hydrogen to green hydrogen later, maintaining their position as suppliers.

If you can control the supply, then the rules of supply and demand mean those in control can make great profits.

Why The Automotive Industry fears EVs.

There is a page, or ‘exploratory paper’, dedicated to the topic of why the automobile industry fears EVs, and a page that looks at the efforts of Toyota, the 3rd largest spender on fighting efforts on climate change, appears at risk of failing if EVs take over.

Why The Fuel/Energy Industry wants anything but EVs.

For the fuel industry, there is an obvious threat, as the industry is based around coal oil and gas, and there has been huge investments in all three, that could become the dreaded stranded assets.

Hydrogen offers a form of lifeline, firstly because almost all hydrogen in the market today is made extracted from natural gas. Unfortunately the extracting the hydrogen creates more emissions than just using natural gas for energy. There are proposals for “blue hydrogen“, where those emissions from extracting hydrogen are, in theory, captured through carbon capture and storage.

But even green hydrogen creates something of a lifeline, as it is still an energy source such that supplied can be controlled, which ensures profits can be made through the supply channels. If you can control the supply, then the rules of supply and demand mean those in control can make great profits.

The Rebel Leaders.

1990: A-Ah and Morten Harket in Norway.

Norway’s lead with EV dates back to 1990 and the Morten Harket from pop group A-HA began a strategy to promote EVs in Norway. The story is recounted in the video from fully charged here.

Norway started producing their own EVs back in 1991.

Buddy is the sixth generation of the Kewetelectric vehicle. Originally, the Kewet was developed in HadsundDenmark, and the first model was made in 1991. Production alternated between Hadsund, Denmark and NordhausenGermany. During the first five generations, over 1000 electric vehicles were produced. They were sold in 18 countries. In 1998, all rights were acquired by ElBil Norge AS (which, at the time, was called Kollega Bil AS). For some years, ElBil Norge further developed the vehicle and in the autumn of 2005, a new model was presented that was first called Kewet Buddy Citi-Jet 6, but is now known simply as the Buddy.[citation needed]

Wikipedia: Buddy (electric car)

The annual Monday morning quarterbacking has begun: Which of yesterday’s Super Bowl commercials deserve a victory dance in the endzone? A frontrunner is already emerging: the General Motors ad in which Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina vow that the U.S. will soon vanquish Norway as the electric vehicle capital of the world.

……

Norway’s A-ha moment
In 1989, Norweigan pop sensation A-ha was riding a wave of global fame with a chart-topping hit, a Grammy and an iconic MTV music video.

That year, the band’s lead singer Morten Harket and keyboardist Magne Furuholmen were in Switzerland with Frederic Hauge, co-founder of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. While they were there, they bought something rarely seen in 1989: an electric car — specifically, a Fiat Panda that had been converted by its owner to run on a battery. They shipped it back to Oslo and, in classic rockstar fashion, started breaking the rules: parking it illegally, driving it in bus lanes and blowing through toll booths without paying.

Their insouciance had a message: People should be allowed to drive electric cars — which weren’t classified for registration in Norway at the time — and, in fact, should be exempt from tolls, parking fees and bus lane restrictions for doing so. The incident caused a sensation. Harket was the biggest pop star (and heartthrob) Norway had ever produced, and his antics, heavily covered by the press, kicked off the country’s EV revolution.

Norway’s Electric Car Triumph Started With an ’80s Pop Star

2003 Tesla: Founders Martin Eberhard & Marc Tarpenning & from 2004: Elon Musk.

Eberhard said he wanted to build “a car manufacturer that is also a technology company”, with its core technologies as “the battery, the computer software, and the proprietary motor”.

Tesla: A Carmaker With Silicon Valley Spark

In February 2004, the company raised $7.5 million in series A funding, including $6.5 million from Elon Musk, who had received $100 million from the sale of his interest in PayPal two years earlier. Musk became the chairman of the board of directors and the largest shareholder of Tesla.
In August 2007, Eberhard was asked by the board, led by Elon Musk, to step down as CEO.[24] Eberhard then took the title of “President of Technology” before ultimately leaving the company in January 2008. Co-founder Marc Tarpenning, who served as the Vice President of Electrical Engineering of the company, also left the company in January 2008.[25] In August 2007, Michael Marks was brought in as interim CEO, and in December 2007, Ze’ev Drori became CEO and President.[26] Musk succeeded Drori as CEO in October 2008.[26] In June 2009, Eberhard filed a lawsuit against Musk for allegedly forcing him out.[27]

Wikipedia.

Elon Musk also qualifies as a rebel, not for braking traffic laws in the matter of A-Ha, but for everything from fathering so many children, claiming the world needs more people, stating the Covid-19 would go away within a month, and making statements “which the SEC characterized as false and misleading“.

At times he can appear so wrong, but at others, particularly when sticking to future technology, so right.

2007: Carlos Ghosn: Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe.

Another mix of villain and pioneer, Carlos Ghosn takes things to the next level by virtue of Interpol having issued a ‘red notice’ for his arrest.

Was he set up by a Japanese car industry set on ending his EV initiatives, or did he really commit the crimes?

In 2007, Ghosn led the Renault–Nissan Alliance into the mass-market zero-emission electric car market in a major way, and committed €4 billion (more than $5 billion) to the effort.[109][110][111][112] In 2008, he confirmed that Nissan–Renault would bring an “entire lineup” of zero-emission electric cars to the worldwide market by 2012.[113][114] In 2009, he told the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “If you’re going to let developing countries have as many cars as they want—and they’re going to have as many cars as they want one way or another—there is absolutely no alternative but to go for zero emissions. And the only zero-emissions vehicle available today is electric … So we decided to go for it.”[115] The Nissan Leaf, an electric car billed as “the world’s first affordable zero-emission car”,[116][117] debuted in December 2010.[110][118] As of 2017, the Renault–Nissan Alliance is the world’s electric vehicle leader, selling more than twice as many electric cars as Tesla, and the Nissan Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric vehicle by a wide margin

Wikipedia: Carlos Ghosn.

Conclusion.

The reality is most of the big automotive companies just do not want EVs. Less profit per vehicle sold, and much less ongoing service revenue per vehicle.

Updates.

  • 2022 November 9 : First published after all this time, still some sections to complete.
  • 2018 March 20: First draft.

Still to complete:

  • 2022: The present: History Doesn’t Repeat as EVs Surpass Hydrogen cars creating shock Waves.
  • Combatants: Big Oil and Big Auto vs ….big solar?

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