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The march toward electric cars is accelerating

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For years, we’ve been hearing about electrification in the automotive industry and how global markets will soon be awash with electric cars. And for years, we’ve treated it as mere press-release talk, the kind automakers ask their PR agencies to craft and circulate in order to make them look good in an increasingly environment-conscious world.

Well, it seems EVs are way past the propaganda stage now. Their reality is here, staring us in the face and ready to pull the plug on the petroleum party. With all due respect to Mazda and its stubborn allegiance to the internal-combustion engine, electric vehicles are about to flood the market and there’s nothing even a petrol-powered RX-7 successor can do about it. All indicators are pointing to exactly this direction.

First, there’s Toyota partnering with Panasonic for a feasibility study on car battery development. Actually, the cooperation is nothing new — the two companies have had a business relationship since 1953. But by publicizing what is essentially just the start of some research on possible prismatic battery production, the two Japanese corporate giants are serving notice that they intend to lead the way in the industry’s transition to EVs. They are already marking their place in a new territory, and it’s entirely possible that the announcement sent rivals quaking in their boots.

And then, at around the same time and as if on cue, Nagoya-based NGK Spark Plug issued its own communiqué stating that it is now shifting its focus on next-generation solid-state batteries.

A Reuters report quotes an NGK engineering official as saying: “We realized that it was inevitable that the industry would at some point shift from the internal-combustion engine to battery EVs, and that ultimately this could make our spark plug and oxygen sensor businesses obsolete.”

Translation: “There’s no point in pushing back. Conventional car engines are on the way out. We’re going electric whether we like it or not.”

Perhaps more tellingly, China has just banned the production of 553 car models in its home market, including those from big-name brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volkswagen. The reason given is that said cars no longer meet the government’s fuel-economy requirements. You can be sure, however, that this is just the first step toward flushing gasoline and diesel vehicles out of the badly polluted country. China, as you know, is aggressively pushing for electric propulsion, precisely why many car companies have had no choice but to follow suit considering the size of the Chinese auto market.

And so everyone is falling in line under the EV banner.

At the ongoing Detroit Auto Show, Ford has revealed its plan to invest a total of $11 billion in electric cars so that it can have 40 different hybrid or full-electric models by 2022.

For her part, General Motors CEO Mary Barra has assured investors that her company will become profitable in the EV business by 2021.

Lexus, in showing off a highly futuristic crossover concept called LF-1 Limitless, has laid down its ambitious near-term goal, “By around 2025, every Lexus model around the world will either be available as a dedicated electrified model, or have an electrified option.”

Even the traditionally conservative Jaguar Land Rover has said that it will have to determine in the next 12 months if its business will be best served by building electric cars. No one is exempt from the ripple effect that the EV revolution is generating all around the world.

Countries are witnessing the shift themselves.

Norway, for instance, has declared that half of its new-car registrations in 2017 were courtesy of electric or hybrid vehicles. That’s 50%, and it’s only going to increase further in the coming years.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel professes an inclination toward banning gasoline and diesel automobiles, even as a new study claims the country’s roads will have 40% EVs by 2035.

The Philippines? We are very much behind in the EV race — we don’t even have public charging stations ready for use — but the newly approved tax reform law, which completely exempts electric cars from excise tax, will no doubt encourage car manufacturers to bring in their electric offerings. Nissan Philippines is said to be already considering introducing the all-new Leaf in our market. Expect others to follow, especially when Meralco finds a way to install its charging stations across Metro Manila (at least initially).

I was previously suspicious of this whole EV shift, believing there was simply a generously funded lobby coalition wanting to upend the industry and take the business away from petroleum companies. But when automakers themselves are rushing to overhaul their product lines to make room for electrification, you know the trend is legit.

Let’s enjoy our fuel-powered cars while they’re still here. The way we travel in a decade’s time may no longer involve a gasoline pump.