Electric vehicles are being hailed as the future of transportation, but the switch from gas to electric might not be as smooth as it seems. Leading automaker General Motors (GM) is learning this hands-on.
In 2021, GM announced they would be switching to all-electric vehicles by 2035. In just 15 years, they would end the sales and production of all gas-powered vehicles and sell only electric cars and trucks. GM has some key challenges to overcome in order to meet this goal.
Infrastructure and Affordability
Electric vehicles have a steep hill to climb when it comes to convenience. Their environmental benefits are often not enough to sway many customers, who worry about the lack of charging stations around the United States.
These concerns are valid – there are fewer than 47,000 EV charging stations in the U.S. across all charger types. In comparison, there are over three times as many gas stations around the U.S. The Biden administration’s EV charging infrastructure plan may help, but many of these stations will be Level 1 chargers.
Similarly, many consumers cannot afford EVs at their current prices. This is especially evident in budget markets where consumers are often purchasing used cars for a fraction of their new market price. The used EV market is currently small with the potential to grow in the future as EVs become a more popular choice.
GM officials have mentioned technological developments that will lower the price of their EVs. However, prices would have to drop considerably to have widespread affordability.
EVs aren’t 100% free of environmental impact, at least not today. In order for electric vehicles to be truly “green,” the supply chain that produces them must become environmentally friendly. While the lifetime emissions of EVs are lower than gasoline cars, the production of EVs isn’t free of its own carbon footprint.
Batteries themselves pose both environmental and ethical concerns. The metals used to make many EV batteries are sourced from regions with serious human rights issues, such as child labor.
This raises the question: is electricity truly better than other green fuel sources? Biodiesel, for example, is renewable and plant-based and could take advantage of existing gas station infrastructure. By committing to 100% electric vehicles, GM may be missing an opportunity to advance the adoption of green fuels that might take off easier.
On another level, many wonder what will happen to the batteries at the end of their lifecycle. If these batteries are allowed to become e-waste, they could release toxins and fumes into the environment that would be detrimental to people and wildlife alike. Luckily, many experts are already considering potential recycling paths for EV batteries.
Lastly, GM faces the issue of public opinion. This may even be the biggest challenge they have to overcome because it cannot be engineered away. At the end of the day, consumers buy a car because they like it – how it looks, how they feel driving it. The widespread adoption of EVs relies on consumer appeal across every type of car and truck.
By betting entirely on 100% electric vehicles, rather than hybrids or a mix of powertrains, GM is setting an ambitious target. They will need to create an EV for every buyer. As of 2021, about 7% of Americans reported owning an EV, with another 39% saying they would consider buying one. The number of EVs in the U.S. has grown steadily over the last few years, but GM will have to revolutionize the market to sway the average consumer to switch from gasoline.
Is GM Revolutionizing the Auto Industry?
GM’s goal to produce 100% electric vehicles by 2035 is both ambitious and inspiring. If they can achieve their goal without taking a detrimental financial hit, they will change the auto industry forever. For GM to be successful, it will need to address the major challenges of EVs as well as the benefits driving innovation across the transportation industry.