Significant 2021 Automotive Stories and Trends

Ken Zino of AutoInformed.com on Significant stories of 2021 - Global Warming and CO2

We have stopped digging our environmental graveyard. Now we need to fix many things.

Historians re-assess events years later with help from news outlets, blogs, memoirs and magazines. The most valued revisions and nuanced interpretations appear in books and essays after more documents and perspectives from the players engaged emerge.

AutoInformed notes here, wryly, that its vision is mostly clear on the significance of long past occurrences. Nonetheless, we still attempt to bring insight into events of the time. When we get it right, on view is a richer perspective that observes the past as partial influence of the chaos of the present with glimpses through the darkness and shadows obscuring tomorrow.

With that in mind, here’s our take on the last annum of automobility, from autonomous vehicles to global warming, to driving death disasters, to trade and tariffs and, alas, to the rise of American fascism. We do this with a humble awareness that AutoInformed conducts its education in public. We begin with our comments on significant recent automotive stories as we enter another year of plagues – Covid, political, social or otherwise.

Global Warming

Back in 2018 we said that global warming was more than hot air; that it would continue to be a significant factor in the regulation of the auto industry and directly affect its offerings. President Trump’s – “global warming is a Chinese hoax” lie was as irrelevant then, as it  most certainly is now. Consider, that the State of  California – as just one example – beset by smog, forest fires and mud slides, then and now, continues to reduce emissions through actions and incentives supporting advances in clean technology. This so far has been sustained by court decisions in cases brought against California by automakers, suppliers and other people and entities complicit in the commission of deeds against the environment and the global society.

In the latest clear sign that the US is back supporting environmental cleanup, at the end of the year California assumed the presidency of the Transportation Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA) taking over its leadership from the Netherlands at COP26, the UN conference on Climate Change. Liane Randolph, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, became the new TDA chair, assuming the role from the Netherlands Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management Steven van Weyenberg.

Under Governor Newsom, California has made the rapid shift to zero-emission transportation a priority. The recent $3.9 billion Zero Emission Vehicle package advanced by the Governor in partnership with the Legislature will support the Governor’s Executive Order to ensure 100% ZEV sales for cars and medium trucks by 2035, and a 100% zero emission fleet of heavy-duty trucks and related equipment everywhere feasible by 2045. In defiant opposition, virtually all Republicans in California and Nationally led by Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell oppose infrastructure improvements or positive actions on Global Warming. See Mark Ruffalo and Jonathan Scott on Electile Dysfunction the cure for Limp Democracy. AutoInformed has a view also here: Washington Diddles. India Puts Billions into Securing EV Jobs.

Shareholders and governments were and are now more than ever demanding action. Moreover, the industry and states other than California are responding. The trend is clear. Mobility will be carbon-free. (AutoInformed on: Significant Stories, Trends of 2017. And 2018?; More Significant Stories, Trends of 2017. And 2018?; CARB, 21 Attorneys Generals, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York Demand Trump Stop Clean Air Act Gutting; Non-Independence Day as EPA Prepares to Scuttle CAFE)

This, of course, was the environmental story of 2021 when Trump was repudiated by a landslide and Joe Biden assumed the presidency. It most assuredly will continue for the foreseeable future until we solve the problem or perish from poisoning not only our neighbors’ but our own wells.

Unfortunately, Trump’s Big Lie is also continuing to pollute the political air as the Republican Party, bankrupt of ideas that solve problems and wins elections, continues to promote the Big Lie as it’s only policy – one of opposition to solving economic, social or pollution problems with a singular focus on overthrowing the democratic process our republic was founded on in favor of fascism. (AutoInformed Washington Diddles. India Puts Billions into Securing EV Jobs)

Nevertheless, during 2021 there were so many positive developments amongst the political blather of hatred on the global warming fronts that seasoned observers conclude the problem is at last being dealt with forcefully. The same cleanup approach would also work during 2022 on the Republicans – stop the pollution of Our Democracy at the source and eliminate the toxic elements.

There were several significant humanity saving stories during 2021 starting with General Motor’s embracing a carbon-free future. In Environmental About Face – General Motors Ditching Internal Combustion Engines by 2035. Carbon Neutral by 2040? we observed that more than half of GM’s capital spending and product development teams will be devoted to electric and electric-autonomous vehicle programs. And in the coming years, GM plans to offer an EV for every customer, from crossovers and SUVs to trucks and sedans.

This neatly coincided with what became newly-elected President Biden’s executive orders dealing with climate change and converting federal fleets to EVs. The success of the initiatives will depend on the voters, err buyers, who will ultimately decide, but everywhere there are positive signs. (EV Pickup! Ford is Betting Lightning Can Strike Twice) Nissan announced a slower moving initiative just before GM. Nissan Establishes Carbon Neutral Goal for 2050 and many others soon followed.

As we noted then: “This GM latest move will force other automakers to increase what thus far have been small, sometimes largely PR motivated, steps to acknowledge electric vehicles and fuel cells are the only foundation for an economy that saves mother earth. The move has broad economic consequences not only in the auto industry and its millions up millions of associated workers, but also in the mining, petroleum, power generation and transmission and battery sectors, among others.” ***

It was also a GM retreat from opposing President Obama era fuel economy regulations that would have resulted in 50 mpg vehicles that the anti-environment Trump Administration eviscerated. (President Obama Unveils 54.5 MPG Fuel Economy Regulation for 2017-25. It will Alter Vehicle Choices and Increase Costs, President Obama to Announce First Fuel Economy Regulations for Heavy Trucks, Buses. $50 Billion in Fuel Savings Claimed,US DOT and EPA Want to Slash Fuel Economy Standards. Trump Administration Proposal Has Many Critics)

The entire industry joined the parade – at least in public. Critics, with some justification, noted that this was just embracing the obvious trend in regulation. Here there was also controversy aplenty as well.

Paris Accord to COP 26

The run up to the contentious UN Conference on Climate change in Glasgow was foreshadowed by maneuvering in the EU. In June a new EU Climate Law just passed increases the EU’s 2030 emissions reductions target from 40% to at least 55%. The EU Parliament had endorsed the Climate Law, agreed unofficially with member states in April, with 442 votes to 203 and 51 abstentions. This transformed the European Green Deal’s political commitment to EU climate neutrality by 2050 into a binding obligation. (EU Gets Tougher on Climate Change – Wants All EVs by 2035😉 It gives European citizens and businesses the legal certainty and predictability they need to plan for this transition. After 2050, the EU will aim for negative emissions.

The EU Parliament has played a significant role in pushing for more ambitious EU climate legislation and declared a climate emergency on 28 November 2019. [The Paris accord was established six years ago to hold the global warming increase to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 F) by the end of the century. Scientists, with increasing research and data claim countries will miss both of those goals by a big margin unless far-reaching steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.]

Phasing out gas-powered vehicles and eliminating the use of oil, coal and natural gas are among measures that The International Energy Association says will be needed to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally by 2050. “I would have preferred to go even further, but this is a good deal based on science that will make a big difference. The EU must now reduce emissions more in the next decade than it has in the previous three decades combined, and we have new and more ambitious targets that can inspire more countries to step up,” said parliament rapporteur Jytte Guteland (S&D, Sweden). Thus the battle lines were drawn for the bickering that will continue into 2022. (Ford Embraces Paris Climate Agreement Globally; EU Gets Tougher on Climate Change – Wants All EVs by 2035; EU Parliament Confirms Deal on Climate Neutrality by 2050)

The Netherlands and California also announced at COP26 a desire for the widespread embrace of a Zero-Emission Infrastructure that they jointly developed. Unveiled at the session, “Without It Nothing Moves”, the Call to Action was signed by more than 30 countries, regions, cities and companies. Joining California were the states of Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, along with the Canadian province of British Columbia. The signatories support the effective collaboration of the public and private sector to ensure an accelerated deployment of needed charging infrastructure to catalyze the transition to zero-emission transportation.

The Transport Decarbonization Alliance noted then: “The transportation sector is responsible for more than 10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and in many jurisdictions constitutes a majority of carbon pollution. In order to achieve the goal of global net-zero emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement objectives, accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles is a crucial and urgent objective. We welcome and applaud the increasingly ambitious targets established by cities, regions, states, companies and countries car producers and fleet owners to accelerate the necessary transition to zero emission vehicles in line with the Paris Agreement. Meeting these ambitious goals will, however, also require an equivalent level of ambition for the planning and deployment of a comprehensive network of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. That infrastructure will help drive, accelerate and catalyze this necessary transition and is fundamental to the success of meeting national and global zero-emission vehicle targets.”

[Transportation Decarbonization Alliance is a collaboration among countries, cities or regions and companies as the major players in sustainable, low carbon mobility. Launched in 2018, the TDA was one of 12 commitments made at the One Planet Summit hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, France in December 2017 to accelerate the worldwide transformation of the transport sector towards a net-zero emission mobility system before 2050. The TDA’s contribution to this needed transformation is to foster cooperation toward carbon-free transport, accelerating action through synergy.]

Predictions for 2022

  1. Facing a trade war with Canada and extreme push-back from offshore Automakers, the Biden Administration will modify its proposed EV credits for union-built zero emissions vehicles to include all EVs. Republicans will continue to oppose Build Back Better.
  2. DOT will open a proposed rulemaking exploring how driver-assisted and autonomous vehicles can detect and prevent operation or even people monitoring the autonomous system as is now becoming required by automakers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  3. EPA’s Proposed Revisions to the 2023 and Later Model Year Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards will go forward with the toughest standards in history. However, as a compromise, automakers will be given advanced technology multipliers and caps extended to at least the 2026 model year. Also, to protect the booming internal combustion pickup truck segment, restoration of the 2021 rule’s full-size pickup truck incentives for strong hybrids will include at least MYs 2022-2025. Thus in the latest version of Blah, Blah, Blah – Fossil Fuels, Big Oil and Internal Combustion engines will continue to not only be supported but subsidized.

***Industry EV Announcements

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