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Where the EV revolution goes next

It may seem like electric and electrified cars are everywhere, but in the grand scheme of things we're only just getting started.

2021-tesla-model-y-ogi-1

The Tesla Model Y.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow
This story is part of The Year Ahead, CNET's look at how the world will continue to evolve starting in 2022 and beyond.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that EVs or electric vehicles have already gone mainstream. If you watch our recent coverage of car launches, whether big debuts like the Ford F-150 Lightning or all the excitement at the recent LA Auto Show, it's easy to see that virtually all the excitement on the automotive horizon involves electrification. Tesla's Model 3, for instance, recently became the best-selling car in Europe. Clearly EVs are starting to enter the mainstream.

However, if you look at global auto sales as one big pie, EVs right now are only a tiny sliver, making up just 2% of sales

Just over 200,000 EVs were registered in the US in the first half of this year, roughly the same number of cars that Toyota sells in a given month. There are localized hot spots like Norway, which many EV evangelists treat as a sort of aspirational target for the rest of the world. There, EV sales make up 75% of the market; far more than anywhere else on the planet. 

Is it because the Norwegian drivers are particularly forward-looking or environmentally conscious? Well, yes, but the real reason is because government mandates have made it prohibitively expensive to buy anything but an EV. Many Norwegians would rather buy something with an engine, but EVs are the economically viable choice -- not to mention the environmentally conscious one.

While the new spate of EV incentives in the US look far more appealing than before, we're a long way from that kind of heavy-handed taxation on gas-powered cars. In the US, the spread of EVs is going to happen more organically. But don't worry, because it will spread. Well before the close of the decade, electric cars will become the logical choice for the majority of buyers. Here's what you need to know to be ready.

Why go electric?

Every major OEM has a major electrification program in place, whether it be Toyota's new $1.29 billion battery factory or GM building not one but two of those. Hell, even Dodge, a company that has survived the past decade or so by shoving ever-bigger engines into its stalwart selection of cars, is promising an electric muscle car by 2024.

Why this momentum? It's complicated, but a lot of the blame goes to ever-tightening emissions standards. California, the biggest market in the US, plans to completely ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035. Quite a few states have already followed California's previous emissions standards, and there's no reason to expect they won't follow suit with this one, too. Many cities around the globe are moving even faster, like Paris, which is targeting 2030 for a ban on everything but EVs.

Looking beyond legislation, EVs simply offer a better driving and ownership experience in a lot of situations. These cars are quieter, smoother and, with many fewer moving parts, more reliable and damn-near maintenance-free. Sure, limited range and charging options mean today's EVs aren't as flexible as gas-powered rides, but Tesla's SuperCharger network continues to expand and, with the explosion of Electrify America lately and other networks as well, charging is faster and easier than ever. Upcoming EVs are surpassing 500 miles of range -- upwards of 8 hours of continuous driving on the highway -- the sort of road trips you can't take in an EV are growing ever-fewer. 

And then there's the simple economics of it. In New York state, I pay about $0.12 per kilowatt-hour of electricity. So, a full charge of the Tesla Model Y Roadshow is testing costs about $9.60 and gives me 330 miles of range. Now let's say I bought a comparable small SUV that offers 30 mpg combined. I'd need 11 gallons of gas to cover that same distance. As I write this, gas prices average out to $3.30 per gallon in my zip code. That'd be $36.30, more than three times as expensive.

For businesses that operate fleets, the potential savings are huge. Some adopters of EV fleets are seeing a 20% reduction in cost thanks to fuel and maintenance savings. That number will only climb from here.

And yes, there is still some doubt about whether batteries will be the long-term solution or whether cars powered by something like hydrogen fuel cells are the real way forward. But, the truth is that cars powered by fuel cells are themselves electric cars, they just get their electrons from hydrogen instead of the grid.

Finally, what about alternative fuels, like Porsche's eFuel? They're almost guaranteed to be a thing at some point, but I'm skeptical that they'll ever be anywhere near as affordable as even today's fuel prices. Think of eFuel as a way to keep classic cars running rather than a brave way forward for the future of motoring. 

Ford F-150 Lightning Preproduction

The Ford F-150 Lightning in preproduction.

Ford

2022 will be big

The EV revolution is already happening, but I don't blame you if you're not quite ready to dive in. Charging networks, though miles better than just a few years ago, still leave a lot of rural America in the dark. That's particularly problematic in colder areas, since many EVs lose upwards of 25% of their range in the winter. And, of course, EVs tend to be more expensive, still upwards of $5,000 to $10,000 more than a comparable, gas-powered machine. 

So we still have a ways to go, but it won't be long. To me, the 2022 release of the Ford F-150 Lightning will mark the turning point for EV perception and adoption in the US. Ford is not only targeting perhaps the most conservative of segments on the road today but doing it with a product that looks so undeniably practical. That's a remarkable thing. The F-150 Lightning will not only be affordable, starting at $40,000 minus a potential $12,500 in incentives, it'll offer even more cargo than a traditional F-150, can power a job site and save costly generator rental fees. Hell, it can even tow 10,000 pounds.

OK, it probably won't be able to tow that far, as towing creates a massive aerodynamic penalty, but when not towing it'll go 300 miles on a charge. That's plenty for professional or casual usage alike.

When the F-150 Lightning starts showing up at the job site and the drop-off lane, it's going to start a lot of conversations. And, with more mainstream machines like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Toyota BZ4X/Subaru Solterra coming next year, finding the right EV is going to get easier.

The Impact

Let's get right down to it: What will moving to an EV mean for you? Well, as I mentioned above, it could mean dramatically reduced running costs, especially if you can charge at home. If you rely on street parking or the like things will be a little trickier, and likely more expensive, but eventually municipalities will wise up. In and around London, Siemens converted 1,300 street lamps into chargers

Owning an EV will also mean road-tripping will require a little more planning. While there are ways to maximize your range and minimize your time spent charging, there's a good chance pit stops will take upwards of 30 minutes. Forgive me for what may be a controversial opinion, but that's OK by me. Taking a 30-minute break after 3 or 4 hours of driving is not a bad thing, in fact most experts recommend 15 minutes every 2 hours. Look for new businesses to crop up taking advantage of bored EV owners who want to stretch their legs. (I'm bullish on a major return of video game and pinball arcades, myself.)

Also look for your tax bill to get a little more complicated. Or, maybe a lot more complicated. Right now, whether you know it or not, when you buy gas you're paying taxes. A lot of taxes, upwards of $0.80 per gallon in California, for example. That tax revenue ostensibly helps the state and federal transportation infrastructure and, while gasoline demand is quickly rebounding to its pre-pandemic levels, at some point governments will need to find a new revenue source. States are investigating various road usage fees, whether based on miles covered, kWh consumed or simply a sliding registration fee based on the cost and efficiency of your vehicle. Many solutions have been proposed but few if any implemented, including a bill in New Hampshire to levy an additional tax on any vehicle that did better than 20 mpg! A real great way to encourage your citizens to be more efficient, that...

Finally, and most excitingly, expect for cars to simply take a massive leap forward. Over the past five years, cars have changed more than in the past 50. I don't see that rate of change slowing down any time soon. And I'm not just talking about efficiency. Cars will be more capable and fun to drive, too. Anyone who slots into the driver's seat of a Tesla and steps on the accelerator knows the joys of EV torque, yet we're only getting started to see what electric cars can do. With limitless power and more advanced traction and stability control systems, EV performance cars like the Porsche Mission R will be mind-blowing things. Electric luxury cars will be more smooth and more calm than anything seen since the 1920s. While affordable electric cars will look, drive and feel better than comparable options today.

So what do you need to do right now to get ready for EVs? Just get excited, because they're coming and they're going to be great.