On September 9, 2017, Xin Guobin—China’s Vice Minister of Industry and Information Technology—announced at an auto forum in Tianjin that the government is working on a timeline to end production on gasoline and diesel cars. There’s no concrete policy yet; Guobin only said that regulators have begun the “relevant research” to form and implement it. In addition, China is far from the first country to announce such a goal. However, this recent announcement is particularly significant, since it is coming from the world’s largest car market, which is responsible for close to a third of the globe’s passenger vehicle sales. The Guobin announcement at Tianjin signifies the growing desire to move towards an electricity-powered vehicle-reliant society—and away from fossil-fuel powered automobiles.
For many, the advantages of electric vehicles are hard to ignore. Rather than rely on conventional internal combustion engines, they use power from electric motors. As a result, there are no tailpipe emissions, the absence of engine noise means that the vehicle is much quieter, and the lack of an engine means that it is lighter and provides better handling. Also, because of electric power, such vehicles are more cost-effective and do not need to visit the gas station for refueling. Even with hybrid vehicles—so named because they use gasoline and electricity—the engines are significantly smaller, thus lessening the thirst for fuel and thereby boosting fuel economy far beyond that of traditional gasoline- or diesel-powered cars.
However, the timeline of transition to electric varies with each country that has expressed interest in doing so. In 2016, the Dutch parliament voted to end all fossil fuel-powered cars by 2025; Norway—which is, coincidentally, the leading country in having registered electric vehicles—also has that target date. In June 2017, India set its date at 2030. Both France and Britain announced a 2040 ban date the following month. A little less than a month later, Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted the possibility of her country, Germany, following suit. And in the same month that China announced its intention to phase out gas and diesel cars, Scotland announced its intention to do so by 2032.
As for the United States, it was viewed for a long time as the country most expected to rapidly adopt electricity-based powertrain technology for vehicles. But President Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Climate Accord—coupled with his request for a review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards—does not look too promising, at least for the short term. Moreover, other countries prefer to let consumer buying habits dictate the move they should adopt. There is yet to be a global consensus on the precise year when a transition to electric vehicles will be completed. Ultimately, though, if the known benefits and China’s recent announcement are anything to go by, it’s ultimately a transition that does not seem to be in danger of being reversed anytime soon—or perhaps ever.