Friday, January 3, 2020

Electric Cars Go Lux and What this Means for the Environmental Movement

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One of the oddest trends that has occurred in the last year or two is the movement of electric cars into the luxury market. I have a Ford Fusion which is a relatively modest electric hybrid. However, based on this article in the New York Times, luxury car manufacturers are creating many electric versions of their luxurious high end SUVs and sedans.

As the article notes, electric cars have a long way to go to overtake gas powered vehicles. However, electric car purchases doubled last year and the rate of growth is expected to accelerate.

The merging of electric cars with luxury began with Tesla which branded itself as merging high tech with high style. The company clearly distanced itself from the look and feel of the Toyota Prius which looks like something any practical NPR listener would like to drive (not that there is anything wrong with that). Of course, there are middle range electric cars like the Volt and Leaf, but the big growth in electric cars is clearly within the luxury market from companies like Tesla, Jaguar, BMW, and Audi.

I have mixed feelings about this trend.

On the positive side, it is great that there is a growth in electric car sales. It is also great that electric car manufacturing has garnered the attention of the luxury market. I also know that there are plans for  expanding electric car manufacturing into a variety of price ranges.

However, there are some negatives. The growth of electric largely within the luxury market makes it seem as if electric car culture is elitist. This is a long standing critique of the environmental movement. Many, particularly those in rural red state areas, look at the environmental movement as something divorced from the common man or woman. Instead, some see it as a bi-coastal phenomenon with little interest in the middle of the nation. Personally, I disagree with this viewpoint, but I understand how some can believe this--particularly with the electric car movement. This is a problem as we seek national support for the expansion of new electric car infrastructure.

I also am concerned that electric cars will become just another form of fast consumption. The focus on style and luxury within the electric car world makes the pursuit of new models desirable among some buyers. Most of my readers understand what our fast changing throw away technology is doing to the environment. Will electric cars, with their current trajectory, be just another fast technology trend that needs regular updating?

As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, the move to renewable energies has not reduced our overall global greenhouse gas emissions. The development of wind and solar have just allowed us all to consume more energy. Could the move to electric cars be another situation in which we advance a technology to solve a problem that is not solvable without structural change?

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