, PRESIDENTIAL FELLOW IN URBAN FUTURES AT CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY
California is working overtime to prove something that is obvious to most middle-class Americans: Electric vehicle mandates are something of a scam.
A week ago, California announced it would ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035—only to beg residents this week to stop charging their electric cars for fear of breaking the power grid amid a massive heatwave.
This is the untenable future that California’s green agenda promises. California Governor Gavin Newsom‘s decision to eliminate gas cars over the next decade represents an enormous bet on a single, increasingly pricey technology which will assuredly raise basic costs to middle and lower-income Californians in the decades ahead. And it places the once proud auto industry at the mercy of China, which dominates the market for electric vehicle (EV) components and the raw materials that go into them.
Perhaps the most dubious aspect of the all-electric policy is the simple question of where will the new juice come from to power these cars. In the UK, EVs are projected to double the demand for electricity by 2040, and the government is already looking to ban the use of home chargers during peak hours.
Expect the same in California, which has not been adding capacity along with its decrees, forcing the state to import over 30 percent of its electricity from other states. This has made California the nation’s largest net electrical-importing state by a wide margin; by 2050, state consultants estimate that electrification mandates, including those for trucks, will cause total demand to skyrocket, with some estimates of demand rising 60 to 90 percent by that time.
Nor will electric cars provide much relief to middle or working-class families. The price of rare metals and computer chips has surged of late, raising the prices of EVs; electric truck maker Rivian recently raised the price of their pickups by $12,000, to nearly $80,000 (not coincidentally, the original amount of the rebate promised in Build Back Better).
Simply put, EVs—which last year sold for an average of at least $56,000—are not a viable option for most Californians, particularly as enormous demand for lithium, copper, and aluminum has soared. Middle-class Americans certainly won’t be snatching up the newly planned $300,000 Cadillac EV, or even the popular Model Y Tesla SUV, now $70,000 due to rising battery prices. The best they can hope for is to use the EVs of the ride-sharing companies, whose electric transition will be financed by taxpayers, if a new ballot measure passes.
As with President Biden’s college debt forgiveness, the EV drive raises enormous issues of class and equity. When Newsom announced an accelerated schedule to ban gasoline-car sales by 2035, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, an African American from Sacramento, denounced the proposal, pointing out that the low- and middle-income drivers he represents can’t afford electric cars. “How will my constituents afford an EV? They can’t,” he tweeted.
The electric vehicle fixation could soon undermine the state’s last great blue collar sector, the heavily unionized ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland. International trade, including exports and imports, supports nearly 5 million California jobs, nearly one in four of the state total. If California proceeds to ban gas trucks and forces port transport to turn to electric trucks, this will make transportation far more expensive. Electric trucks can go at best 80 miles without stopping, whereas a less expensive, low-emission gas truck can cover 500, greatly increasing efficiency.
Of course, the environmentalists’ relentless PR machine, powered by their media minions, suggests that Californians displaced by such regulations can work in “green jobs” promoted by California political elites like billionaire Tom Steyer. But even the climate-obsessed New York Times admits that green jobs pay for less than those in fossil fuel energy and manufacturing, and are often temporary and low wage.
Worse yet, even when decent paying green jobs develop at new battery and EV assembly plants, they won’t likely come to California. In 2014, Elon Musk put his $5 billion Gigafactory in low-cost Nevada, and in 2020, he announced that the company’s new $1.1 billion dollar SUV plant, which will employ over 5,000 people, will be built outside Austin, Texas.
Other fledgling firms entering the electric space may also be unlikely to produce new-generation vehicles in the Golden State. Tesla rival Rivian plans to build its products in Illinois, while General Motors has decided to set up its new electric-truck operation in Michigan. New battery plants are rising far from the Sierra, including Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas and Georgia.
Most disturbing, the forced march to EVs also represents a potential threat to our national interests. Although communities may welcome new electric assembly facilities, and underperforming firms like General Motors can hope to use federal mandates to boost market share, traditional supplier firms seem destined to losses. Overall, electric cars use 30 percent less domestic labor in the U.S., and in Germany some 75,000 jobs are expected to disappear by 2030 if we continue on this track.
Of course, this represents an enormous blessing for China. Beijing maintains almost total domination of the solar-panel industry; its battery capacity is now roughly four times ours, and China exercises effective control of the requisite rare earth minerals and the technology for processing them.
Indeed, given its growing dominance in computer production and its drive to control semiconductors as well, China may be able to use the EV surge to replace much of the western auto industry. Rather than a domestic industry that makes most components, the U.S. auto industry may devolve into little more than an assembly operation putting together Chinese components.
To be sure, EVs should play a growing role in our transportation system. But as Toyota and other car experts have argued, there are numerous other, more affordable, and quicker ways to reduce emissions, including affordable low emissions gas cars and Prius-like hybrids.
Driving up the prices for all vehicles could make people reluctant to buy more fuel-efficient model and instead work to keep their gas-guzzlers. As one researcher aptly noted, in a decade, California and possibly the rest of America might end up resembling Cuba, the vintage car capital of the world.
Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.