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Climate change and energy

The inevitable EV: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Electric vehicles have been available for decades. Now they’ve finally become mainstream.

January 9, 2023
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Nick Little

WHO

BYD, Hyundai, Tesla, Volkswagen

WHEN

Now

Electric vehicles are transforming the auto industry.

While sales have slowly ticked up for years, they’re now soaring. The emissions-free cars and trucks will likely account for 13% of all new auto sales globally in 2022, up from 4% just two years earlier, according to the International Energy Agency. They’re on track to make up about 30% of those sales by the end of this decade.

A mix of forces has propelled the vehicles from a niche choice to a mainstream option. 

Governments have enacted policies compelling automakers to retool and incentivizing consumers to make the switch. Notably, California and New York will require all new cars, trucks, and SUVs to be zero-emissions by 2035, and the EU had nearly finalized a similar rule at press time. 

Auto companies, in turn, are setting up supply chains, building manufacturing capacity, and releasing more models with better performance, across price points and product types. 

The Hongguang Mini, a tiny car that starts a little below $5,000, has become the best-selling electric vehicle in the world, reinforcing China’s dominance as the largest manufacturer of EVs.

A growing line-up of two- and three-wheelers from Hero Electric, Ather, and other companies helped EV sales triple in India over the last year (though the total number is still only around 430,000). And models ranging in size and price from the Chevy Bolt to the Ford F-150 Lightning are bringing more Americans into the electric fold.

There are still big challenges ahead. Most of the vehicles must become cheaper. Charging options need to be more convenient. Clean electricity generation will have to increase dramatically to accommodate the surge in vehicle charging. And it will be a massive undertaking to make enough batteries. But it’s now clear that the heyday of the gas-guzzler is dimming.

Deep Dive

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Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

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These artificial snowdrifts protect seal pups from climate change

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The hard lessons of Harvard’s failed geoengineering experiment

Some observers argue the end of SCoPEx should mark the end of such proposals. Others say any future experiments should proceed in markedly different ways.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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