Tag Archives: Electric vehicles

Stephen Golub: From the Benicia Car Show to Our Electrifying Future

The Good Old Days Give Way to Better Days

By Stephen Golub, May 1, 2023

An electric vehicle is being charged.

Versions of this article have also appeared in Stephen Golub’s weekly Benicia Herald Column, “Benicia and Beyond,” and in his national and international affairs blog, A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

My new hometown of Benicia, CA hosted its 28th Annual Classic Car Show late last month.

I suppose I could start discussing the event, as well as the global car market’s electrifying trends, by lamenting America’s historic love for gas guzzlers and their legacy of overconsumption and pollution.


More on the future later. But for now…


Having wandered around the show, I must confess to being wowed. It’s the first such gathering I’ve ever been to. I have no idea how many autos were on display…400? 600?

I didn’t come away from it a classic car aficionado. But, even given the old autos’ fuel-consuming excesses, this blast from the past and slice of Americana was a lot of fun.

Most of the vehicles dated from the early 1930s to the mid-1960s. They ranged from vintage Fords and Packards to comparatively new behemoths and muscle cars.

Restoring and preserving these beauties seemed like an act of love. Proud owners stood by to answer questions, discuss the engines’ intricacies and otherwise bask in both the sunshine and the perfect shines of their prized possessions – which in most instances are kept more for show than for driving these days.

Overhearing a few of the conversations, I was struck by how little I understood. But you didn’t have to be any kind of expert to enjoy the event.

The owners were mainly male. As a friend joked, strolling amidst so many hundreds-of-horsepower stallions made him feel a surge of testosterone.


It was tough to pick out favorites from the array of gleaming humdingers. But those that especially caught my eye included a cherry-red ‘31 Model A, a gorgeously detailed Caprice and my neighbor’s dazzling ’65 Mustang, which I’ve glimpsed when he occasionally takes it out for a spin around town.

Another ’65 model, an Impala, brought a flashback to my now-distant past. An Impala was the first car I ever drove, though it wasn’t quite as old or huge as this one. My memory of those good old days was also triggered by the scent of the fragrant combustibles wafting my way from behind the car.

The gathering was fun in other ways as well. It was a family affair, with a fair number of kids and dogs. There were also loads of great food trucks. I indulged in a delicious Louisiana hot link, smothered in onions, BBQ sauce and mustard, and washed down by some freshly made lemonade. The small “beer garden” enclosure was tempting, but at 11 am I wasn’t quite ready for that.

It was the kind of classic Benicia festival that the town is known for.

In sum, a good time was had by all, whether you were a classic car junkie or just an auto layperson like me, wandering around in wonderment.

Driving With Bruce

A record collection with Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen.
Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

Bruce Springsteen fan that I am, I couldn’t help but recall the countless songs in which he references cars: Pink Cadillac, Cadillac Ranch, Born to Run, Thunder Road, Fire, Stolen Car, Used Cars, Ramrod, My Hometown and many more.

And then there are these lyrics from Racing in the Streets:

I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a three-ninety-six
Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor

I have no idea what he’s talking about.

But you don’t have to understand those words to know that cars are a part of our culture, our history and our evolution as a country and society.

The Future is (Almost) Now

Which brings me to electric vehicles (EVs) – or, for the sake of statistics discussed here: all-electric, plug-in, light vehicles (excluding hybrids).

While still only a small share of the global market, annual sales are surging exponentially, from one million in 2015 to 20 million as of a year ago.

I won’t delve into the massive and well-recognized environmental benefits of shifting to EVs. Suffice to say that they are a very good thing for combating climate change, improving our air quality and enhancing our health and well-being.

Before we get too charged up about the promise of EVs, though, a few additional considerations need to intrude. There’s the challenge of installing rapid charging stations across the country, though recent federal legislation funds a substantial increase in such facilities. Then there is also the matter of sourcing the materials crucial to for the cars’ batteries, including social and economic justice challenges that the process imposes.

In addition, it takes about 17,500 miles before American EVs reach the “break-even point,” where their cumulative carbon emissions start to compare favorably with those of their internal combustion engine counterparts. (The EVs pose a greater initial environmental cost due to carbon dispersals from their manufacture and related processes.)

But that initial emission burden is a relative drop in the bucket, in view of the average car’s lifespan (including for EVs) of well over 100,000 miles. And the break-even point is gradually decreasing, due to improved production practices and the shift toward power plants that source sun, wind, hydroelectric and other sustainable energy to power EV batteries.

In Norway, for example, where autos rely mostly on hydroelectric sources (and which boasts the highest EV per capita rate in the world), the environmental balance for EVs becomes preferable after barely 8,000 miles of use.

None of this is to deny that many Americans are still wedded to SUVs and pickup trucks. But there’s great progress in this regard as well, as more of them go electric. In addition, by virtue of their especially large batteries, the Ford F-150 Lightning and other electric pickups can become virtual power plants for homes, construction equipment and myriad other uses.

This change for the better is racing down the road pretty quickly. A poll of over 1,000 automobile executives yielded an average forecast that over half of U.S car sales will be EVs by 2030, consistent with President Biden’s sales goal. The survey produced similar predictions for the Japanese and huge China markets. Whether or not we meet that target, the evolution of our automobile industry is well underway.

The Market Speaks

Will consumers actually fulfill the automobile executives’ predictions? This is where the rubber hits the road. For many buyers, this will quite justifiably hinge on environmental considerations, in terms of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution.

For many others, it will come down to price. But with expensive gasoline, increased competition and government incentives accelerating the transition to EVs, the days of trendy Teslas dominating the field seem doomed. Lower EV maintenance costs will also help move the market away from internal combustion engines.

Speaking of price, China and India have EVs on their domestic markets that respectively cost $4,600 and $5,800. To be sure, their batteries are small, they are just runabouts for driving locally and they probably wouldn’t pass U.S. regulatory muster. But the point is that a burgeoning, global investment in EVs is producing a variety of cars for a variety of uses and societies.

Beyond the Pink Cadillac

Which brings me back to the vintage vehicles, muscle cars, Springsteen’s Pink Cadillacs and so many more of today’s collectors’ items. The past is past. We can admire the old while embracing the benefits of the new for our environment, our health, our pocketbooks and our planet.

I welcome such changes. I eagerly anticipate more yet to come. But I’m also looking forward to next year’s Classic Car Show.

(Hat tip: HL, CS)

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Benicia Author Stephen Golub – Norway??

The good, the bad and the ugly of GM’s Super Bowl ad.

By Stephen Golub, A Promised Land, February 8, 2021

Benicia Author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

If you watched the Super Bowl, or even if you didn’t, you might well have seen the General Motors ad that features Will Ferrell pitching GM’s electric vehicles. It opens with Ferrell explaining that “Norway sells way more electric cars per capita than the U.S.” He then declares, “Well, I won’t stand for it,” before punching a globe and claiming that, with GM’s new electric battery, “we’re going to crush those lugers. CRUSH THEM! Let’s go, America.”

Ferrell, aka America’s loveable oaf, goes on to recruit Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson and actress/comedian/celebrity Awkwafina to meet him in Norway, with him driving an electric Cadillac and them an electric Hummer to somehow get there. He actually ends up in Sweden and his two pals in Finland. But that’s beside the point.

Because the point’s been made: America will lead the world in EV use.

The Good

The ad doubles down on GM’s recent commitment to stop manufacturing gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035. As this Atlantic article explains, that’s quite the about-face for the car company, given how it advocated for two regressive Trump administration positions: a rollback of anti-pollution rules and an attempt to block California’s regulation of vehicle emissions. Indeed, GM has been quite the laggard in this regard, as Ford and other automobile manufacturers opposed the administration on both issues.

Given how two-faced GM has been, we can’t be certain it will deliver on its promise until it’s further down the line. Still, the change itself couples with the company’s very public declaration of the move – you can’t get more public than a Super Bowl commercial – to reflect a decisive shift in the right direction for GM and the automotive industry more generally.

And it makes so much sense, even above and beyond environmental repercussions. According to the Atlantic piece:

In the future, Americans’ mass adoption of electric vehicles will seem inevitable. After all, EVs cost less to run than gas-powered cars (because electricity is cheaper than gas); they require cheaper maintenance; they break less; they are quieter. For many types of drivers—daily commuters, for instance, or errands-around-towners—they are already preferable to gas-powered cars.

The Bad

GM’s good news comes with a message that should curb our enthusiasm: Note that the vehicles it uses in the Super Bowl commercial are a Caddy and a Hummer. As environmental/energy expert Philip Warburg notes, “GM’s soon-to-be released electric vehicle flagship, the three-ton, 1,000-horsepower all-electric Hummer, stands as a warning that American auto manufacturers will not be abandoning their energy-wasteful giants, even as they move from internal combustion engines to electric power.”

Warburg goes on to caution that, even as the Biden Administration thankfully steers the United States toward an EV future, it must still focus on exhaust emissions from fossil fuel vehicles and on restraining vehicle size:

First, while the prospect of an all-electric vehicle fleet is alluring, we are decades away from achieving that goal. We therefore can’t afford to shrug our shoulders while most of our cars and trucks continue to rely on gasoline and diesel fuel.

Second, an electrified U.S. fleet dominated by oversized SUVs and pickups will consume substantially more energy than a leaner line of electric vehicles, making it much harder for clean electricity sources to edge out the gas and coal plants that still supply most of our electricity.

However affable a face Ferrell puts on GM’s shift, then, the government and public still need to force and pressure car companies to head in the right direction.

The Ugly

Though this ad will never win any awards for subtlety, it nevertheless plays up the unwittingly Ugly American in a creative and positive way. Ferrell’s taking umbrage at the idea that Norway (!!!) is beating America in EV usage is really a knock at the notion of any country besting us in this regard.

What’s significant here is that GM is making EV progress a matter of pride and patriotism. The commercial plays a bit on our national ignorance by bringing together the mindless “We’re Number One!” notion with Ferrell’s globe-piercing display and his little group arriving not in Norway but neighboring nations.

But hey, if a good-natured but cluelessly competitive American stereotype serves a good cause by highlighting how we must catch up with other countries, I’m all for it. At least in this instance, the Ugly American is a beautiful thing to behold.

[Hat tip: MS]
Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?

Repost from the CalMatters.org
[Editor:  This article also appeared in the 8/9/15 San Francisco Chronicle.  – RS]

Can state cut gasoline use in half in 15 years?  Probably not

By Kate Galbraith, August 5, 2015
Mary Serrano gets instructions on the Chevy Spark PHOTOGRAPH BY Carl Costas for CALmatters

One sunny Saturday in Stockton, Mary Serrano climbed into the driver’s seat of a bright-red, all-electric Chevrolet Spark. A retiree who normally drives a 20-year-old Toyota Camry, she was curious about the new technology on display at the local fairground.

“I feel like I’m going to outer space,” she said giddily, as a company representative prepared to explain the controls.

But after the excitement of the test drive, reality set in. The Camry, which had to be fixed after failing a smog test, will keep its place at her Stockton home. An electric car seems out of reach, despite the availability of rebates.

“For the moment, I don’t have the money to buy it,” she said by phone, a few months after the fairground event. “Maybe later in life.”

Her situation suggests that for all the allure of emissions-free vehicles, getting Californians to adopt them will take time. That in turn creates challenges for slashing gasoline and diesel use, a goal state leaders are championing as part of their battle against climate change. A bill that has passed the state Senate and awaits a vote in the Assembly seeks to halve the amount of petroleum used in motor vehicles by 2030. It will be difficult to accomplish in such a short period.

“If we’re talking about transportation petroleum use, then the goal probably isn’t possible,” said John German, a Michigan-based senior fellow with the International Council on Clean Transportation. A key problem, he said, is that people hold onto cars and trucks for a long time, an average of more than 11 years for American cars.

The bill has the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown, who earlier this year called for the state to cut petroleum use in cars and trucks by “up to 50 percent.” Senate Bill 350 contains an unequivocal 50 percent target.

“I wouldn’t set forth on this pathway if I believed that the targets were unrealistic,” said Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, the bill’s powerful co-author, in a recent interview.

Other parts of the legislation call for electric utilities to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and for buildings to become twice as energy efficient.

“We should be careful when we set round numbers like 50-50-50. Why 50?” said Eloy Garcia, who lobbies for the Western States Petroleum Association, in testimony before an Assembly committee in July. “I know they’re nice round numbers, but we should be careful about why we’ve picked those numbers.”

The bill would take gasoline use in the state back to the 1960s, a time when California’s population was close to half of what it is today. It would not only help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a priority for the state, but also reduce the fine particles and smog-forming gases that contribute to unhealthy air above some California cities, including Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Fresno.

“The primary driver of this target was air quality,” Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, the state agency overseeing air quality and climate change policy, wrote in an e-mail.

The ARB would oversee the programs, creating a point of controversy because industry groups perceive it as high-handed, even as environmentalists cheer it on. Petroleum lobbyists and other opponents want elected legislators to plan how the goals will be met and not the appointed air board officials.

Currently, trends are moving in the wrong direction. Gasoline and diesel sales are ticking up, the sign of a surging economy. The number of miles traveled by vehicles on California highways — a crucial metric for determining whether Californians are getting out of their cars and onto bikes, sidewalks or public transportation– is also rising.

But the technology exists to halve petroleum use, as German and others point out. If everyone suddenly began driving emissions-free electric cars, such as the one Serrano tried out, California would easily meet its target. Driven by government fuel-economy and emissions standards, even cars that run on petroleum will be made of lighter, more fuel-efficient materials in the future.

These coming changes will be dramatic, even if they do not end up being enough to halve petroleum use in 15 years. German’s organization, the International Council on Clean Transportation, estimates that recent federal fuel-economy standards could cause greenhouse gas emissions from light-duty vehicles nationwide to fall 28 percent by 2030 compared to 2015.

Jeffrey Greenblatt, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimates that by 2030, a number of transportation policies already in existence will enable the state to cut petroleum use by cars and trucks to about 70 percent of their 2014 level. Besides federal fuel-economy standards, these include support for public transit and a state goal of having 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles by 2025.

Another way the state is trying to cut petroleum is by encouraging the use of biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel, provided they are formulated to be as environmentally friendly as possible. (Renewable diesel is made from fats or vegetable oil and specially refined.) At a pump in Redwood City operated by Propel Fuels, several customers opted for 85 percent ethanol rather than the ordinary gasoline available nearby, although helping the environment was not their primary motive.

“It’s cheaper,” said Donald Rainer of Menlo Park, whose flex-fuel GMC Yukon takes both gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. His main complaint was about refueling stations: “They don’t have enough of them around.”

For potential buyers of electric cars, too, costs are key. Many plug-in vehicles remain expensive, though prices have been falling and the state subsidizes them in various ways. The cars are limited in how far they can go without recharging, but that problem is diminishing as battery technology improves. Some in the auto industry wonder whether key incentives, such as allowing zero-emissions vehicles into the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on major roads, will remain in place if electric cars flood the roadways.

As improved fuel-efficiency allows Californians to use less gasoline, then prices at the pump may fall, according to Darwin Hall, professor emeritus of economics at California State University, Long Beach, depending on whether refiners adjust their capacity.

However, in the near-term, some climate policies are causing the price of gasoline to rise. The state’s cap-and-trade program, which sets limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that fuel distributors, refineries and other large polluters can emit, has increased gasoline prices by roughly a dime a gallon this year, economists estimate.

Republican lawmakers fear that SB 350 will cause job losses and economic damage. “What are my constituents going to do if we cut petroleum by 50 percent but they are still using cars that require petroleum? Will they all be required to buy new cars?” asked Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, during a floor debate over the bill. Her colleague, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, described it as “coastal elitism at the worst.”

The bill is expected to have a more difficult time in the Assembly than in the Senate, where it passed the Senate with the support of all but two Democrats: Sen. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside. The Assembly contains more moderate Democrats who have historically been friendly to the oil industry, which has launched a television ad dubbing the bill the “gas restriction act of 2015.”

The ads target a select group of lawmakers and are running on web sites in their respective districts, said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the industry group called California Drivers Alliance.

“It is a method of communicating to legislators about an issue we think is of concern to their constituents,” Miller said.

Sen. de León emphasized that fossil fuels were not going away. Nor, he said, would everyone need to immediately buy an electric car or hybrid. (In his official capacity, de León is chauffeured in a Chevrolet Suburban. For personal use, he leases a Chevrolet Impala and said he aspires to a hybrid.) Establishing targets, he said, is vital to encouraging California down the path toward clean energy, but the policy would not result in banning or rationing gasoline.

“If we don’t meet this goal,” de León said, “no one’s going to jail.”

Laurel Rosenhall contributed reporting.