Why We Can Live With the Government’s Push for Electric Cars

Back in the early 1970s, MotorTrend spilled a lot of ink railing against federally mandated emissions and fuel economy standards. We argued government mandates would drive up car prices, strain our infrastructure, and force people to buy vehicles they didn’t want—and that they wouldn’t solve the air pollution problem anyway.

We were wrong.

Sure, emissions standards did make cars worse—for a while. Anyone of age in the 1970s remembers engines encumbered by vines of smog equipment that made them hard to start and difficult to tune. No question, the Clean Air Act led us into the Malaise Era.

But the Clean Air Act also led us out of the Malaise Era. Automakers knew buyers wouldn’t stand for ill-running engines, and it certainly didn’t help Detroit that new Japanese competitors—like Honda, whose CVCC engine met 1975 standards without a catalytic converter—proved Americans would buy emissions-compliant cars if those cars were good enough.

So the manufacturers developed advances in fuel delivery, ignition, and thermal management that made engines cleaner and more efficient. We were wrong in our supposition that they wouldn’t solve the pollution problem—just ask anyone who has lived in our home city of Los Angeles since the early 1970s. Sure, we still have smog, but we have 1.5 times as many cars on the road as we did in 1973, yet we have about a quarter the smog-forming low-level ozone in our air.

What we wish we’d known in the early 1970s is that the same changes making engines cleaner would also make them smoother and more powerful, and the ultimate result of those government mandates would be cars with more enthusiast appeal than ever. Back in 1973, we would have marveled at a car that can do 0-60 in less than 6 seconds and sit in a traffic jam with the A/C blasting and not register so much as a twitch of the temperature gauge. Not even the most potent 1960s muscle cars could do that. Nowadays, you can choose from dozens.

History is repeating itself as the government pushes the adaptation of electric vehicles. That’s something that doesn’t sit right with a lot of Americans, and we get it: Freedom is all about having choices. This time, however, we’re on the side of change because we’ve seen what electric cars can do. Take the Rivian R1T, our 2022 Truck of the Year. We didn’t choose it because it was trendy. We chose it because never, in the 73 years of this publication’s existence, have we driven a vehicle that could do what the R1T does: tow and haul like a truck, off-road like a Jeep, corner like a performance car, and accelerate like a hypercar, all with levels of silence and smoothness no Rolls-Royce can yet match.

The only reason the Rivian can do these things is because the model we drove is powered by four electric motors, one for each wheel. The powertrain and some rather ingenious suspension engineering make it a remarkable vehicle and a thrill to drive. The facts it emits no pollution, requires significantly less maintenance, and can be “refueled” at home are, as far as we’re concerned, added bonuses.

Experience has demonstrated automakers are unlikely to forge this path themselves. Electric cars have been around for more than 100 years, but it took Tesla, playing the part the Japanese did in the 1970s, to prove compelling and desirable EVs can be built and that people will buy them.

We’ve heard from MT readers who say they will never drive an electric car. We say they’re missing out, because electric vehicles unlock levels of performance, handling (well, other than the weight problem, for now), and refinement that internal combustion power simply cannot achieve. Yes, there are teething problems, and we’re confident the industry will solve them, just as it always has. Automakers know, for example, Americans want range, and they are developing batteries with better energy density—more juice in a smaller package—just as they pursued smoother-running emissions-compliant engines all those years ago.

MotorTrend hasn’t been taken over by a bunch of car-hating eco-weenies. We haven’t changed. We’re still enthusiasts. Not long ago we said many of the same things to each other that some of you are saying to us now: We love the internal combustion engine. Electricity is nice, but it’ll never replace petroleum in our hearts.

But now that we’ve experienced what EVs can do—and we’re still in the tech’s early days, no less—we are genuinely excited. Just like emissions-compliant engines, electric power is going to make driving more fun. Tearing up a track, towing a trailer, or tiptoeing up the Tetons—electric vehicles will do these things better than internal combustion vehicles, just as computer-controlled, direct-injected vehicles do these things better than vehicles with carburetors and point-breaker ignitions.

Sure, we’ll miss burbling exhausts and clutch pedals. We’re sure plenty of Stanley Steamer fans missed the chuffing noises and big clouds of vapor. Plenty of us will keep internal combustion cars in our garages, just as we keep a few old gross polluters now.

But unlike in the early 1970s, we see the future with clarity. We believe—we know—the push for electric vehicles is going to make motoring life better for enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, just as emissions and fuel economy regulations did. And if it takes a little government prodding to make it happen, well, we can live with that.

Hot Reads

  • Why We Can Live With the Government’s Push for Electric Cars
  • Flathead Engines Only: Vintage ’50s-Style Hot Rod Drag Racing in Maine
  • How the BMW iX M60 Soups Up Its Most Powerful eDrive Powertrain

Source: Read Full Article