On September 23, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that as of 2035, the state is banning the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles. It seems absurd to some, and there are certainly barriers, but the world - and technology - can cover a lot of ground in fifteen years.
Let's first look back on why this goal isn't so outrageous, and who and what will drive it towards achievement going forward.
Fifteen years ago, in 2005, commercial availability of the Internet was ten years old. There was no such thing as "social media." Facebook was a fledgling college network, YouTube was just launching, and Nokia was the most popular mobile phone, which was not yet smart. There were 9,000 Blockbuster stores, and it was five years since the company passed on purchasing Netflix for $50 million.
Tesla signed a production contract with Lotus for "gliders" in 2005. The all-electric Nissan Leaf was a sapling not to reach maturity for another five years as a 2010 model, but far ahead of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, which debuted in 2016. It took 8 hours to recharge the Leaf’s 73-mile range using a 220-volt outlet (like a clothes dryer), and twice that using a standard 110 plug.
There were about 169,000 gas stations in the U.S. and no public charging ports.
The oldest Baby Boomer (birth year 1945-1964) turned 60 in 2005 and the youngest 41, with their preferences dominating the consumer marketplace. Gen Xers (1965-1977) were just turning 40. "Millennials" (then defined as 1978-1994) were still called Gen Y and were just starting to enter the job market with demands for a six-figure salary by 30 years old.
Fast forward to 2020, and let's examine how technology has changed the world around us.
Access to the Internet is considered a human right. Nearly 70% of all adults admit to using Facebook, and 73% use YouTube. Apple holds 39% of the now-smart phone market, with Nokia at 16%. Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010, and Netflix is worth about $195 billion.
Technology adoption is measured in months and years (hello, TikTok), not years and decades.
Tesla sold 367,000 electric vehicles globally in 2019, with the majority in the U.S., where the Chevy Bolt sold just over 16,400 units and the Nissan Leaf sold 12,365 units. It still takes about 8 hours to recharge a Nissan Leaf on a 220-volt outlet, but it’s more than twice the range at 149 miles.
There are about 115,000 gas stations in the U.S. in 2020, a third less than in 2005. More than 78,000 electric vehicle charging outlets dot America's roads and the number keeps growing.
The oldest Baby Boomer turned 75 in 2020, and the youngest turned 56. Their preferences no longer dominate the marketplace. Gen X is in the midst of peak earning years, and the Great Recession splintered Millennials.
In my years as an automotive analyst, I've realized grouping consumers under age 42 (aka Millennials) into one large cluster blurs some important and enduring distinctions. Through methodology and research, I identified three general cohorts: Trophy Generation (birth year 1978-1988), Online Generation (1989-1999), and Generation App (2000-today).
The Trophy Generation (age 32-42) are primarily the coddled and protected children of helicopter parenting Baby Boomers. Everyone got a trophy as kids because their parents were raised at a time when schoolmates were constantly pitted against each other. Baby Boomers wanted their kids to have a less competitive growing up experience (don’t keep score), and everyone should help (“Baby on Board” signs in cars). Trophies are environmentally conscious, naturally embrace diversity, and tech-savvy. They often have close relationships with their grandparents, which is why mid-century-modern and vinyl records are on-trend.
The Online Generation (currently roughly 21-31-year-olds) is so named because technology dominated their growing up experience and their most valued possessions are in the cloud. While they share many characteristics with the Trophies, post-recession struggles and social media are defining young adulthood. Since many saw their Baby Boomer and Gen X parents lose careers and even homes in the Great Recession, they are more likely to put off a profession for life experiences and passport stamps. They crave authenticity, since so much of their world is anything but, given the proliferation of reality shows and insta-perfect posts.
Generation App, those 20 and younger, are fully defined by technology. Their whole life is an app, whether it's playdates, developing friendships, school, even e-sports. Unlike most generations, the parents or guardians' age of Generation App is broad, from second-marriage Baby Boomers to Gen Xers to older Trophies. Since Appers are still growing up, enduring mindsets are developing. The pandemic will be a crucial part of their experience as it impacts every aspect of their lives.
What ties all three of these groups together is technology, and attitudes towards climate change, and environmental causes. To appeal to them, corporations must be culturally aware and environmentally conscious with a strong social media game and an authentic online presence.
Keep in mind, Steve Jobs is a historical figure for the Onliners, as the oldest was barely 23 when he passed away in 2011, and Generation App kids were prepubescent.
But Elon Musk is alive and well, and Tesla is their Apple.
In fifteen years, the oldest Trophy (or Millennial) will be almost 60. While California's proclamation doesn't fit with the consumers in today's internal-combustion engine market, it will work with the cohorts to come. Electric vehicles will be mainstream, sold by long-established and start-up brands alike.
Advancements in charging times and battery capacity will lower current barriers to deployment. Home chargers and range anxiety will be obsolete since charging times will be as short as stopping to get gasoline. People in multi-unit dwellings or parking on the street won't be a barrier because robotic chargers will come to the car.
Owning an electric vehicle will be just as convenient as owning an internal combustion engine, leading to more adoption.
A lot will change in the next 15 years, but Gov. Newsom's announcement does not seem too far-fetched in light of achievements in the last decade and a half. The most significant barrier to meeting California's goal is the electrical grid and creating clean energy sources.
There is little doubt that future consumers will be ready for – and in many ways expect - a marketplace with only electric vehicles. The only question is, will the mobility and energy industries be ready as well?
Rebecca Lindland is the creator of rebeccadrives LLC, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based boutique consultancy specializing in guiding consumers and clients through the big decisions. Utilizing a transformative toolset, Rebecca empowers companies to influence consumer behaviors and crucial decision drivers. She served on the National Academies of Science 2015 report on Overcoming Barriers to Plug-In Electric Vehicle Deployment
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