The electric vehicle transition is already underway, but it will need to accelerate to keep the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius in reach.
To speed things up, automakers and governments have set targets to phase out the sale of gas-powered vehicles. Those targets, though, vary country to country and automaker to automaker.
And it will require more than just making EVs to meet those targets. Installing robust and accessible charging infrastructure and reducing the environmental impact of critical mineral extraction for EV batteries are just some of the attendant issues to making aspirational goals a reality.
It’s a lot to navigate. To make it easier, we broke down the different goals as well as the challenges that stand in the way of more widespread EV adoption.
What EV goals have automakers set?
Ford is planning for half of all vehicles it sells to be electric by 2030. Like BMW, the company has also set interim goals. By the end of 2023, Ford wants to produce 600,000 EVs a year. By 2024, it hopes to manufacture 270,000 Mach Es a year for North America, Europe, and China; produce 150,000 Lightnings in North America and 150,000 electric Transit vans for North America and Europe; and sell 30,000 units of a yet-to-be-made electric SUV in Europe.
General Motors committed to selling only zero-emission cars and trucks by 2035. Easy peasy.
Honda aims to make its entire lineup zero-emissions in major markets by 2040. The company wants to offer 30 EV models by 2030, and crank out more than 2 million EVs a year. Honda is working on three new EV platforms for its models, one of which is in partnership with GM.
Hyundai plans to sell 1.9 million battery EVs annually by 2030, and will introduce 17 new EV models by then. That would equal 7% of the global market. Meanwhile, Kia — which is owned by Hyundai — wants to boost annual sales of battery EVs to 1.2 million by the end of the decade.
Mazda pledged that 25% of its vehicles will be electrified in 2030, while the rest of its offerings will be hybrids. The company just rolled out its first EV and it has plans to launch three new EVs by 2025.
Nissan wants EVs to make up at least 75% of its sales in Europe, 55% in Japan, and 40% in China by fiscal year 2026. By fiscal year 2030, it wants 40% of its U.S. sales to be EVs. It’s planning to introduce 23 new electrified models, including 15 new EVs, by the end of the decade.
Stellantis — the parent company of Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, and other brands — is planning to only sell EVs in Europe by 2030, while half of all sales in the U.S. will be EVs by then. The company plans to offer more than 75 EV models and sell 5 million EVs annually around the world by 2030.
Toyota expects its sales of all-electric vehicles to reach 3.5 million by 2030, and will introduce 30 EV models by that time. The company has sold millions of partially electrified vehicles, including the Prius, but it only introduced its first widely available all-electric car this year.
Volkswagen has committed to designing its last combustion engine platform in 2026, though it will still sell gas-powered cars after that. Still, it plans for half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. and China and 70% of all vehicles sold in Europe to be electric by 2030. The company aims for nearly all vehicles sold in all markets to be zero emissions by 2040.
Volvo is aiming for 50% of all car sales to be electric by 2025, with a long-term goal to be a fully electric car company by 2030. To get there, Volvo plans to put an electric motor — hybrid or otherwise — in every new car it launches from 2019 onwards.
What goals have major markets set?
Many countries have set electric and zero-emissions vehicle sales targets, including some of the biggest auto markets. They’ve also laid out charging infrastructure plans in an effort to make EVs more accessible to the masses.
The U.S. wants half of all new vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030 — and a network of 500,000 chargers to make that possible. Some states, such as California and New York, have set even more aggressive goals.
The U.K. intends to end the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2030 and hopes for all new cars and vans to be fully zero emissions by 2035. In March, the country pledged 1.6 billion pounds to help build a nationwide network of 300,000 charging stations.
The European Union voted to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 earlier this year.
China has a goal for EVs to make up 40% of cars sold by 2030. The country ultimately wants to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, meaning there will be no net release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The Chinese government has been encouraging the adoption of EVs since 2009, when it offered subsidies for EV purchases. Those subsidies phased out in 2020.
Canada has set a mandatory target to end the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. The country is also spending $680 million through 2027 to build out its charging network.
Japan aims for all new cars to be electric by 2035. But after pushback from the CEO of Toyota, the country emphasized its support for hybrid vehicles in this as well. In June, it also pushed to remove a 50% zero-emission vehicle target from a G7 statement.
How can we make EVs as sustainable as possible?
EVs are hands-down better than gas-powered cars for the climate. But the coming boom for critical minerals could cause environmental harm. There are also risks of unfair labor practices and an uneven transition that leaves low-income communities and emerging economies behind, owing to EVs’ higher upfront prices. But all isn’t lost.
Mining with a light footprint can help build more sustainable EVs. Most current methods for digging up critical minerals require copious amounts of water. There are also concerns that mining could wipe out endangered species, an issue that’s central to the fight over a proposed Nevada lithium mine. Some countries even want to mine the seafloor, which may be more problematic because of how much we don’t know about the impacts. There are a few solutions at hand, though they’re still nascent, including extracting lithium from brine associated with geothermal energy.
Recycling could play a role. Batteries are increasingly valuable commodities, and companies are coming up with ways to recycle them, thus reducing waste (and strain on the supply chain). Several companies including Redwood Materials, Li-Cycle, and Ascend Elements are already beginning to recycle batteries, and Ford and Volvo have partnered with Redwood on its recycling program.
Ensuring fair labor practices is also an important part of the transition to EVs. Unionization — already a staple at traditional automakers — could help ensure a fair transition. Setting up stronger policies around importing critical minerals dug up without forced labor could also improve mining conditions abroad.
EVs have to be accessible to everyone. The Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits for used EVs for low- and middle-income people. That’s a start, as is the Biden administration’s commitment to ensuring that 40% of federal climate funds benefit disadvantaged communities. Despite that, some communities of color are already running into issues with how states are using federal charging funds appropriated under the bipartisan infrastructure law. It’s clear there needs to be more work done to lower the barriers to entry.EVs also need to reach the rest of the world, particularly emerging economies. Two- and three-wheel options are spreading far and wide, particularly in Asia, and are already making a dent in oil use. But the U.S. and other rich economies are exporting dirty used cars, which will make the transition harder.