Volvo’s move to electric demonstrates the role ethical business can play in shaping our society for the better
think a lot about electric cars,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously said at a party at the very end of the 80s. “Do you think a lot about electric cars?” The problem with thinking a lot about electric cars is that certain things become impossible to unthink: powering a car with fossil fuels, meeting 21st-century challenges with 19th-century answers, become more than irresponsible. It becomes ridiculous.
You’ll never know when the tipping point is – it’s possibly as little as five minutes – but think enough about electric cars, especially if you’re a car manufacturer, and wham … you’re Volvo. They were rolling along perfectly happily until they thought too hard: about their business model and benefit to society; about climate change and their future customers; and so they made the decision that all their cars would be fully electric, or at least hybrid, by 2019. Not one car solely powered by internal combustion engine will come off a Volvo production line by 2020.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of this, and not because you are ever likely to buy a brand-new Volvo. If every branded car is a Veblen good – that is, something you want precisely because it is expensive, to flag to the world your ability to own it – then the Volvo is a peculiar inversion, the car you buy that looks less flash than it is, to show the world that you’re not the kind of person who shows off what they’ve bought. Nope, nobody here is buying a brand-new Volvo in 2019.
Yet this will instantly change the charging infrastructure for electric cars: there have already been pretty extraordinary advances in charge speed. You can fully charge an electric vehicle – one with a range of about 105 miles – in half an hour from a supercharger in a garage, which is the difference between being able to use an electric car in a normal way, and having to rebuild your life around it. However, there aren’t enough superchargers, in Europe or the US, and, maddeningly, a lot of the slower chargers – which take four to six hours – still call themselves “high speed” because that’s what they were when they were installed. Volvo will shunt progress forward worldwide on genuinely high-speed charging points, as well as battery production and research and development into battery storage.
Read more: The Guardian