OPINION | EDITORIAL: All the right moves

Going in a cleaner direction, eventually

The 20th century has been described as the 'American Century.' As a global leader in the auto business, we may be able to say the same thing about the 21st century.

The foundation to all of this was laid in the 19th century.

Specifically--if not ironically, in relation to the current push toward EVs--we point to the discovery of oil in Titusville, Penn., in 1859. This "rock oil" was primarily used as an alternative to whale oil and as a lubricant for machinery. Things began to change with the invention of the internal combustion engine and its diesel cousin in the late 1800s.

Before any of this, the Netherlands, Hungary and the U.S. began developing electric vehicles in the early 1800s. (Somebody email Ripley's Believe It Or Not.) Use of the first EVs as a practical form of transportation occurred in the 1870s. In the U.S., the first "successful" EV made its debut in 1890.

However, 11 years later, on Jan. 10, 1901, oil began flowing in unimagined volumes from a drilling site atop Spindletop Hill outside Beaumont, Texas. Additional gushers followed. The transportation industry needed a good fuel. Oil needed a larger market. And just like that, it became perfectly clear where transportation was headed for the next 100 or so years.

We can now look back at these events as baby steps toward the manufacturing, interstate, military, drive-in theater economy of the American boom. Baby steps are critical to future steps, and heading towards an electric vehicle future.

It seems that every day we hear or read about pieces of the puzzle coming together that someday we'll look back on as baby steps--before we began leaping tall buildings in a single bound. They're all promising, but they come with the sobering warning that we still have some pain to endure, although less every day.

That is no reason to abandon the race to the future.

On Monday, Canoo--an electric vehicle startup--announced that it signed a "... long-term lease for an Oklahoma facility where it plans to manufacture its vehicles." According to the company, it "expects to eventually employ 500 workers" and include "assembly lines, a body shop, paint shop and automated paint line, quality control, complete vehicle testing ..."--good ol' American manufacturing employing American workers.

The facility is expected to "produce up to 20,000 vehicles at the plant during its first year of operations." It's great news for Oklahoma that we wish had happened here in Arkansas. Nevertheless, investors were left unimpressed as the company's share price moved one penny, from 52 cents to 53 cents.

Ford Motor Company has lost in the billions of dollars and plans to lose billions more before it breaks even and makes a profit on its electric vehicle products. This includes the F-150 Lightning, a vehicle the company warns will take at least a year for buyers to receive due to high demand. Because of this, Ford is nearly doubling production from 80,000 to 150,000 per year.

For perspective, the gasoline version of the Ford F-Series is the No. 1 selling car or SUV in America. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the F-150 is the most popular vehicle in our state in 2023. It's only a matter of time before the Lightning lights up the Arkansas market.

EV manufacturers are also looking to the Middle East as a fertile market given the trend of reducing or eliminating gasoline subsidies for their citizens, made possible from raking in zillions of dollars in oil revenue over decades.

Wherever they're sold, additional market penetration inevitably leads to higher production volumes, which almost always lead to lower prices. That snowball effect will further stimulate markets everywhere.

One of the downsides of this is the need for rare-earth minerals used in solar panels and wind turbines. The lion's share of the world's reserves are in China and Russia with whom we have, shall we say, diplomatic tensions.

Diplomatic issues are compounded by China's heavy-handed control of the supply chain for these minerals. According to Bloomberg News, China is home to "two-thirds of the mining and 85 percent of refining of the materials." And they are "commodities," subject to the same wild price swings as oil.

We know we'll never be able to carry a gallon of electricity down the street to fill up an uncharged car, but if we've learned one thing, it's that nothing is perfect, but some things are pretty darn good. Count EVs among them.

But for all the future benefits of electric vehicles, one thing needs to be clear to everybody: They aren't saving the Earth or the environment or the air that you breathe. Not quite yet. Not as long as fossil fuels still account for the biggest percentage of electricity generators.

But even mentioning that, there is good news.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 60 percent of the electricity for the United States was produced by fossil fuels--coal, natural gas, and others--last year. But--this is a big but--last year renewable energy passed coal for the first time (!). Coal-sourced energy came in at 19.5 percent, and wind, hydropower, solar and others totaled 21.5 percent.

So we're moving in the right direction. Soon you might be able to plug your car into the socket at home and sleep well knowing that the electricity isn't coming from the coal plant in the next county. How many years until that peaceful sleep is still a question. But . . . .

We, and many other Americans, have been waiting for this day. In the years to come, things are apt to get even better.

Now if we can just convince Red China, India and the rest of the world to move in this direction.