New Analysis Suggests We Have Already Hit Peak Internal Combustion Engine

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric version of Ford's best-selling F-150.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric version of Ford's best-selling F-150. Ford Motor Company

A new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) suggests that global sales of gas-powered cars likely peaked in 2017, marking a major milestone in the shift to electric vehicles. Demand for conventional vehicles fell in 2018 and 2019 before dropping sharply in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. While sales are likely to rebound as the pandemic ebbs, growing demand for plug-in vehicles means that gas-powered cars are almost certainly in “permanent decline,” according to the report.

BNEF projects that global EV sales will go from from 3.1 million in 2020 to 14 million in 2025, driven by falling costs for lithium-ion batteries and new policies that encourage the adoption of electric cars. The analysis finds that, in the business-as-usual scenario, EVs will account for a majority of new car sales by around 2035. To reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, however, electric cars will need to account for 100 percent of new sales by 2035. To reach that goal, governments must enact new policies to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and instate new regulations on electrifying heavy trucks, according to the report.

“The growth of electric transport is an amazing success story to date, and the future of the EV market is bright. But there are still over 1.2 billion combustion cars on the road and the fleet turns over slowly,” Colin McKerracher, head of the advanced transport team at BNEF, said in a statement. “Reaching net zero by mid-century will require all hands on deck, particularly for trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles where the transition has barely started.”

To the end, Group of Seven (G7) governments are considering new commitments to ensure that, by 2030, more than half of new passenger vehicles sold are emissions-free, Bloomberg reported. It is not clear if President Biden or other G7 leaders will ultimately support this goal.

In a new commentary aimed at G7 leaders and published in Nature Energy, Ryan Hanna and David Victor, both energy experts at the University of California San Diego, argue that policymakers looking to measure progress on climate change should focus less on emissions and more on supporting the growth of new technologies, such as electric vehicles.

“Our best forecasts have, time and again, understated the profoundness of [technological] change that can occur over long time horizons,” they write. “Even as the Paris goals are elusive, in many ways the situation is quite encouraging,”