Haggling Over The Future
Who's in the way?
Not serious people
I’m Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit.
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Car Dealers, Man
Here’s the thing about American car dealers: they’re wealthier than you think, and standing directly in the way of reducing fossil fuel use by 2/3 and our emissions by 1/3.
Caveating here that electric vehicles are still pollution-spewing nightmares and that parking laws have destroyed our cities, so they’re not THE answer. Far fewer cars and drastically better, safer, and more prevalent public transportation and mobility infrastructure are the big win.
But at the same time EV’s remain one enormous lever to reduce our overall emissions by eliminating our transportation emissions — with the vital co-benefits of immediately eliminating tailpipe emissions as every ICE engine is replaced.
But among the obstacles standing in the way of completely turning over our automobile fleet, at least in the US, are ever-powerful and relatively wealthy GOP-loyal car dealers.
Some more context:
Pre-IRA, we spent years asking how we could possibly sell all the electric cars we need to, considering unreliable federal subsidies, nary a charging network, range anxiety, all by way of car dealers who simply weren’t incentivized to sell them.
One big reason? The lion share of dealership profits come from gas engine maintenance and repairs.
From The Atlantic in January 2022, which is exactly 1000 years ago:
Those profits are actually, basically, protected by law.
For most Americans, local “antitrust laws” (ok) still forbid car makers from selling their wares directly by the manufacturer, or online. Despite lobbying and legal efforts from Tesla and others, dealer industry groups (you know, #organizing) see the end-game and aren’t having it.
Again from Slate:
Dealers who may have at least been semi-interested have been confronted with new questions like “How the hell do I market EV’s that in turn pay for my GOP dark money contributions?” but also “Where the hell am I gonna install chargers so EV’s can be driven off the lot?” and so they mostly just answered: no.
As recently as 2019, ¾ of US dealerships weren’t offering EV’s for purchase, full stop. Just this week, Nat Bullard reported in Bloomberg: “53% of consumers said they felt “EVs are the future and will largely replace gas engines over time” — but only 31% of dealers said they felt the same way.“
But California’s EV sales regulations (and all the states that latched on) plus IRA flipped the script.
Now the pressure’s on — EV’s are getting more affordable, and 51% of Americans are considering buying one.
But despite historic loans for battery factories and historic production —tripling their market share — EV’s are stacking up in dealership lots as dealers continue to fight back, as the great charging buildout continues (and suddenly coalesces around Tesla’s standard), IRA rebates get worked out, and we hold onto automobiles — especially big fucking trucks — longer than we ever have.
Anyways, you get the point. Now let’s make it interesting.
I’d like you to take a step back and conduct a thought exercise.
I ask because one, bad guys are real, and two, because knowing who’s standing in the way of progress is just as important as who’s doing the work.
A future-positive mindset actually requires smashing our rose-colored glasses to see the world how it is, now, to identify who has their hands on the levers of power, and to remove them, finger by goddamn finger.
To grossly oversimplify, there are three versions of car dealer-like obstacles to progress I can think of right now:
Purposeful — actual bad guys who know exactly what the hell they’re doing, hellish warming be damned
Inadvertent — not totally convinced how the pieces are connected or how to change, not super interested in finding out
Systemic — product of time and entropy, so deeply embedded that one policy move or election isn’t going to get it done and undoing them would require undoing a LOT of every day life
Here’s your homework:
I’ve listed some more examples below, and I’d love to hear from you where you see analogies (and not). Specifics to your town/city/shire or even country would be delightfully additive.
Have a think and reply right to this email. Get specific. I’ll share the best answers in next week’s post.
Local public health (think: city councils, hospital systems, school boards, etc)
Clean water (think: wastewater treatment, local agriculture, leaky pipes, etc)
Public utility commissions (think: lack of knowledge that they exist, and why that’s still the case)
Healthy accessible food (no more cheating, now it’s your turn)
Local air pollution
Mobility (bike, walking, etc) infrastructure
There’s more, of course, but you get the idea. Can’t wait to see what you come up with.