If the U.S. wants to win the electric car war, it needs to aggressively build out a charging network

A woman’s car being filled up at a petrol station in 1929.
A woman’s car being filled up at a petrol station in 1929.
Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

If you’re the average American, there is one thing you are generally unworried about: finding gasoline. You live within a mile or two of one or more of the country’s 115,000 gas stations. You sleep soundly knowing that as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, even if your car is empty, you can whip into your neighborhood 24-hour gas station, pump your 15 or so gallons in three or four minutes, and be good for the next 400 to 450 miles.

So it has been since the 1880s if you happen to be from Germany, and in the United States since 1905, when the first American purpose-built fueling stop opened at 420 South Theresa Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. Six years later, the first station arrived in Russia. That is, some five generations of the human race have grown up on the ubiquity and convenience of the carefree fuel-up. In a world where very little can be taken for granted, the full tank has been as near to an entitlement as anything there is. …

As I wrote today on my new blog, The Mobilist, GM has fired a surprising salvo in the Battery War — a vow that it will beat Tesla, VW, and everyone else to the superbattery. Yesterday, GM executives claimed they would win one of the biggest battles of all — to master and commercialize the metallic lithium-based battery. GM says it will have such a battery in its EVs by the middle of the decade. When I asked battery experts about that, one emailed back to say, “that’s bullshit.” A second, on WhatsApp, said, “that’s just crazy.”

Buried in its big announcement, the legacy automaker says it will tame metallic lithium

General Motors logo on a sign.
General Motors logo on a sign.
Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

GM has made the much-overlooked claim that by mid-decade, it expects to commercialize the most exotic of the stretch futuristic batteries currently on electric vehicle drawing boards.

In remarks yesterday at Barclay’s Automotive Conference, GM CEO Mary Barra announced an explicit campaign to capture the lead in EV development from Tesla and everyone else in the industry. That included a 35% bump in EV development investment to $27 billion by 2025 and the deployment of EVs that will go up to a whopping 450 miles on a charge, farther than any of its major competitors have discussed.

Because of the gargantuan energy lift that metallic lithium can bring, it has been a holy grail of the battery world for almost a half-century. …

The plot by recyclers to take down the commodities industry

A stack of all different sizes and types of batteries, displayed with their cathodes facing forward
A stack of all different sizes and types of batteries, displayed with their cathodes facing forward
Photo: Courtesy of Redwood Materials

The next big thing in electric vehicles is bringing down their price to the reach of the ordinary wallet. But of all the ways of accomplishing this, a vastly underappreciated method would be to attack the biggest source of high EV prices: the cost of the metals that go into a lithium-ion battery. Now, Elon Musk’s former top lieutenant is helping to lead exactly that — a nascent siege of the cozy commodities industry.

In the middle-late 2000s, Steve Jobs and Musk excited a generation of people and gave heartburn to their competitors with two hyperdesigned technologies: the sleek smartphone and the cool EV. …

After decades of false starts, the moment has finally arrived

An illustrated collage with an electric vehicle, a battery, a charge symbol, a lightbulb, and more.
An illustrated collage with an electric vehicle, a battery, a charge symbol, a lightbulb, and more.
Illustration: James Marshall

Batteries incensed Thomas Edison, and not just batteries, but battery makers. In a much-quoted 1883 interview, Edison griped about his unsuccessful efforts to find a battery that would hold a charge long enough to be of practical use in an electric vehicle. For decades beyond — into the next century — Edison would continue his quest, but failed every time, and his friend Henry Ford ended up the winner, earning a fortune with his combustion-propelled Model T.

Always, the problem was the same — electricity simply wouldn’t stay reliably stored, Edison said, and those who told you differently were simply liars. Was there any hope for finding a workable commercial battery? …

Last week, voters in multiple states voted to legalize marijuana and sports gambling

Ballots being counted at the Maricopa County Elections Department office on November 5, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ballots being counted at the Maricopa County Elections Department office on November 5, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ballots being counted at the Maricopa County Elections Department office on November 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Stringer/Getty Images

Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, Americans have fallen hard for the sin industries — drinking harder, gambling more, and smoking more marijuana. But the election has made that streak clearer than ever: Five states — most of them red — legalized marijuana. Arizona, New Jersey, Mississippi, Montana, and South Dakota all passed pot measures, with all but Mississippi allowing recreational use. Oregon went even further, voting to allow the use of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms for medical use.

And that’s not all. Three states also okayed various forms of online sports gambling. With approval by voters in Louisiana, Maryland, and South Dakota, online gambling stocks took off. DraftKings’ shares were up as much as 6.2%, and Penn National Gaming rose 6.1%. There was good reason: According to Morgan Stanley, online betting in the three states could be worth $537 million a year. …

He broke the country. But if he has his way, America will welcome him back.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo illustration; source: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In the election of 1824, a time of tumult by working men who felt excluded from the new economy of the nascent Industrial Age, Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams for the presidency. It was a short-lived triumph. While Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes, there were a total of four candidates, and he failed to reach the required threshold of 131 in the Electoral College. A House commission, appointed to make the final election decision, picked Adams, the second-highest vote-getter, to become the sixth U.S. president. …

ExxonMobil is a shadow of its former self, but it’s still far from finished. Last Thursday, Exxon announced that it will lay off 14,000 employees, not raise its dividend for the first time in almost four decades, and cut project spending. After more than a century as the biggest corporate America baddie, today, it’s humiliatingly smaller not only than its once-baby brother Chevron, but (gasp) even NextEra Energy, a solar and wind company. But even while licking these wounds, it’s still a powerhouse in an industry that is in a perfect-storm down cycle amid a 100-year bad economy and growing public disdain for fossil fuels. Renewable energy cannot develop fast enough to support human civilization as we know it, so for decades to come, the global economy will require oil, and Exxon is simply better than anyone else at providing it.

Rumors of War

We game out all the scenarios, from a surprisingly peaceful transfer of power to violence in the streets

Image for post
Image for post
Photo illustration: Anthony Gerace; source: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

In his inaugural address four years ago, President Donald Trump declared a crusade against the “carnage” he said his predecessors had wrought on the nation, lining their own pockets while creating a nation of “forgotten men and women.” Five hours later, fired up and triumphant, Trump filed for re-election, the earliest incumbent to do so in memory. So it was that Trump set the stage for what a lot of people thought was him governing, but in effect has been the most foreboding, nerve-frazzling — and by far the longest — re-election campaign in modern U.S. history.

Just a week away from its climax, some of the country’s most sober voices say one cost of Trump’s term-long barrage of grievance and accusation is the possibility of civil unrest on and after Election Day. There is always the chance that fraught tempers will dissipate, either by luck or a landslide one way or the other that imposes a forceful quiet on the contest. But, with an animated Trump issuing daily allegations of a sinister plot to unseat him, and supporters of both sides apprehensive of how far the other is prepared to go to win, the fear is that Americans will erupt in the worst political violence since Jim Crow. …

After years of hesitation, the legendary car manufacturer has finally tried to ignite its own electric vehicle frenzy

Image for post
Image for post

When it comes to electric vehicles, GM has spent a decade looking ambivalent. In 2010, the carmaker released the Volt, the world’s first major plug-in hybrid electric car. Then, in 2016, it debuted the Bolt, the first 200-mile, fully electric vehicle. Critics fawned over both cars, but GM seemed to shun the fanfare, designing the vehicles with what appeared to be almost deliberate frumpiness, and failing to promote either. Both have been sales failures, and last year GM stopped selling the Volt altogether.

What was with GM’s hesitation? Didn’t it want buzz? …


Steve LeVine

I am Editor at Large at Medium with interests in ferreting out the whys for the turbulence all around us. Ex-Axios, ex-Quartz, ex-WSJ, ex-NYT, ex-FT.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store