Volvo announced this weekend that all new vehicle models produced by the Swedish company would be either electric or hybrid beginning in 2019, as part of a process that will phase out the internal combustion engine. On the decision, the CEO of Volvo declared, “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” and the experiment could prove to be an important litmus test for other automobile manufacturers looking to capitalize on a market increasingly turning its back on petroleum.
While fossil fuel combustion for transportation purposes – and this of course is not limited to cars alone – currently makes up roughly 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Greenpeace has cited estimates predicting that by 2050 transportation will make up between 30% and 50% of emissions. Curbing such a drastic increase will certainly be necessary in the coming years, so Volvo’s decision will be looked to by many as a possible sign of good things to come in climate change mitigation efforts. And although Volvo is not one of the top-producing automobile manufacturers, the success or failure of the Swedish company’s venture will likely influence whether or not more companies follow suit.
The Guardian has reported that electric cars have increased globally from virtually none in 2010 to over 2 million by 2016, as Volvo joins the likes of Renault-Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen, and of course, Tesla, in transitioning production efforts and resources toward electric vehicle production. News of the “end of the internal combustion engine” comes just weeks after Britain’s first 24-hour period without burning coal since the Industrial Revolution, thereby exposing another chink the armor of major fossil fuel corporations while giving us glimpse of what the world might look like after fossil fuels. Despite the frequent barrage of gut-wrenching news on the environmental front, news like this from Volvo only further strengthens claims that the transition to a clean energy economy is upon us, and is likely unstoppable.
Kevin MacDonnell is a PhD student in the Department of English at Rice University. His research interests include the history of science, ecocriticism, science & technology studies, and narrative theory. His research has been focused primarily on 17th and 18th century English literature, and in particular, the ways in which literature and art influenced the development of theories of energy as well as the production of industrial technologies.