History proclaims that electric cars have been trying to persistently resurrect in the market for more than 100 years. For many people, electric cars were their car of choice due to the fact that they are quiet, clean, smooth, could be charged at home and did not require any cranking. However, as gasoline car developed with time, the gasoline car regime became very strong and stable by 1920. Gasoline cars were able to phase out electric vehicles and control the market thanks to automatic starting, cheap oil, and mass production; until one day, the revival of the technology started in California (“Who killed the Electrical Car”).
According to Jananne Sharpless, Chairwoman of the California Air Resource Board (1991-1993), some of the largest population centers in California are impacted by the worst air quality in the nation. In the interview with the California State Senator, Lowenthal pointed out that in 1990, there were 41 stage-one smog alerts with an increase in asthma rates, cancer rates, and lung development rates due to the “black cloud of death” that hovers over the port areas and its surroundings. The more gas is burned in cars, the more CO2 is created; resulting in the development of more diseases and an increase of global warming effects (“Who killed the Electrical Car”). Following the logic of the transition pathway, the landscape change of air quality created pressure on the gasoline cars regime. The pollution in the city led to health and environmental risk. This established an interaction between the landscape change and a new regime dynamic which created a window of opportunity for the revival of a non-exhaust vehicle; the electric car (F. W. Geels, 2005).
In terms of the electric vehicles’ Niche development in California, it is important to identify the national and global actors that supported the local niche activities, the cognitive barriers the niche experienced, and the support the niche is getting due to local initiatives for generating knowledge and spreading awareness (The EV paradox, Björn Nykvista and Måns Nilssona). The Niche development for EVs started thanks to the GM team that won the World Solar Challenge Race in Australia. Influenced by the result of the race, the CEO of General Motors, Roger Smith, challenged the team in order to develop and go full speed ahead with a prototype of a modern and practical electrical car along with Alan Cocconi’s breakthrough power system. With this high-tech 2-seater sort of Corvette electric type car that can drive a distance of 120 miles per day; it caught the attention of the California Air Resources Board a new actor supporting the niche activities. Many actors were influenced to support the modern electric car, from engineers and students to celebrities, citizens, GM and other car manufacturers, California regulators, etc (“Who killed the Electrical Car”).
A new mandate was born, creating a huge support for the niche in order to try and create a new regime stability. The California regulators passed the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate where automakers are obliged to sell a certain amount of vehicles with no exhaust in order to continue selling cars in California. Seen as the technology of promise, an effort was put in order to create demand for EVs and introduce people to the innovative transportation technology. General Motors introduced their EV1 to the market and other car manufactures started converting their existing car models to electric models. People started loving the cars after driving them. It was sort of like everything Americans need in a car. It had a fairly reasonable price with sexy and cool looks, high speed and minimal noise.
However, with limited knowledge about electric cars, people tend to be cautious about EVs as any new technology. Cognitive barriers started rising such as the toughness and robustness of the car, the size, the maintenance, the distance of travel and the charging stations. With the oil industry as a big actor in the transportation sector, California was pressured to drop the mandate that is supporting electric cars. Arguments from automakers started arising about how strict the mandate is until an agreement was made with the State. Car manufacturers will produce and sell electric cars according to the market demand with no obligations of a certain quantity. Although the Niche actors had high expectations, this is when the breakthrough of the innovation started failing. They started creating a loss of interest in the cars, by making it tougher for people to lease the cars, not creating an appealing advertisement for the product and emphasizing the limitations of the technology. With no significant effort from the car companies, a case was stated that there was no demand for EVs. The EV1 assembly line was quietly closed by GM, and by the year of 2001, the innovation officially failed to break through. The Regime problems are somehow solved with the existing regime of the gas cars, which afterward started introducing a new niche of fuel cell cars that are considered clean and might accommodate the change in landscape (https://kth.instructure.com/courses/4532/files/734271?module_item_id=59820).
It is believed that politics and power were the biggest obstacles for the breakthrough of the Electric Vehicle niche. As mentioned in the article titled “Regime Resistance against Low-Carbon Transitions: Introducing Politics and power into Multi-Level Perspective”, the creation of core cooperation among incumbent firms and policymakers will mostly be oriented towards preserving the status quo at the regime level (2014, p.26). The present regimes will naturally keep on fighting new niches in order to maintain their existence and profits as long as they are able to.