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Why Is This Happening? Understanding the electric vehicle revolution with Dana Hull: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Bloomberg auto and tech reporter Dana Hull about the electric vehicle revolution.

In President Joe Biden's vision of a greener future, half of all new cars sold in 2030 will be electric. As fossil fuel usage continues to take a toll on the environment, the need for cleaner transportation is more important now than ever. Bloomberg auto & tech reporter Dana Hull has spent more than a decade covering EVs. The California-based journalist remembers when skeptics believed that Tesla wouldn’t survive. Now, other major automakers are trying to play catch up. She joins to talk about progress, what’s needed on the infrastructure front, battery supply chain concerns, and how Chris can fulfill his dream of getting an EV minivan.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Dana Hull: In the early days, I think everybody thought that Tesla was gonna go bankrupt. I mean they were just like, "This company is a joke. Elon Musk is crazy. Who do they are? You can't build cars in California. It's too expensive." You know? The feeling was either they were gonna to bankrupt or potentially be acquired. Now, they are all basically playing catch up, and all of the big auto makers, Ford, GM, Volkswagen, I mean they are spending billions of dollars on their electric platforms, and now coming out with their own vehicles. (MUSIC)

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to “Why Is This Happening?” with me, your host, Chris Hayes. (MUSIC) You know, we have a house upstate, in that house there is a telephone. And it is an old telephone that was left by the previous owners. And it's a rotary telephone, and it's actually kind of, like, old timey. It's metallic, and it's got the curly, corkscrew wire between the actual telephone and the receiver.

And, you know, my kids think it's just an incredible fossil. (LAUGH) They love playing with it. My littlest, Anya, likes to pick it up and, like, have fake conversations into it. And to them it's like a horse and buggy. (LAUGH) It's a completely antique artifact that's fascinating and beautiful and kind of cool.

And it points to the fact that in certain areas of life, the transition from older technologies to newer ones, particularly in telephony, and in communication technology, has been incredibly rapid. Such that, you know, an entire generation hasn't ever used a rotary phone. I grew up using rotary phones sometimes, but an entire generation hasn't.

And the rapidity with which all of this has happened in telecommunications and in digital spaces is in contrast to other technological areas where there's been a lot more stasis. And the number one place that I can think of is the combustion engine and the automobile.

I mean the basic mechanics of the combustion engine and how it works, which is that fossil fuel is put into a chamber. The chamber is lit, explodes. The explosions create intense amounts of heat that force pistons, which the pistons move up and down. Then they move a sort of wheel around, which then rotates the axle and, you know, that gets a car going forward.

That basic setup for the combustion engine to make a vehicle go, basically untouched for, you know, decades, a century. I mean a huge amount of (LAUGH) time. And then all of a sudden, recently, in the last ten years, 15 years, you know, there has been the incursion of innovation there, to the extent where we now have electric vehicles that don't use combustion engines at all.

They are just a battery, and the battery powers an electric motor that doesn't need to light anything on fire and doesn't need any fossil fuel. And this could be, and is, one of the greatest technological shifts in the modern post-industrial age.

It's A, necessary from a climate perspective. About 30% of U.S. emissions come from vehicles. So we have to get those on the grid, and then we need to green the grid. Right? Those are the two important steps. It's also just amazing to me at a technical and technological level, and a sort of institutional market level, to watch a technology that has been so stubborn and so ingrained finally start to transform after years and years of people saying it would happen.

Now, it finally is. There are all kinds of ambitious targets happening. Car companies this year, particularly, it feels like the dam is breaking, coming out with all sorts of new electric vehicles. The Ford F150 electric is a big one. That's one that people really have their eyes on. (MUSIC)

And I'm obsessed with electric cars, both 'cause I think they're super cool technology, and also they're part of the huge climate puzzle that we need to solve. I'm generally just obsessed with getting to net zero, and the technologies that will get us to net zero, and how we do that.

And I thought it would be great to have a conversation about the future of cars, and particularly electric cars. And Dana Hull's a great person to have it with. She is the autos and tech reporter at Bloomberg News. She covers Tesla, SpaceX, and Elon Musk. She focuses heavily on electric vehicles, and has covered it for more than a decade. So Dana, it's great to have you on the program. (MUSIC)

Dana Hull: My pleasure.

Chris Hayes: How did you first start covering electric vehicles?

Dana Hull: So I used to work at the San Jose Mercury News here in California. And in 2009, when President Obama was president, as you may remember we were in a recession. And under the Obama administration the Recovery Act was passed. And the Recovery act funneled a lot of money to Silicon Valley for clean technology. For solar companies. For electric vehicles. For, you know, biofuels. And there was a real effort to kind of, you know, claw our way out of the recession by advancing the clean economy.

So I took on this new beat at the Mercury News that was called Clean Tech. And I covered all kinds of companies. You know, Solyndra, Mio Soleil, Nanosolar, SolarCity, (LAUGH) Nest, Tesla. And basically every company that I covered either went bankrupt or was acquired, but Tesla IPO'ed in 2010.

And then once the IPO happened, I just sort of started covering Tesla on a much closer basis. And, you know, at the time, everyone thought that Tesla was gonna fail or go bankrupt, and there was all this scoffing about their ambitions in Detroit and Germany.

And, you know, people just thought that Tesla was this kinda crazy Silicon Valley company trying to do the impossible. And I mean look where we are now. Tesla has a larger market value than any auto maker (LAUGH) in the world. Elon Musk is always neck and neck with, you know, Jeff Bezos as being the richest person in the world.

And the cars are real. And now every auto maker is basically trying to come out with an electric car. So it's been this real shift that I've had this kind of, like, front row seat to watching unfold. And it's really unfolded over the past decade.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, let's talk about Tesla, 'cause you brought it up, and they're the sort of obvious place to start, at least in this chapter of the discussion of electric vehicles, 'cause there have been electric vehicles since all the way back. People have been working on this for literally decades and decades.

But I'll just say, you know, you're a straight news reporter, so I'll editorialize for a moment, just for myself, that I think Elon Musk has, like, lots of terrible views. Is kind of a weird jerk on Twitter. And also there's lots of reasons to think that workers there don't have sufficient power.

So I wanna just take all the issues with Elon Musk, his politics, and the labor practices of Tesla, all of which are very real, and put them to the side for just the next few minutes as we talk about Tesla as a market concern. Just purely from a pure business perspective and it's business success. You know, no one had really successfully started a new American company in years, and others had tried it and failed. What was the early value proposition of Tesla? Why did people think it wouldn't succeed, and why is it still around?

Dana Hull: Well, you know, making an electric car, I mean it's very capital-intensive. Making a car in general is very capital-intensive. And, you know, General Motors tried to make an electric vehicle with the EV1 back in the '90s and ended up scrapping that whole program. If you've ever seen the movie Who Killed The (LAUGH) Electric Car, it's all about the rise and fall of that program, which was very small.

And so here you have this startup company that's trying to make a brand new car in California, where it's, like, a high cost state to live. There's a lot of regulatory requirements in terms of our environmental laws. It's not considered to be, like, a great place to run a factory. And basically the company, you know, is basically trying to get this off the ground during the middle of a recession.

So there were just a lot of strikes against it. And I think there was also just this feeling from Detroit that, you know, American consumers don't really want electric cars. They're not cool. They're like golf carts. Like, who's really gonna wanna drive these things?

And it took a very long time, and it was incredibly challenging. I mean Tesla has had more near-death experiences than I think any reporter has even (LAUGH) uncovered to date. But they made it. I mean they really did. And, you know, they had many close calls and, you know, almost went bankrupt, and, you know, struggled mightily in a lot of years.But, you know, I live here in California, and I remember what it used to be like. You'd see one Tesla on the highway, you'd be like, "Oh my god. There's a Tesla. Look at that." And now you see them everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Like, I see the Model S, the Model Y, the Model 3. You know, I see them on a regular basis.

Chris Hayes: It's wild to me. I just drove out to a friend's house on Long Island last weekend, who, by the way, is a Tesla owner. Shout out to Craig. (LAUGH) A very happy Tesla owner, I should say. And I couldn't believe the number of Teslas I saw on the road. Now, part of it is because they're distinctive. Right? So you sort of notice them in a way you don't necessarily notice like, "Oh, that's a Mitsubishi. Oh, that's a Mazda. Oh, you know, that's a Ford."

Dana Hull: Right.

Chris Hayes: Although you do notice certain cars. Like I know if I see a Ford F150. You know, there are certain cars. A Subaru station wagon. (LAUGH) Like, there are certain cars that are distinct in that way. But it is wild how ubiquitous they have become.

Dana Hull: Yeah. And I think it really depends on where you live in the country, right? So, like, California is a huge market for Tesla. They are very popular. You know, first with, you know, Silicon Valley tech bros and Los Angeles people. And then it kind of has spread. A lot of employees now have them.

You know, we have a warm weather climate here. That really helps. But I mean Tesla's biggest markets in the United States are California, Texas and Florida, and then up and down the East Coast. And so yeah, you just see more and more of them on the road. And it's just become part of the fabric.

And I think what's really interesting about electric vehicles is that it's a real cultural shift in terms of how people drive. I mean for a century we had gasoline power cars, and now this transition is happening. And it began very slowly, and now it's beginning to accelerate. You know, I mean my kid might never drive a gasoline car. You know, my kid may never learn how to pump gas. I mean it's still early days, but that is the future--

Chris Hayes: Like the rotary telephone.

Dana Hull: --that we're heading towards.

Chris Hayes: Man, that would be awesome.

Dana Hull: Like the rotary telephone example. Yes. Exactly.

Chris Hayes: So, you know, one thing that's interesting to me about Tesla is there's this very famous business book called The Innovator's Dilemma by Clinton (SIC) Christiansen. And I don't know if you've read it or not, but, you know, it's a book that people in business talk about a lot.

And one of the things he talks about the way that competition happens, I think his big example's steel, where what tends to happen is a new market entrant will take the lowest cost, lowest profit part of a market. So, like, they'll do, like, the real cheap commodity stuff.

And the incumbents will be like, "Well, that's actually very low return for us. Like, we're not gonna fight for that space." And then they start sort of climbing up the value chain, so they're doing (LAUGH) more and more stuff, until they end up, you know, innovating and competing away the incumbent firms. Tesla does the opposite. Right? This is what's really interesting to me. They start with this six-figure car that is a real kind of, like, boutique market that a tiny number of people can afford, and that's their beachhead.

Dana Hull: Yeah. Yeah, I mean they started very small, and then with each subsequent model the idea was to sort of grow market share and bring down the costs. I think they had to do proof of concept first. I mean they had to prove that there was a market for an expensive, high end, high performance electric car.

They did not wanna make a glorified golf cart. They wanted to make a car that people thought was sexy, that was cool, that wealthy people would buy. And then once they did that, then they went downmarket. And so now you're seeing with, like, the Model 3, they're reaching a wider audience, because they've done that.

Chris Hayes: What was the strategy? I mean the obvious thing, and this comes up in Who Killed the Electric Car, right? But the obvious thing that people have always pointed out is that, like, there's the car, and then there's the infrastructure to support the car. Right?

And the infrastructure to support the car is entirely exogenous to (LAUGH) the car purchaser and to the dealer. And in some ways to the Big Three, although not really, 'cause it's complicated, and obviously they were present at the creation of the policy.But basically you need a huge infrastructure to support the refueling of your car, and, you know, when you go on a road trip, you're just confident that you can pull off at any exit, there'll be a gas station. And the big obstacles for electric cars was this sort of range anxiety. This question of if you're gonna be stuck places. How did Tesla approach that?

Dana Hull: So you're right. You're absolutely right in that driving an electric car causes you to kinda fundamentally rethink the way that you drive. You cannot just, like, be assured that you will find a gas station on the way. You have to think ahead to where are you gonna charge.

And at this point the infrastructure for charging is very spotty, especially if you don't own a Tesla. But what Tesla did that was very smart was very early on they were like, "We're gonna have our own charging stations for our customers." And they called them Superchargers.

And they basically built these big things, you know, on freeways between major cities, and, you know, on the app or on your dashboard you can find out where the next Supercharger is. And they basically built Superchargers where they knew people were driving.

So between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Between the Bay Area and Tahoe. (LAUGH) And now, I mean, they're all over the country. They've built them in China too. And so if you are a Tesla owner, charging is not a problem. I mean I could drive from, you know, my home in Oakland, California, to New York City in a Tesla and charge the entire way, and, like, never be worried. If you don't own a Tesla, it's a little harder, because there's just not as much of an infrastructure. And that's something that the Biden administration is very keen to do, is to kind of help build out the infrastructure.

But the other thing I would mention is that, you know, being able to charge your car, a lot of it depends on if you own a home and have a charging device in your home, or if you have, like, charging at your work. If you live in an apartment or are a renter, you have no assurance of that.

So unfortunately, the big barrier right now, it's still, like, affordability, and there's this kinda class bias, where, you know, homeowners who have a garage or who have their own driveway, you know, they can charge their car fairly easily. But if you are a renter or live in an apartment, you know, how are you gonna convince your landlord or your property manager to actually do that? And so you're starting to see a lot of people push for more charging operations in cities.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I mean I'm a Brooklyn resident and park on the street, so for me, it's kind of a nonstarter. And that's gonna be a huge obstacle too. Okay. So the thing about the Superchargers too, though, was that there was also, like, a concerted effort to make that not be, like, two hours.

I mean, you know, in the initial rollout of this idea, the other big thing that would hover over your head is like, "Well, you charge the car overnight." You know, and that takes whatever. Eight hours. It's, like, well, that's great, but I don't wanna stop (LAUGH) somewhere for that long.

Dana Hull: Right.

Chris Hayes: And so they did put together technology that was able to kind of charge the car, what, 80% in 30 minutes or something along those lines.

Dana Hull: Yeah. And if you think about it, whenever you go on a road trip and you make a stop, I mean you go to the bathroom, you get a snack.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Dana Hull: I mean you're takin' ten, 15, 20 minutes anyway. And so now, you know, stopping at a Supercharger is just kind of part of the routine. And what's funny to me is, I mean, I don't own a Tesla myself, obviously. But whenever I've been able to borrow one, you know, when you stop at a Supercharger, you meet other Tesla owners. And it's like being at a dog park. "Oh, like, what year is yours?"

Chris Hayes: Right. (LAUGH)

Dana Hull: "What do you think of autopilot? How long have you had it?" And then they chitchat about the features. And it's this very social interaction, which is very different than, like, going to a gas station. I mean I don't think I've ever chatted with anyone at a gas station about their car.

Everyone's just, like, at the pump, and then you leave. And you try to get in and out as quickly as possible. (LAUGH) But at the Superchargers, it really is kinda this, like, social network effort effect, where the Tesla owners all get to hang out with each other.

Chris Hayes: That's such a great point, because one of the successes I think of Tesla, and again, I'm talking about this purely as a business proposition. Like, by the terms (LAUGH) of capitalism in America, you know, how they have succeeded.

And one of the other things, they have built this very powerful fan culture. And I'm sure you run into that fan culture. I gotta say, like, I can say this, and maybe you can't. They're a bunch of psychos online. Like, I don't know what the deal is, but you would think you were talking about the highest stakes.

It's, like, you're talking about Israel and Palestine or something, (LAUGH) but they're (UNINTEL) Tesla people. It's like, "Bro, calm down. It's a car. I'm glad (LAUGH) you like it. Like, there's no reason to get so worked up." But that cult following, the fan culture around it, it seems to be probably has been part of the success.

Dana Hull: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean it's part of the brand. It's part of the success. I mean Tesla owners have clubs. They, like, meet. They will literally do things like, "Let's all meet up and drive out and check out the new Supercharger." I mean it is a big part of people's identities. They have Zoom meetings.

It's, like, it's a big social thing for people. And I think that that's something that they've been able to tap into. I mean, you know, a lotta times here in the Bay Area I'll see people wearing, like, Tesla jackets and hats, and I'll be like, "Oh, are you an employee?" 'cause I'm always, like, trying to talk to employees about what's goin' on (LAUGH) at the company.

And a lotta times they'll say, "No, but I own a Tesla." But a lotta times people are like, "I don't own the car, even. I just really like the company, so I bought the t-shirt," or the hat or the jacket, "online." It's really pretty wild. And I think that having that rabid culture, you know, they tend to be forgiving of Tesla when the company makes mistakes.

A lot of people who love the company are also shareholders, and you've just seen the stock go, you know, berserk, especially in 2020. And rabid fandom, I mean it's very similar to Apple in terms of--

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Dana Hull: --like, the rabid fan base that Apple has.

Chris Hayes: And it's also similar to Apple in that, like, it's exactly what I was saying before. Like, Apple came in with, like, the boutique product. Right? That was, like, more expensive. It was kind of a cult following. It had very small market share. And then, you know, worked their way out from that eventually. And I think probably explicitly Musk's approach, you know, has been based on that.

Dana Hull: Yeah, and I think that, you know, Apple was very shrewd about kind of creating this whole ecosystem of Apple products. And I'm a classic example. I have an iPhone. I have a MacBook Air at home. Like, we are an Apple family. You know, Tesla's now trying to do that.

They're also trying to get into your home. Like, so they make the cars, but they're also selling you solar for your house. And then they're also selling you a power wall to tie them together. So the idea is that you will have the full suite of Tesla products. You know, you will have an electric car in the driveway, it will be powered by solar panels and a battery will tie it all together. Like, that's the vision.

Chris Hayes: I'm just gonna take up a point of personal privilege here. I too an am Apple person, but if you're listening to this and you work for Apple, why do none of your cords work anymore? Why do the connections suck and they constantly fall out of (LAUGH) everything? Can someone work on that? Thank you very much.

So yes, I mean clearly the kind of comprehensive approach, the kind of brand seductiveness. So the other thing about electric cars, so let's talk a little technically about electric cars, the way they're different. I mean a thing that's fascinating and amazing is, like, I don't know what the stat is of how many moving parts a regular car does, and an electric car.

But radically fewer moving parts in electric car, because a combustion engine is a very complicated piece of machinery that runs at very high temperatures. It's also very inefficient. I don't think people realize this, but because what a combustion engine does is use heat, all that heat just gets thrown off, and is not used to move the vehicle forward.

Right? A combustion engine throws off a ton of heat that it's not actually capturing for vehicle movement, whereas that doesn't happen in an electric car. So it's obviously better for the environment because you're don't have carbon and fossil fuels, but it's actually more efficient on a sort of, like, per unit of energy basis. How do they compare from a sort of tactical standpoint, the electric car and the combustion engine car?

Dana Hull: Well, I think if you look at total cost of ownership, you don't have as much maintenance. I mean, like, you know, I used to own a Honda and, like, you know, the big thing was, like, you had to get the timing belt changed every so many miles, or you have to constantly change the oil. Or here in California you have to go get a smog check.

Like, you don't need to do that with an electric car. Like, the biggest part of the electric car is the battery. The battery's under warranty. You might have to get the battery replaced at some point, but, like, typically the companies are guaranteeing them for, you know, eight or ten years.

But there's just not as many moving pieces. There's not as many things that can go wrong. And so over the lifetime of the ownership of the car, you shouldn't be taking it into a mechanic or, you know, a service center nearly (BACKGROUND VOICES) as much as with a gas-powered car.

Chris Hayes: How has Detroit viewed Tesla, and what are they doing now?

Dana Hull: Well, I mean in the early days I think everybody thought that Tesla was gonna go bankrupt. I mean they were just like, "This company is a joke. Elon Musk is crazy. Who do they think they are? You can't build cars in California. It's to expensive." You know? And the feeling with was either they were gonna go bankrupt or potentially be acquired.

Now, they are all basically playing catch up, and all of the big auto makers, Ford, GM, Volkswagen, I mean they are spending billions of dollars on their electric platforms, and now coming out with their own vehicles. I mean they have been pushed. I mean I think they basically waited for Tesla to prove that there was a market, and then now they are investing heavily in all kinds of electric cars.

And then you have other startups entering the picture too, like Rivian, which is backed by Amazon. I mean they're comin' out with an electric truck. I don't think that they've delivered the first ones yet. I believe it's supposed to be sometime this month.

But I mean they are just making an electric truck, and, you know, trucks are a big thing here in the United States. And so it's not just the legacy auto makers in Detroit, but it's other startups like Rivian, Lucid. You know, they're coming out with their own vehicles too.

Chris Hayes: Is it mostly just Tesla's success that has sort of flipped the switch? Is it government policy? Is it battery technology has gotten further along? Like, it does feel to me, like, something happened in the last year or two specifically.

Dana Hull: I think it's a combination of all three. So, you know, the climate change is realer than ever. I mean we have got to get off of fossil fuels. And I'm sitting here in California where Lake Tahoe is basically on fire, and on the East Coast we just saw, you know, a massive hurricane (LAUGH) hit the Gulf Coast yet again.

And governments, you know, they are saying, "We've gotta get off of fossil fuels." So, you know, in California they're gonna ban the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035. Other countries like Norway and the Netherlands are kind of doing the same thing. So you have governments basically saying, "We're not gonna allow the sale of new gas-powered cars after this certain date." So that's a huge incentive.

But I think you just have a lot of consumers realizing like, "Holy hell. Like, I want my children and my potential grandchildren to actually have a planet to live on. I have got to do something personally about climate change." Whether that is, you know, I'm gonna stop eating meat, I am gonna fly less, or my next car is gonna be electric.

I mean people are making very personal decisions in terms of how they act as consumers, and I think there are a lot of people that, you know, they may not own an electric car now, but they very much want their next car to be electric. And they are just waiting for the price to drop and for there to be more options. And the good news is that I mean the prices are dropping, and there will be more options. And the prices are dropping because, you know, the battery costs are predicted to continue to drop.

Chris Hayes: The one advantage that Detroit has, right, is scale. And I was talkin' to someone from General Motors and, you know, all the Big Three are now developing these sort of cross-platform battery. You know, this kind of modular batteries, which is really interesting. Right?

'Cause, like, all a battery is, you know, I have a battery in the home that I'm in right now. I have a solar battery. It's not Tesla. It's made by Generac. But it's just a bunch of small batteries (LAUGH) wired together. That's what big batteries are, essentially.

And so what that means for the Big Three auto makers, right, is if they create, like, these sort of scalable, modular battery platforms, then they can start making cars of a whole bunch of different sizes with consolidated, centralized battery production, and really efficient sort of, like, marginal cost. And they can make a whole bunch of different lines off that same battery platform. That's my understanding, at least, of some of the sort of vision that Big Three has for their electric lines.

Dana Hull: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean, you know, they don't wanna reinvent the wheel for every model. They wanna have, like, a basic platform that they can run everything on. And that's awesome. And I mean I think the fact that, you know, Ford is coming out with this electric F150, I mean GM is coming out with an electric Hummer, like, these classic brands that have been really key to these companies' identities for decades, that they're now coming out with electric versions of it, it's a great sign. I mean it just means that consumers will have a lot more to choose from.

Chris Hayes: You talked about the Biden administration. I know there was stuff actually in the American Rescue Plan on this. There is some stuff in the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and there's a lot more in the reconciliation package. But what does the policy landscape look like for this, and what are the policy levers that the administration is trying to push on?

Dana Hull: So my understanding is that the infrastructure bill includes funding for charging, which is really important, because, as we said, you know, unless you are a homeowner who can charge at home, like, the charging situation is really spotty. So more funding to build out this charging infrastructure across the country.

But then also there's always talk about the reconciliation package potentially bringing back the tax credits. So as you may remember, for a long time if you bought an electric car, you got a $7,500 tax credit. And for Tesla and GM, that was, like, a very big deal. I mean, you know, you bought a car and you got this big tax write off.

But that credit was capped at the first 200,000 units, and, you know, Tesla very quickly hit that cap. So now there's not a tax credit for those cars. But there's talk about, you know, bringing back the tax credit. Maybe making it means-tested or income-capped so that it's targeted more towards low income and middle income people.

Chris Hayes: What does charging actually mean in terms of policy? Right? Like, so you've got this strange situation where there's Tesla Superchargers, which are proprietary, although my sense is that there might be some policy incentives for them to open that up to other cars. And then you've got, like, EVgo. Like, there's a bunch of these sort of private companies that have them at the drug store. Around the corner from me there's one. Like, what would it even look like?

Dana Hull: I mean I don't think that it'll be uniform. I think people are tryin' to figure out, like, how do you monetize charging. Are you gonna go to an electric car station? Is there gonna be, like, a restaurant or a coffee shop there? Like, is it gonna be, like, you know, can you charge and get a latte? (LAUGH)

And some hotels and, like, wineries have experimented with having charging as, like, a way to draw in customers, because EV owners at the moment tend to be fairly affluent. And so they've recognized that if they have a charging station at their business, they can draw EV owners to them.

I mean I think the real nut to crack is multi-family housing and apartment builds and cities, because I mean, you know, like you said, in New York, like, if you're parking on the street, where you gonna charge your car? That's a big problem.

But here in Silicon Valley, there's a lot of workplace charging. I mean, you know, Stanford University, Apple, all the corporate campuses, they offer EV charging to their employees as a perk, because people have come to kind of demand it and expect it.

Chris Hayes: And a lot of garages do as well. Will offer it. And it turns out, it's funny, again, to this point about efficiency, it costs a lot less to fill a tank in terms of the raw electricity costs than it does from gasoline, is my understanding.

Dana Hull: Yeah. I mean there are typically incentives. Like, it's cheaper to charge at night than it is during the day. But the cost of a tank of electricity versus a tank of gasoline, it's way cheaper, for sure.

Chris Hayes: What's the international situation look like?

Dana Hull: Well, China is the world's largest car market, and China has a huge problem with air pollution. So electric vehicles are actually quite popular in China. And when I say electric vehicles, I don't just mean passenger cars. Like electric bikes are huge there too.

And so when we think about the future of mobility, you know, I think because we're in the United States where the auto industry really was first developed, we always think about, you know, the single family vehicle. But vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. You know, busses, heavy duty trucks, bikes, e-bikes.

And so I mean I haven't been to China in several years, but it's wild there. Like, the EV revolution is very strong there. And that's why Tesla built a factory there, but, you know, China also has a lot of domestic companies making EVs as well.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, I wanna talk more about that. About the sort of EV revolution more broadly and globally, right after we take this quick break.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, so you talked about China. I mean there's the sort of electrification of transport is a huge story that's gonna develop, and hopefully very rapidly, because it's a huge part of the carbon and fossil fuel and climate change picture.

In China, you've got a whole variety of (LAUGH) electric car companies. There's all sorts of brands. They've got super cheap ones that are essentially, like, souped up golf carts and that are very quick to charge, and you can drive around the three miles in, you know, the city you live in or whatever. It seems to me like they really are, to quote Mao, letting a thousand flowers blood in the EV market there.

Dana Hull: Yeah. I mean there's BYD, there's Neo. I mean they allowed Tesla to kind of build a plant and not have to do a joint venture, which was a departure from what China's policy had been for a long time.

Chris Hayes: That's interesting.

Dana Hull: So they really supported Tesla in building this big plant in Shanghai. You know, they have a growing middle class kind of population. You know, car ownership has just become more of a thing. And they really support EVs. I mean, you know, I don't know what the latest is, but for a long time, if you lived in, like, Beijing or Shanghai, there was, like, preference with the license plate if you had an electric vehicle. And they have a lot of incentives to kind of promote EVs there.

Chris Hayes: And Europe too, obviously, which is the other huge car market. I'm seeing more and more stuff coming out of there. And they've got, you know, some of those you've mentioned. I think Norway or Denmark, some of the Scandinavian countries, have announced deadlines.

That's a place that has always been less car-centric, A, sold smaller cars, and a place where fuel's been more expensive. So car cultures there are already much more efficiency-inclined, much more urban. (LAUGH) You know, you've got the Smart Car. You've got a lot of Vespas and things like that. It just seems to me like that's in some ways the world's most natural market for this to take off.

Dana Hull: Yeah. I would think so. But again, Europe is so awesome, because they have rail. Like, I mean I'm a big train aficionado, and I'm just always, like, devastated (LAUGH) that we have--

Chris Hayes: Right.

Dana Hull: --like, our whole country is built around the car and not around trains. Whereas in Europe, I mean, you could take a train from European capital to European capital. So I mean Europe is a strong market, but it's not as car-centric of a place.

But also, like, a lot of European companies, you know, like, they have fleet sales. And so if you work for, like, a German bank or, you know, a company in Europe, typically there's, like, an incentive that comes with getting a car, or, like, the company has a deal with an auto maker to give you sort of a company car.

Chris Hayes: So let's shift a little bit to what the sort of future car business will look like. I mean you've got this situation in the U.S. where you had, you know, the Big Three auto makers. Detroit. The history of early Detroit to me is super fascinating.

You have, like, all these startups. Very Silicon Valley-like. People making cars out of their garages (LAUGH) and stuff like that. You have this huge consolidation. You get the Big Three. The Big Three, you get, you know, obviously Ford's innovation of the assembly line.

You get, you know, the sort of massive exploitation of factory workers, and then incredible unionization, labor movement, particularly at a point of peak labor leverage both during and after World War II. The sit-down strikes at Flint. The UAW.

The kind of Walter Reuther's sort of social democratic bargain for the Detroit workers. The growth of Detroit as this incredible kind of middle class paradise. And then the decline of that. De-unionization that happens as the car companies move south across the Mason-Dixon Line to places that are right-to-work states. A whole new sort of domestic auto car culture that grows up in places like Tennessee and other places.

And then NAFTA and the outsourcing to Mexico. You've got Toyota's entrance into the market in a big way in the 1980s. All of has left, like, Detroit is not what Detroit used to be. And there's always this question about, like, the sort of iconic example of an auto maker is someone who, like, works on a line, does a hard job, but gets well compensated. Has vacation. Can afford to send their kids to college. There's a real question about, like, the future of that. And I'm curious, as someone who reports on the industry, how you think about that?

Dana Hull: Yeah, well, I think it's important (UNINTEL). So, you know, Tesla's obviously not union, and they are building their second auto plant in the U.S. in Texas, which is a right-to-work state. And Rivian is also in talks with the Dallas-Fort Worth area to build their plant in Texas, which is not right-to-work state.

But the old model of, like, you know, you work a union job and you have a pension has kind of been displaced by you work at a company and you get stock options. So, you know, Tesla gets a lot of criticism, and rightfully so, for not being a union shop, but the employees do get stock, which is, you know, what Elon Musk will say to critics. Like, "Well, you know, they're part-owners of the company, and when the company succeeds, they succeed."

And so, yeah, the old model of union work I think has really kind of slipped. And when we've seen, you know, plants trying to unionize, they've been voted down. So the future is really, you know, it is a good paying job, but it might not necessarily be a union job.

Chris Hayes: Aside from the labor benefits and working conditions in unionization, and the strong sort of virulent, anti-union stance of Tesla and Musk, you know, and the question of how these cars are gonna be made and who's gonna make them where, and under what conditions, there's also real questions about the supply chain.

And I think the question around the supply chain is twofold. One, is there enough of the materials necessary to build EVs at scale? To make, you know, hundreds of millions more of these cars, which is what we're gonna need to do. What that would do to the places that have those materials, (LAUGH) for instance. And the sort of environmental consequences of that, particularly the afterlife of these batteries.

Dana Hull: Sure. So there's a lot of issues there. One thing that comes up a lot is the human rights component. So cobalt is an ingredient in some electric vehicle batteries. There's a lot of concerns about child labor being used in the mining of cobalt. And you're seeing more and more companies pledging not to use child labor in the way that they source their materials.

There's the whole after-life cycle. Like, what do you do with this battery when it's done? I mean you can't just, like, throw it in a landfill. You know? (LAUGH) So how do you kind of recycle batteries so that they have a second life. And there's a great company based in Nevada called Redwood Materials that is trying to (BACKGROUND VOICES) kind of, you know, bring batteries from consumer electronics to electric vehicles, and give them a second life. But there is enough material. I mean, you know, there's not a shortage of raw materials to build the batteries. It's more than just, like, the supply chain hasn't quite caught up to the demand that we're seeing now.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. And I guess the other question is, like, how much innovation there is in the battery space. I mean to me, battery storage is sort of the whole game. It's been the whole game for EVs. It's gonna be the whole game for a distributed grid.

It's probably gonna be the whole game for, you know, mass green energy more broadly. And it does seem like there just is a lot of really promising and a fairly rapid, like the battery space feels like a space of innovation where things are happening at a very rapid clip.

Dana Hull: Yeah. I mean there's tons of startups that are, like, working on new battery chemistries. Like, tryin' to add more silicone to the anode. I mean there's all kinds of companies working on battery innovation. The auto makers are really interested. And, you know, there's always debates about, like, what battery chemistry is the best or what battery is the battery of the future. But there's a ton of investment from venture capital and strategic investors into batteries right now.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I saw someone doing a whole thing about, like, a battery chemistry revolution where there's some innovation that allows the battery to store, like, twice as much as it normally would using some new technique. And it does seem to me, like, a key frontier of the possible for the entire electric vehicle universe.

Dana Hull: Yeah. And to your point earlier, you know, it's not just auto makers that want electric vehicles. It's utilities. Because, you know, so the thing that I always try to remind everyone is when we talk about the electric vehicle revolution, it's not just about, you know, the old auto makers now making new cars.

It is about the fuel. So instead of gasoline it's electricity. So the utility companies see a huge advantage in being able to sell more electricity to EV owners. But we also need to clean the grid. I mean there's no point in driving an EV if it's powered by coach.

So how do we green the grid? You have to have massive batteries on the grid to store renewable power from solar and wind. So you're seeing utilities now invest massively in buying big batteries. And so, like, there's competition within the battery world. You know, the auto makers want batteries, but so do the utility companies.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, one of the cool features of the Ford F150, and I think Tesla's also this too, is the sort of two-way charging. Like, so we have a solar array here and a Generac battery that has about 30 kilowatt hours. Thirty kilowatt hours is about what the median household in America uses in a typical day.

It's about 24 hours' worth of power, more or less. You gotta shut off the air conditioning, for instance. (LAUGH) It will not power that. So that's 30 kilowatt hours in that battery. So the Tesla, I think Tesla's are 12 kilowatt hours, if I'm not mistaken. I think it's somewhere around there.

Dana Hull: (UNINTEL). Yeah.

Chris Hayes: But the idea is that the Ford F150 will plug into the grid, and if your power goes out, you can buy a feature that would essentially draw from the Ford F150 battery as the house battery in the same way that our Generac works, which would be an amazing feature if they could actually make that work.

Dana Hull: Yeah. Having, like, vehicle to grid, like, two-way access, I mean the whole future is, like, instead of this, like, one-way transmission and distribution system, that it'll be dynamic and two-way is awesome. And if your car can be a source of energy for your house. I mean that would be awesome too.

Chris Hayes: What are the sort of numbers and benchmarks here for what we're thinking or what Detroit is planning for for what they think this market's gonna look like one year from now, five years from now? Particularly as you're just getting more and more vehicle choice.

Dana Hull: So I think, like, the big benchmarks are, like, 2025 and 2035. So, you know, Ford is investing $30 billion (BACKGROUND VOICES) in EVs through 2025.

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Dana Hull: GM is spending $27 billion to deliver 30 different plug-in models by 2025. And then 2035 is when you really start to see the policy levers. Like 2035 is deadline, when California says they're no longer gonna allow you to sell a new gas-powered car. So, you know, it's the next few years and then it's the decade after that. So 2025 and 2035 are the big benchmarks.

Chris Hayes: Thirty plug-in cars in the next three years, I mean that would really be transformational. I personally, the thing that I want more than anything in the world is a plug-in minivan. That is this liberal dad of three's (LAUGH) dream. And so far it doesn't exist anywhere.

There's a little talk that Volkswagen's gonna do it. There's a Mercedes in Europe. But are there any plug-in minivans, do you know? Do you know any plug-in minivans? Anyone listening? Are you a car engineer listening to Why Is this Happening? (LAUGHTER) Please.

Dana Hull: Chris wants a minivan.

Chris Hayes: Could we get a plug-in minivan going, (LAUGH) please?

Dana Hull: You know, the sad truth is that most Americans by pickup trucks and SUVs. And so that's sort of, like, where you're seeing the market go. The minivan lobby or the minivan families need to sort of raise their hands. And you should call. You should call whatever car you currently drive. I mean you should call and make your voice heard. (LAUGH)

Chris Hayes: I feel like the minivan really went out of style. It was a real mainstay in my '90s youth. I mean not in New York City in the Bronx where I was growing up, but, like, in the suburbs and in other places. The minivan was a very popular thing, then it got displaced by the SUV, 'cause everyone needed to buy some, like, bulked up psycho car. And I just wanna go back. I wanna go back to, like, a real sweet, dowdy, like, town and country lookin' EV platform. That's my dream.

Dana Hull: With the soccers in the back. I just wanna make one point about cars. And I'm gonna sound like I hate cars, which is not true. But, like, I just wanna make sure that people realize that if you replace all of the cars in the U.S. with electric cars, you're still gonna have this massive problem of--

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Dana Hull: --congestion. And the trends are that more and more people are gonna be living in cities, because, frankly, more and more of the country's gonna become uninhabitable. I mean we're seeing people getting burned out of wide swaths of California.

And so, I mean, if we care about climate, our cities need to become more dense. We need to, you know, build more multi-zone family housing and infill. And if you live in a dense city, you really don't need a car, or you shouldn't need a car. So, like, I just wanna make sure that we're not seeing electric vehicles as the panacea for all--

Chris Hayes: Totally.

Dana Hull: --of our ills, because, you know, frankly, like, it should just be easier to take public transit. And I mean I am fortunate in that, like, you know, I can ride my bicycle to the BART station and I take BART to work every day. I don't really actually drive that much. And so people are, like, you know, "Why don't you drive an electric car?" It's like, "Well, actually, I don't really drive much at all."

Chris Hayes: Right. (LAUGH)

Dana Hull: And so just going forward, as we think about the future of mobility and electrification, we need to electrify our busses and our trains and bicycles. I mean you can do so much on an electric bike, it's amazing. I mean you really don't need a car. And so, you know, I just wanna put that out there, that we tend to be very car-centric in the United States because of this legacy of 100 years, but the future of transportation is gonna be electric in all forms.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, it's a great point, and we need electric busses, and we need expansion of rapid transit. If we can get electric busses going, and make a lot more electric dedicated bus lanes, like, that's a huge thing. I think e-bikes are an incredible solution, I gotta say, as an e-bike dad here. My commute, when it's nice out, from Brooklyn is on an e-bike, which--

Dana Hull: That's awesome--

Chris Hayes: --it's my favorite commute ever, because I used to bike a normal bike. And I can bike the nine miles. But I show up sweaty as hell. Like, (LAUGH) I mean, like, I had to take a shower after that. The nice thing about the e-bike is that it's slightly faster, but mostly I just arrive looking, like, not (LAUGH) like I just biked nine miles.

And, you know, I know a lotta of people who are using those bigger e-bikes that you could put kids on. People use those for morning commutes with their kids. If you've got, like, a school and it's, like, a mile or two away. And so yeah, I totally agree with that.

I mean I think what we really need to do is we need to electrify our transportation, and then we need to, like, invest in a variety of transportation options that also support density. Which means, like, public transportation, making biking easier and friendly, good, like, accessible high-quality car share for when people do need cars, which is another huge thing. And then there's the question of, like, you know, what all this future of automated driving is gonna look like, which I tend to be a skeptic on. Where are you on that?

Dana Hull: Yeah, I mean so, you know, here in Silicon Valley we were promised, you know, full self-driving cars in robo taxis by 2020. That was gonna be the year when it was supposed to happen. Now, it's much further out. And, you know, companies like Waymo and Aurora and Tesla are all working on it.

But what's interesting there is that I think what they realize is that, you know, the first driving vehicles are not gonna be passenger cars. It's actually gonna be trucks, because trucks tend to drive regular routes. And there's a shortage of truck drivers in the United States.

And they go hub to hub. They offload. They onload. They're pretty much all driving on freeways. And it's just much easier to design an automated system for trucking than it is for, you know, a sense urban environment. So I think you're gonna start to see the first truly autonomous vehicles be in the trucking industry.

Chris Hayes: And that's another place, when I say 29% of emissions, 30% of emissions vehicles, like, a huge part of that is trucks. And so a big, big nut to crack. And then of course then we move up to airplane and air transportation, which is at the highest part of this hierarchy in terms of the difficulty of electrifying it. That's a whole other conversation. (LAUGH)

Dana Hull: Yeah. No, trucks are huge, especially, I mean, you look at, like, the pollution around the port of Los Angeles or Long Beach or Oakland. I mean it's awful. And the number of kids that have asthma in this country. I mean, you know, it is from tailpipe emission, for sure. I mean in California, because our grid is relatively clean, I mean transportation accounts for closer to 50% of our emissions.

Chris Hayes: Oh wow.Dana Hull: Which is why California has always been, like, the leader in terms of trying to push clean air.

Chris Hayes: Well, yeah. We should make this point too. And this is an obvious point, I didn't make it before. Carbon emissions are one thing, and they're driving climate change. But the general emissions of a combustion engine are bad, and they're (LAUGH) out in the world.

And they've gotten cleaner over time, and obviously catalytic converters. And, you know, the sort of emissions levels have declined. But the reason that you saw California become a leader on this, and the reason that the Chinese government is cracking down on this, is because air pollution sucks.

People hate it. Like, it's not popular to have polluted air. It's bad for people. It kills tens of thousands of people in America every year. Tens of thousands. I mean it's unbelievably destructive. And all of that is basically coming from the emissions of a tailpipe of an old fashioned combustion engine. I mean that is the source of the scourge.

Dana Hull: Yeah. I mean I'll just note that when Governor Newsom announced that, you know, state is gonna require all new cars and trucks to be zero emission by 2035, he said, "California shouldn't have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels, threatening our beaches."

So, you know, that's a huge thing. The other point I'll make is, I mean, cars are noisy, and electric vehicles tend to be very quiet. So when the pandemic first hit and we were all locked down, I was just so struck by how, like, I could no longer hear the freeway from my house.

And it was a glorious thing. Like, the air was clean. My neighborhood was quiet. I live right by the 24. And I mean we could have that again if there is enough sort of will. But, you know, consumers need to vote with their pocketbooks in terms of making their own personal choices. And then just continue to sort of raise your voice, you know, for what you wanna see. I mean you want a minivan. You want an electric minivan. You need to let the auto makers know that.

Chris Hayes: Dana Hull is the autos and tech reporter at Bloomberg News. She contributes to Hyper Drive, which is Bloomberg's daily newsletter about the future of transportation, every week. She previously worked at The San Jose Mercury News. Dana, that was really, really informative. Thanks so much.

Dana Hull: Oh, great. Thank you.

Chris Hayes: Once again, my great thanks to Dana Hull. She is the autos and tech reporter at Bloomberg News. We'd love to hear your feedback. Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod. Email WITHpod@gmail.com. "Why is This Happening" is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the "All In" team, and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including things we mentioned here, by going to NBCNews.com/WhyIsThisHappening. (MUSIC)

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email WITHpod@gmail.com. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.