In the United States, electric car adoption is lackluster, even as the pandemic of 2020 had us staying off the roads and climate change issues were making more and more news. The needle is starting to move, however. The governor of California signed an executive order that set the goal to end sales of gas combustion engine light-duty vehicles by 2035. Nations including the United Kingdom and Japan are looking to the 2030s as a timeframe to ban sales of gasoline cars.
Some car manufacturers are jumping into the EV arena. General Motors debuted the electric Hummer and plans to offer more electric models internationally by 2025. Volkswagen has its own electric SUV and is retooling factories for more electric car models. President Biden plans to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles in the United States. One of his initiatives includes transitioning federal, state, local, postal and tribal fleets to clean vehicle options, which will undoubtedly include EVs.
Still, sales of EVs dropped in the first nine months of 2020. To be fair, the entire market was in a tailspin, but EVs accounted for only 2% of car sales during that time period, with Tesla selling most of them.
The past few months have seen a rise in EV sales, especially in Europe. EVs and plugin hybrid sales grew by about 130 percent in October, over the same period the previous year. A good gain, but it is still lower than automakers had predicted.
One of the obvious issues in the United States is the lack of availability of EV models for sale. Most are more expensive than their gasoline counterparts, so mainly wealthy individuals are purchasing them. With GM jumpstarting their EV options, that is beginning to change.
Another, less obvious issue is the availability of charging stations. There is even a term coined for the fear of not finding a charging station when needed: range anxiety. Most people have access to a garage or carport with electricity to charge their vehicle at home, but for those who don’t or for those who want to drive farther, the lack of charging stations often has them opting for the gasoline vehicle.
An obstacle to just building more charging stations is that they would get little use, and there is little option for them to become profitable. Some places have added them as an additional revenue stream, such as restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, and hotels.
Charging stations aren’t just needed for longer drives. There are communities of people living in apartment buildings who don’t have access to an outlet to charge a vehicle where they live. Typically poorer communities just don’t have the ability to own and operate an electric vehicle. This plays into the perception of rich, white people driving electric cars, and the perception is based in reality. Rebates on EVs mean that the total cost of the vehicle must be paid upfront before a rebate can be claimed, which generally rules out people who can’t afford the full vehicle price.
Electric cars may be on the rise, but some of the kinks need to be worked out first. Charging station access, vehicles designed with less wealthy purchasers in mind, and more choice offered by more manufacturers will all be needed to hit the tipping point for EV adoption in the United States.