As gas prices rose, so did the hunt for electric vehicles

Are you thinking about buying an electric car? You’re not alone.

With gas prices soaring and a slew of climate reports underscoring the urgency of moving away from burning fossil fuels, more and more Americans are expressing interest in electric vehicles.

Google searches on electric cars have skyrocketed, Reaching a record number in the last month. On automotive classifieds site Cars.com, searches for electric vehicles jumped 43 percent from January to February and another 57 percent from February to March. And automakers are ready with encouragement: Almost all of the car commercials during February’s Super Bowl featured electric vehicles.

But the road to actual purchases that put more electric vehicles and fewer gas-powered vehicles on the roads in the United States has two major roadblocks: providing cars and infrastructure to charge them.

As the United States, like most countries, struggles to find the political will to make the drastic changes needed to limit climate change, there’s no question that more people switching to electric vehicles would be a positive move.

Even before gasoline prices started to rise, a number of factors weighed on the EV supply. These include the supply chain issues, particularly shortages of items like semiconductors, which have hampered the auto industry at large. The war in Ukraine has further disrupted production, and long waiting lists for electric vehicles are common.

Of course, bottlenecks aren’t everywhere, but the places where demand is growing aren’t necessarily where supply is keeping pace. According to the site’s editor-in-chief, Jenni Newman, demand in states like Arizona and Georgia is currently significantly higher than supply on Cars.com. California has both the highest demand and the greatest supply.

Although gasoline prices “should continue to drive interest in electric vehicles, hybrids and overall fuel efficiency because the economy gets even better than before (which was already good), consumers may not be able to get what they want.” and need,” David Friedman, the vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an email.

This “reinforces the need for strict standards because the better choices need to be available before price spikes, not in response,” Mr. Friedman said, referring to policies like fuel emissions standards that incentivize automakers to invest in electric vehicles.

As soon as people start driving electric vehicles, the second hurdle becomes clear: the limits of public charging infrastructure. More cars need more charging options, preferably close to EV owners.

Until now, most EV buyers have been those who have had the opportunity to charge them at home – homeowners with a garage, for example. It’s an excellent option for many Americans, experts say, but it’s not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge at home express concerns about what the relative scarcity of charging stations would mean for their long-distance capability if they switched to an electric car.

“Right now, almost all of the people who are buying electric vehicles have their own home and a place to charge it,” said Daniel Sperling, professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis and founding director of the institute University of Traffic Sciences. These buyers tend to be wealthy and often own multiple cars, meaning they can use an electric vehicle for their daily commute, but also have a gas-powered vehicle for longer trips.

For people who don’t have multiple cars and live in apartment buildings in densely populated cities where even regular parking is hard to find, charging an electric vehicle isn’t as easy as plugging it into a garage outlet, and the range between charges is increasing bigger a more urgent question.

This hurdle is not necessarily immediate. “In the short term, infrastructure can absolutely support an increase in demand,” said Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Longer-term, however, the International Council on Clean Transportation found last year that the United States would need to increase the number of public chargers by an average of 25 to 30 percent annually through 2030 “to prevent charging infrastructure from becoming a barrier to the electric vehicle market.” ‘ said Dale Hall, a senior researcher on the council.

Some of this is already happening, Mr Tonachel said. Utilities have invested more than $3 billion in charging infrastructure, he said, and pending applications, if approved, would add billions more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year earmarked an additional $7.5 billion for charging stations, and more broadly, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars promoting electric vehicles.

However, geographic differences remain as to where these chargers are installed. And one basic problem remains: profit.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit from selling electrons to vehicles,” Professor Sperling said, noting that most public chargers are currently subsidized in some way, either by state funds – federal, state or local governments – or by employers who treat it as a perk. But “in the future we will probably need one public charging station for every 10 vehicles,” said Professor Sperling. “And it’s very unclear how that’s going to happen.”

Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting.

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