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

Thinking of buying an electric car? You’re not alone.

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

Google searches related to electric cars have exploded, reached a record number last month. On the automotive classifieds site Cars.com, searches for electric vehicles rose 43% from January to February and another 57% from February to March. And automakers are ready with encouragement: Almost every car ad during the Super Bowl in February featured electric vehicles.

But the journey to real-world purchases that put more electric vehicles and fewer gas-powered vehicles on the roads in the United States faces two major hurdles: the supply of cars and the infrastructure to charge them.

While the United States, like most countries, struggles to muster the political will to make the drastic changes needed to limit climate change, there is no doubt that more people switching to electric vehicles would be a positive step.

Even before gasoline prices started to rise, the supply of electric vehicles was stretched by a number of factors. This includes supply chain issues, particularly shortages of items like semiconductors, which have hampered the automotive industry as a whole. The war in Ukraine has further disrupted production, and long waiting lists for electric vehicles are common.

Shortages are not universal, of course, but the places where demand increases are not necessarily the same places where supply holds. In states like Arizona and Georgia, demand currently far exceeds supply on Cars.com, according to the website’s editor, Jenni Newman. California has both the highest demand and the highest supply.

Although gasoline prices “should further increase interest in electric vehicles, hybrids and overall fuel efficiency as savings become even better than they were (which was already good), consumers might not be able to get what they want and need,” David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said. stated in an email.

This “reinforces the need for tough standards because the best choices need to be available before price spikes, not in response to them,” Friedman said, referring to policies such as emission standards. of fuel that encourage automakers to invest in electric vehicles.

Once people start driving electric vehicles, the second hurdle becomes clear: the limits of public charging infrastructure. More cars will need more places to charge, preferably in places close to electric vehicle owners.

Until now, most people who buy electric vehicles are people who can charge them at home, for example owners with a garage. It’s a great option for many Americans, experts say, but it’s not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge from home worry about what the relative scarcity of charging stations would mean for their ability to travel long distances if they were to switch to an electric car.

“Right now, people who buy electric vehicles almost all have their own homes and places to charge them,” said Daniel Sperling, a professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis, and founding director. from the university’s Institute of Transportation Studies. These buyers tend to be affluent and often own several cars, which means they can use an electric vehicle for daily trips, but also 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 come by, charging an electric vehicle isn’t as simple as plugging it into an outlet. garage, and its range between charges becomes a more pressing issue.

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

Looking further ahead, however, the International Council on Clean Transportation found last year that the United States should increase the number of public charging stations by an average of 25-30% per year through 2030 “to avoid charging infrastructure is a barrier to the electric vehicle market,” said Dale Hall, senior researcher at the council.

Some of that 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 that Congress passed last year included an additional $7.5 billion for charging stations and, more broadly, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars to promote vehicles electrical.

But geographical disparities remain where these chargers are installed. And a fundamental problem remains: profit.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit selling electrons to vehicles,” Prof Sperling said, noting that at the moment most public chargers are subsidized in one way or another. , either through government funding—federal, state, or local—or by employers who treat it as a benefit. But ‘in the future we will probably need one public charger for 10 vehicles,’ said Professor Sperling. “And it’s not clear how that’s going to turn out.”

Hiroko Tabuchi contributed report.

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