I have been following, writing about, and advocating for electric vehicles for more than 10 years now. And I have to admit, I am growing impatient with the extremely slow uptake of EVs in the United States. After nearly 10 years of having production electric cars available for purchase in the United States, EVs have achieved a paltry penetration rate of about 2%.
Yes, the rates are higher in California and in urban areas, etc., etc., or, really, blah, blah, blah, blah — but this is not a “Well, actually, things are on the way up, they’re looking up, just be patient, it will happen” blog entry. There are plenty of those out there — and those people have, for the most part, so far, been wrong, or, at the very least, have more patience than me.
The “big” uptake, the “turning the corner”, the “threshold”, the “tipping point” always, always, always seems to be (just) “around the corner,” “somewhere off in the (distant) future” for EVs in the United States, and, really, in much of the rest of the world — with a few notable exceptions such as Norway, a country with just 5.3 million people (or fewer people than my home state of Colorado), as compared to 327 million in the U.S.
After 10 years, we should be seeing adoption rates of much more than 2% for electric vehicles. Yes. We. Should.
I am tired of waiting — and, yes, for the EV “newbies” out there who might want to “take me out”, or “down” for my “negativity,” I have been watching, following, writing about, advocating for, and driving EVs for a lot longer than most of you! — though, I am GLAD you have climbed aboard the electric vehicle express: We need you!
Now, how the hell are we — you and me — going to get more Americans on board the EV express, ASAP?
First, we have to acknowledge what the main problems are to EV adoption and why we have a glacially slow adoption rate — compare EV adoption to, say, smart phone adoption after the iPhone was introduced in 2007, across 10 years, and, yes, you/we will have to concede, EV adoption is, comparatively speaking, indeed happening at a glacial pace in the United States.
Impatient, VERY impatient, drum roll please ==>
Now, SEVEN reasons for the glacially slow EV adoption rate in the United States ==>
7. NEAR TOTAL LACK OF AUTO DEALER SUPPORT FOR EVs
A very recent survey/study by The Sierra Club revealed what many of us long-time EV advocates have known for a very long time: Traditional auto dealers in the United States are largely uninterested in — and even in many cases outright resistant to — selling electric vehicles. The Sierra Club study found that a full 74% of auto dealers in the United States did not even have a single electric vehicle for sale on their lots. When EVs are offered, they are often buried at the back of the lot and dealers make little to no effort to sell them to consumers. Indeed, as The Sierra Club study found, and many of us EV advocates already know, dealers that have EVs on the lot often do all they can to steer consumers to a gasoline car alternative. In addition, few sales folks at traditional car dealers know much about electric vehicles.
6. LEGACY AUTOMAKERS’ LESS THAN HALF-HEARTED INVESTMENT IN EVs
Yes, Nissan did push out the first generation LEAF in 2011 in the United States and GM put out the plug-in hybrid/EREV Volt in the same year and they did do some very limited marketing of those vehicles. Yes, we do have about three dozen production EV options in the United States in 2020, though many of them are very difficult to find outside of EV hotspots such as California, the West Coast, and a smattering of states on the East Coast. And, yes, we do have lots of grand declarations from various automakers from GM to Nissan to Kia to Ford to Audi to VW, etc. about how many all-electric models they are going to make. But until I/we actually see “the rubber hit the road” and we see these large, big-name automakers actually put some REAL effort AND money into promoting their EVs and doing things such as pushing their dealer networks to sell them and these automakers actually start to widely advertise EVs, I say it is all MOSTLY HOT AIR. The only REAL, true, invested effort we have in fully electric vehicles has been made by Tesla, and Elon Musk. Indeed, without Tesla, we would be NOWHERE on EVs in the United States. Obviously, this has to change — or EVs will NEVER be widely adopted by American consumers.
5. IGNORANCE AND LACK OF KNOWLEDGE ABOUT EVs
Nearly 10 years — or a FULL decade — into the EV “revolution” in the United States, it is fair to say that the vast majority of Americans still know little to nothing about electric vehicles. They don’t know that EVs are substantially cheaper to fuel, cheaper to own in the long term, a hell of a lot more fun to drive because they are SOOOO much quicker and offer instantaneous torque, that there are now MANY affordable EVs that offer 200+ miles of range, and that, yes, you CAN take an EV on a road trip. There are a variety of reasons that not many Americans know about EVs, and that what they do “know” is often incorrect, sometimes even WILDLY incorrect. Most of those reasons are listed below in reasons Numbers 4 through 1 😉
4. COMPARATIVE LACK OF EV CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE
There are more than 150,000 gas stations in the United States. That makes it easy for people in ICEs to tank up virtually anywhere and everywhere AND, just as importantly, it allows them to forget that gasoline cars ALSO have a limited range — usually somewhere between 300 and 400 miles. In contrast, there are approximately 20,000 charging stations and 70,000 charge points around the United States. A BIG gap still exists between gas stations and EV charging stations in terms of the classic “road trip” fueling scenario with gas stations plentiful along ALL U.S. interstates, and beyond, and EV DCFC charging stations, “fast charging” stations, much more of a patchwork with large gaps, especially across large swaths of middle U.S. states such as North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, etc. There need to be enough DCFC and other EV charging stations so that people in EVs can ALSO forget that their car has a limited range! Elon Musk and Tesla clearly understood, and understand, that you can’t sell electric cars effectively without a robust charging infrastructure, which is why Tesla smartly invested in building out an extensive SuperCharger network that allows Tesla owners to travel essentially anywhere in the U.S. — as long as they stay on the U.S. interstate system.
3. BIG OIL’S PROPAGANDA AND DIRTY $$$
Big Oil and Big Oil supporters have sunk millions and millions of dollars into misinformation and disinformation about electric vehicles, propagating myths ranging from the myth of the EV that is more destructive to the environment than an ICE — nope, NOT true! — to the myth of the “expensive” electric car (EVs are plenty affordable, especially when you factor in their total cost of ownership across time!).
The truth is, EVs are FAR more environmentally friendly and FAR more friendly to human health than ICEs. First, because EVs are far more efficient in converting fuel/energy to forward propulsion (more than three times more efficient). Second because EVs can be fueled by 100% renewable energy generated electricity and ICEs cannot be fueled — and will NEVER be able to be fueled — by renewable energy. Third, because the ICE does not pass a simple, but revealing, test that I call the closed-garage-door test. Start your ICE in a closed garage and sit in it, with the motor running. You will be dead within minutes, due to toxic fumes pumped out directly by your gas car. Start your EV in your closed garage and sit in it, with the motor running. Bring a book, an iPad, a smart phone, your meditation cushion — whatever — you can sit there FOREVER with the EV motor on, in your closed garage, and suffer no ill-health effects whatsoever, other than perhaps boredom. That’s because EVs do not emit ANY exhaust/fumes directly into our lungs. NONE! How do you like that, BIG OIL?!
2. BASIC HUMAN RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
For most Americans, their car is the second biggest purchase, after their home. Cars are expensive and switching from what one is accustomed to — a gasoline car backed up by an extensive 100+-year-old fueling network — to something new — an all-electric vehicle not backed up by nearly as extensive a fueling network — isn’t easy for a lot of people.
Add to that human beings’ basic tendency to tenaciously cling to what they know, even if change might bring many benefits and you are facing a very difficult task indeed, as those of us long-time EV advocates know. And that leads us to the No. 1 reason that the adoption of EVs in the U.S. has been glacially slow…and I suspect this reason will inspire the most heated, maybe even angry, responses from some EV advocates — but please remember: I am a 10-year-long, and strong, advocate of EVs and I want them to succeed very badly. We are on the same team ;-). So, take a deep breath, and let’s move on to the No. 1 reason for the extremely slow adoption of EVs in the US.
1. LACK OF THE CLEAR SUPERIORITY OF EVs
There are many, many important and clear advantages of EVs compared to ICEs, especially the fact that they are vastly better for the environment and for human health. They are also cheaper to fuel and cheaper to maintain and they are a hell of a lot quicker than gasoline cars. Heck, performance versions of the Tesla Model X and S are quicker than MOST MOTORCYCLES on the road today!
But the EV advantage is NOT a slam dunk. Indeed, the EV advantage over ICEs is not even close to perhaps history’s greatest technological slam dunk so far ==> The clear, unmitigated, and indisputable superiority of smart phones over anything else that came before them. Indeed, smart phones went from zero market penetration to a whopping 80% market penetration in the United States in 10 years. This is the SAME AMOUNT OF TIME it has taken EVs to crack 2% of the automotive market in America. Yes, there are differences between the two technologies, but, when holding up smart phone adoption rates post iPhone/2007 as the ultimate measurement, or the HIGH BAR to aim for, EV adoption, well?, it does not come even close!
Three major sticking points continue to dog EV adoption in the United States, and around the world. These sticking points have to do with the fact that EVs are NOT clearly superior to ICEs in some important ways:
Upfront cost: Generally speaking, electric vehicles still cost more up front than many ICEs. It doesn’t matter that, in the long run, people will often save money by paying more up front for an EV. Most people don’t think that way. They haven’t been trained to think that way. They think only about sticker price, up front.
Range & fueling infrastructure: I put these together because they are, in the end, essentially one and the same, especially with the advent of second generation 200+ mile EVs, in some cases 300-mile EVs. ICEs beat electrics on this count in virtually every single case — with Tesla and the Tesla Supercharger network almost mitigating this ICE superiority. There is no disputing that if I want to drive from Denver to Grand Forks, North Dakota, in my 2017 Chevy Bolt, it is going to take me longer, I am going to have plan more — especially in the winter! — and it is going to be less convenient than if I do that trip in an ICE. There is also still a much greater risk of running out of fuel along the way — if I don’t plan, if one of the relatively few DCFC chargers along the way is not working, etc. — than if I do a Denver to Grand Forks trip in an ICE.
Fueling time: It is now possible to charge some EVs in some places to 80% in as little as 15 or 20 minutes. But, those places are still few and far between. More likely, most EV owners are going to be looking at fueling times of at least 30 to 60 minutes to add perhaps 200 miles of range, max, to their cars. Meanwhile, you can fill an ICE tank in as little as five minutes. EVs are still a step backwards in terms of fueling time, there is no other way to put it.
While numbers 7 through 2 for why EV adoption has been slow, slow, slow in the United States matter a lot and they have played a BIG role in why we still see just 2% penetration of the vehicle market by EVs in 10 years, a period of time that saw smart phones in the post iPhone era go from 0% penetration to 80% percent, Reason No. 1 ultimately is holding EVs back the most. EVs are NOT clearly, indisputably superior to ICEs — as much as I would like to believe this and like to say that they are!
Unfortunately, because EVs are not the technological slam dunk that smart phones post iPhone were/are, we EV advocates have to spend A LOT OF TIME on what might be called the “nitty gritty” of EV advocacy. That is, we have to spend lots of time with a seemingly endless, “Yes but” or the “No, that’s not (entirely) true”, or “That’s only true if you do this, but don’t do this” persuasion game. This is SOOO time consuming and it can be frustrating as hell! Take my own mother: She STILL talks about EVs not having “enough range” even though she NEVER drives more than 40 miles a day, does that at most once a week, and has not done a road trip of any kind in five years!
Until EVs become a technological and economic slam dunk — and yes, this means also having a deep, wide, extensive fast-charging network throughout the United States — and as long as we have to work through the “Yes, buts” and “That’s not (exactly) true” and the “If you plan your trip out, you should be oks,” as long as we have to admit things like, yes, when I drove my Chevy Bolt from Denver to Santa Barbara and back with my two teen-aged girls in the Summer of 2018, I did have to drive more slowly up mountain passes (as slow as 55 mph) and I did not go the 80 mph speed limit on the Utah Interstate (I went 70 mph instead), and that I sometimes turned the AC off while going up mountain passes, EVs are not going to be adopted quickly by the majority of Americans.
That is a depressing, and sobering, thought for me, EV advocate No. 1. But it will not stop me from working on persuading people to switch to EVs and wading through all of the “yes, buts” along the way. I don’t give up easily — as 10+ years of doing SolarChargedDriving.Com attests, and I hope all other EV advocates don’t give up easily either 😉