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HomeWorldGas prices are rising. So where are the electric cars?

Gas prices are rising. So where are the electric cars?

Soaring gasoline prices may help Democrats get the electric future they’re pining for — but not before it wipes them out at the polls.

This year’s stream of record-breaking fuel prices is pushing growing numbers of consumers to consider swapping their gas guzzler for a battery-powered car or truck, the kind of mindset shift that could go a long way toward meeting President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

But in the short term, the overheating U.S. economy offers little solace for either motorists or Biden’s party.

Electric vehicles are still too expensive for many American households — and the stuttering supply chain means they’re also hard to find, with some automakers warning of possibly yearslong waits to buy their most popular models. Meanwhile, proposals in Washington to help ease the supply crunch or make electric cars more affordable are languishing on the Hill. And polls show that voters largely blame inflation on Biden’s policies, part of a sour political atmosphere that could put Congress back in Republicans’ hands after November.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said some Americans can afford a new electric vehicle, “but a lot of people are in a position where they absolutely can’t, and they are just at the mercy of the price at the pump right now.”

Democrats’ stalled policy agenda is hampering electric vehicles from taking off, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who added that she is “very worried” that the party will fail to address climate change unless it passes expanded consumer tax credits and measures to spur domestic production of car parts.

“EVs are one critical weapon in fighting against climate change,” Warren said. “We are collectively putting a lot of hope on the impact of getting gasoline-burning engines off our highways and using more EVs and mass transit to move people around. If we don’t make that transition and make it soon there is no way we can meet our climate goals.”

The national average for regular gasoline hit $4.60 a gallon on Thursday, setting a new record, up from its pandemic-era low of $1.82 per gallon two years ago. On Friday it dropped by a penny. Interest in alternative-fueled vehicles has grown in the same time frame — electric vehicles’ and plug-in hybrids’ share of the automobile market has more than doubled since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

In early March, as gas prices rose toward what was then their all-time peak, Google Trends recorded its highest ever search traffic for electric vehicles. People in the U.S. bought more than 204,000 electric cars and trucks in the first four months of this year, up 60 percent from the year before, according to auto market analyst firm Wards Intelligence, though they still make up less than 1 percent of the vehicles on the road.

Despite growing interest, however, consumers looking to buy an electric vehicle face a major obstacle: finding one to buy.

Global shortages of the computer chips and rare minerals that go into automaking have triggered a huge supply crunch for new cars and trucks — and have hit the electric variety especially hard, given their added dependence on electronics. (An electric vehicle needs about twice as many chips as a gas-powered car.)

Automakers including Ford and Volkswagen have said they’re essentially sold out of their popular electric cars and trucks for at least this year, Insider reported last week, while anyone wanting to order the most affordable Tesla models will need to wait until as late as December. Rivian Automotive, a company building electric SUVs and trucks, slashed its projected 2022 production in half because of supply chain issues, mostly relating to chips. The shortages are so dire that prospective buyers often put their names on multiple waiting lists.

Then there’s the price. An entry-level electric vehicle like the Chevy Bolt can still cost nearly $15,000 more than an equivalent gas-powered car, such as the same automaker’s Malibu sedan. That cost is significantly more than the $5,000 in savings that analysts say electric vehicle owners will realize on fuel and maintenance over 10 years. And finding a used electric vehicle is nearly impossible.

“There probably is going to be more interest in electric vehicles and demand may rise more because of it,” Haig Stoddard, a principal analyst at Wards Intelligence, said about the influence of high gasoline prices on the market. “But it’s not going to be very fast because most of the people that are interested are the people who can pretty much afford to buy what they want.”

Another impediment for some people considering electric vehicles is uncertainty about where to charge them. Last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law provided $7.5 billion for building out charging infrastructure around the country, representing Democrats’ biggest legislative win for electric vehicle owners — but that money won’t show any tangible effects before the midterms.

“It’s going to be a while before those chargers are lit up and people are seeing the benefit of that investment; it’s not the same as stimulus checks going out,” said E.J. Klock-McCook, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, which researches sustainability. “Folks that are much smarter than me are going to need to think about how to communicate around that.”


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