The U.S. Is Way Behind In Driving EVs. How Do We Catch Up With the World?
Moves like renting vehicles, improving education and supporting new automotive legislation could help America take the lead in electric vehicle (EV) production and sales.
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If getting everybody to use electric vehicles (EVs) were like the World Cup, the players in the top bracket would be pretty clear: With 51.7% of total EV sales for 2021, China would capture the tournament without breaking a sweat. Germany and the U.K. would still be in the game at 10.2% and 4.8%, respectively. At 9.3%, the U.S. would play, too.
But the U.S. is a bit of a wild card team, leaning perhaps too heavily on Tesla to provide more than half of its EV sales. Other areas of the world, such as France (4.7%) and Norway (2.3%), are still highly competitive, given the ratio of sales to population, and Nordic Europe sells the most EVs as a share of total vehicle sales. For the U.S. to stave off these challengers and win the cup, it will have to improve its footwork with a few key strategies.
Why the U.S. doesn't dominate
Although Texas might be the state that's best known for loving big things, the entire U.S. has a general love affair with big vehicles and horsepower compared to areas like Europe. That's supported in other market and infrastructure areas, such as wider roads, more street parking and larger homes with multi-vehicle garages. Other areas of the world that don't have this love affair have accepted smaller EVs as a logical solution to the space available.
Gas and electricity prices come into play, too. Although gas prices have been volatile in recent months, the U.S. has been able to feed their cars — even the big ones — relatively affordably: The price of a gallon of gas in Oslo, Norway is $5, while the price of a gallon of gas in New York City is $4.32.
But many countries are able to produce electricity at a cost far below that of gas, and their electricity expenses are less than those of the U.S. In Norway, the cost per 100 miles is $2.49. In the U.S., the cost per 100 miles is $4.02.
Geography affects EV adoption, as well. The U.S. has major cities, but people are more spread out overall compared to areas like Europe, which influences the demand and availability of EV chargers. This variance is noticeable during travel. I see a Prius every 10 to 20 vehicles on the east coast versus every five vehicles on the west coast. On my recent trip to Scotland over the Thanksgiving holiday, I saw more charging stations in a week than I do in a month in the U.S. There are signs in Europe that tell drivers where charging stations are, and chargers are on main streets, at office buildings and even at hotels.
Finally, other regions have a greater sense of social responsibility that has made them faster than the U.S. to support EVs through partnerships, formal agreements, legislation and subsidies. The European Union has already mandated that all new cars and vans sold from 2035 onward are to have zero tailpipe emissions, compared to the U.S.'s target of having EVs represent 50% of light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales in 2030. Subsidies and incentives in China played a key role in elevating the country's production well beyond that of the rest of the world.
How the U.S. can gain ground
Increasing EV sales in the U.S. requires an uptick in EV production along with a simultaneous development in the infrastructure necessary to make the use of the vehicles feasible. Although the U.S. is taking some positive steps, such as providing more funding through the Build Back Better campaign, even greater government involvement and incentives can further support both of those areas. The more people that broadly support these types of moves, the easier it is for the government to make them. It's important for individuals to initiate and back new proposals.
There are many practices America could copy or make standard. In Norway, it's more costly to register an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle than an EV. In Washington, D.C., people are allowed to use the HOV lane if they have EVs, which has led to some people to buy Priuses just because the use of those lanes reduced their commute time. Other practical considerations, such as putting EV parking and chargers closer to buildings, might improve adoption, too.
To get the change in attitude necessary for more support, people need to educate themselves about EVs. Learning about production, costs and technical maintenance can help consumers see the benefits of the vehicles. As part of this education, people can encourage each other to rent EVs. Trying out the vehicles will let consumers see for themselves that the cars perform well, which can alleviate worries about range, horsepower and comfort.
If we choose to win, we can
In many ways, the writing is already on the wall about ICEs and EVs. Countries around the world are changing policies to reduce ICE production in favor of EVs. Major manufacturers such as General Motors are committing to sustainable production changes that meet new regulations, and they're forming partnerships to share technologies and accelerate the EV transition. These shifts mean it's going to get harder and harder for people to buy ICE vehicles, especially new ones with easy maintenance and low mileage.
Because America has been slow to read the ICE/EV message, we won't win the EV World Cup this time. But in the future, even as soon as the next cup, we could become finalists. By making a conscious, collective choice to embrace the advantages EVs offer, the U.S. has the potential not only to upset teams that have put in fantastic efforts but also to lead those best teams in ways that inspire the rest of the world.