Americans not 'plugging in' to electric cars – why is that?

Friday, July 21, 2017
Chris Woodward (

electric car plug-in 2Despite reports of rising demand for electric cars, interest has so far been weak in the United States.

Some people want electric cars to – in their minds – "help the planet." Others are tired of paying for gasoline and the volatility that comes with that market. Either way, Bloomberg Technology points out that OPEC recently quintupled its forecast for battery-powered cars. The International Energy Agency, ExxonMobil, and BP also expect a significant rise in electric vehicles in the next few decades. And while Volvo plans to have an electric motor in all its vehicles by 2019, Tesla seems to have everyone's attention with its first "mass market" electric car.

"The [Tesla] Model 3 starts at $35,000 before a $7,500 tax credit and travels at least 215 miles on a single battery charge," writes USA Today's Nathan Bomey. "That makes the compact sedan a serious option for many American families."

The less flashy Chevrolet Bolt EV offers an EPA-estimated 238 miles of range per full charge. According to the Chevrolet website, the starting price is $37,495 – or $29,995 after a federal tax credit. Even so, GM has extended a shutdown at the Chevy Bolt plan as inventories swell, and websites such as The Street are questioning why sales are suffering.


"There is kind of an anemic demand for it here in the United States, even though we have something like 50 different electric vehicle models that are available," Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains. "Since 2009, there have been electric vehicles that you can buy here in the United States, but right now these battery-powered vehicles make up only about two percent of the U.S. auto market in sales."

According to information from the International Energy Agency (IEA) published in USA Today, market share for electric cars in 2016 was 1.10 percent. While that is up from 0.01 percent in 2008, it's a far cry from the gas-powered sedans, trucks, and SUVs that dominate the U.S. market.

"I don't see a wave rising in the United States," Lewis continues. "In some countries you do, but because of government policy."

Regardless, one knock against the majority of electric vehicles right now is the fact that they can't drive long distances on a single charge. To be fair, not every gas-powered model can go far on a single tank of gas, and Lewis acknowledges that is the case.

"But we know that filling up usually only takes a few minutes and that there are literally hundreds of thousands of gasoline stations across the country, so you never really have to worry about running out of fuel," he says. "In other words, there's no 'range anxiety' when it comes to the gasoline-powered engine, and there is with the electric vehicles."

In addition to "range anxiety," Lewis says other barriers to consumer acceptance of electric vehicles include cost, a lack of charging infrastructure, and the occasional low gas prices.

"In an era of low gas prices, which we're in right now, there seems to be less of a sense of urgency about becoming independent of oil," Lewis points out. "People feel that way when gas is $4 a gallon, but when it's between $2 and $2.50 a gallon, people just don't feel like they're being gouged – and so that also I think has an effect on consumer attitudes."

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