Electric Mismatch Making
The switch still doesn't make sense for most Americans.
NYT (“Are You a Super Driver? Some States Want to Help You Go Electric.“):
The key to cutting emissions from cars and light trucks that are heating the planet could lie with the nation’s super drivers, the small percentage of American motorists who drive, on average, about 110 miles per day.
If more of those drivers switched to electric vehicles from gasoline-powered models, it would make a major dent in greenhouse gases from transportation, which have so far been slow to decline, according to a new analysis published on Wednesday by Coltura, an environmental nonprofit group based in Seattle.
While the average American driver travels about 13,400 miles per year, people who buy electric vehicles today tend to drive them less than that, limiting the climate benefits of switching to a cleaner car.
By contrast, the top 10 percent of motorists in the United States drive an average of about 40,200 miles per year and account for roughly one-third of the nation’s gasoline use. Persuading more of these “gasoline superusers” to go electric would lead to a much faster reduction in emissions, the Coltura report found.
This is followed by the unusual anecdotes. My instant reaction was that, while it makes sense that we’d want those who drive the most to switch to electric vehicles to maximize the advantage, those are the drivers for whom it makes the least practical sense.
My daily commute is roughly 30 miles each way and I drive more than 200 miles in a day maybe ten times a year. I’m an ideal candidate for electric but the handful of options that make sense for me—I frequently need to be able to seat 7—are considerably more expensive than the gasoline variants of the same model and, because they’re so expensive, are considered “luxury” vehicles and thus not eligible for federal subsidies.
Conversely, one imagines those who “average” over 110 miles a day frequently take trips that are beyond the range of an electric vehicle. Indeed, the report notes that they tend to be people who commute very long distances because they can’t afford housing near where they work or those in construction, delivery and other sectors requiring driving from job site to job site.
Many obstacles remain.
Charging is one. Even though the biggest drivers travel, on average, about 116 miles per weekday, well within the range of most modern electric cars, some may be worried about finding places to plug in. A recent report from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group, found that the increase in public charging stations in the United States has lagged far behind growth in electric vehicle sales.
Finding the right vehicle might be another. The Washington state study found that heavy users of fuel disproportionately drove pickup trucks and large SUVs. Electric versions of these vehicles are currently limited, though that is expected to change in the years ahead.
A large number of high fuel users are also lower-income Americans who are far less likely to purchase new vehicles. Many of these drivers are likely waiting for cars to filter into the used vehicle market, a process that can take years.
I live in the Washington, DC metro area, which has considerably better electric vehicle infrastructure than most places. It’s still woefully inadequate. My sister-in-law got a Tesla a year or so ago and was frequently forced to change her plans in order to avoid getting stranded. Ultimately, she broke down and installed a charging station at home.
It’s going to take quite some time—even with the considerable investment the Biden administration has made—to get the charging infrastructure in place to make “super drivers” willing to make the switch. So, those of us who drive more manageable distances would seem the more obvious target.
The price also has to come down considerably for electric to move beyond a niche option. Few of us are going to invest a huge up-front premium to save an indeterminant amount over time at the pump.
Further, I continue to think hybrid is the better option for most people. Toyota and others have perfected that technology even for large trucks, SUVs, and minivans and done so at a price point that’s comparable to gasoline-only models.