What is the best way to promote an electric vehicle revolution in the US? A new $3.6 billion bill in the US Senate may be able to answer those questions.
Electric vehicle sales are growing fast in the US. There are now 11 plug-in electric cars (including plug-in electric hybrids) that are cheaper than the average new car sold in the nation, and almost all of the electric car models on the market have come to market in just the past two years. Almost all the major US automakers — Nissan, Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Fiat, Mitsubishi, and BMW — now have plug-in cars on the market. Sales of 100% electric cars have jumped about 300% in the past year in the US as a result of the greater number of options, as a result of costs dropping, and as a result of greater general awareness about the benefits of electric cars.
However, the percentage of new car sales that go to plug-in electrics is still just about ⅔ of one percent in the country. They are sure to pass the 1% landmark in 2014, and that might well mean that they are on their way to dominating the market by 2020 or 2030. Predicting market growth is not as easy as predicting technology improvements, but this is a strong possibility given improvements, cost trends, and sales growth within the past few years.
Nonetheless, there are a few critical hurdles still in the way of much greater electric car sales, such as:
- Greater awareness. Only about 31% of respondents in one recent US survey were familiar with the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling 100% electric car on the market, while only 22% were familiar with the highly acclaimed Tesla Model S. Note that the Model S was 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, got the best Consumer Reports rating ever (99/100), and has won many other accolades and received great attention from the press. Yet, 78% of respondents in this nationwide survey didn’t know about the car. Needless to say, without awareness of these vehicles (and even less well known electric car models), people aren’t going to buy them.
- More charging stations. For drivers who have a lot of miles/kilometers to cover during the day, charging stations at work or in convenient public locations are important for them to be able to make the most use of an electric car. For drivers living in multifamily buildings, a place to charge at home is also essential. Right now, the huge majority of electric car owners have their own garage in which they can charge their vehicle. If hundreds of millions of apartment-dwellers are to switch to electric vehicles, they’re going to need more charging stations where they park and around the city.
Well, those are the two biggest hurdles. So, the question is: what’s the best way for governments to go about stimulating electric vehicle (EV) awareness and charging station development, and thus EV growth? (Of course, this is something many governments have already proclaimed they would like to do in order to cut down on societal health, environmental, oil, and national security costs.)
A bill in the United States Senate that has just passed the Senate Energy Committee may be a good answer to this question. The $3.6 billion bill would focus its EV stimulus efforts on select communities. These EV deployment communities would help others to figure out how best to stimulate EV growth, as well as how best to accommodate it. Additionally, they could be used as shining examples of the benefits of an electric vehicle revolution. As people living in other communities witness the improvements in these EV-oriented communities, they will theoretically decide to push for an EV transition in their own communities as well.
Naturally, there are critics of this idea — people who think an EV stimulus program should be available nationwide rather than targeting select communities — and there are competing bills with their own EV stimulus packages. No one knows at this point in time which proposal will become a law. However, this one has officially gained the support of the Energy Committee, so it’s on its way to the next round.
Personally, I think the idea of focused EV deployment communities is a great one. The benefits of electric vehicles are immense, but it is going to take a lot of work to help more people realize that, or even realize that electric cars are on the market. Piecemeal improvements and incentives will help a bit, but I think that strong and comprehensive pushes will see exponentially better results. With a few billion dollars targeted towards select communities, those communities will really see quick adoption of plug-in electric cars, and they will become national stories shared across the media world. That will inspire others to follow suit more than a few federal incentives here and there.