After four months of electric vehicle ownership, my perspectives about the mass transition to electric vehicles have evolved. I no longer think that everyone should run out and buy an EV right now (besides, that’s not possible). I have a greater understanding of the skepticism that accompanies the push to EVs. All-in-all, I feel that I now understand the arguments from both sides: electric vehicles are amazing, better for the planet (in the long run) and fun to drive, however EVs are not even close to being ready for mass adoption.
Automakers have committed well over half a trillion dollars to electric vehicle research and development, marketing and most importantly, charging infrastructure buildout. But the grid isn’t ready, charging providers aren’t ready, and the American public has a LOT to learn before making the switch. EVs could still fail, and bring down the automotive industry with them. We’d hate to see that. These are 5 things that must happen in this decade to prepare the world for electric mobility.
EV Cost Parity: Electric Cars Are Much Too Expensive
The average price paid for an EV surpassed $66,000, on par with the overall luxury segment.
For years and years, I touted the coming cost parity that would finally make EVs just as affordable as any other car. Industry experts always told us that EV price parity would come when battery costs dropped below $100 per kilowatt-hour. Just as that milestone arrived, the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global factory shutdowns disrupted the supply chains that all automakers rely on, and most notably those related to semiconductor chip production. Without the parts to make the cars, electric vehicle growth was held back just as the public warmed up to them. Raw materials used in both vehicle and battery manufacturing increased in cost by over 100%, and many automakers have passed the premiums on to consumers.
Today, electric vehicles cost more, and inventory is slim. Kelley Blue Book’s June 2022 car price data shows that the average EV transaction was $66,000, $18,000 over the overall car market average of $48,000. One year ago, the average EV transaction was $52,486, or 10.8% less than it was in June of 2020. In short, EV prices are headed in the wrong direction just as automakers are getting serious about making them.
Monthly Payments Are ALREADY Out of Control
In the age of record smashing, here’s one that will give pause: In June, the estimated average monthly payment increased to $730, which is a new record high. A new car monthly payment now costs as much as rent in many parts of the country. We’re seeing more and more car payments over $1,000 a month. The insane records don’t end there.
More cars are being repossessed as more auto payments are going past-due. With the way things stand today, either EVs will have to become more affordable, or their luxury pricing will soon risk worsening the auto loan crisis.
Avoid the Next Shortage: Batteries Will Be the New Oil
Earlier this year, Rivian CEO and Founder RJ Scaringe predicted that battery shortages would be the next disruption that the automotive industry would face. In fact, automakers are already rationing the batteries they have, and those they have lined up. Ever wondered why there are so few electric full-sized SUVs? Building those at scale would require a lot more batteries.
The average EV contains $8,255 of raw materials according to CNBC. That’s more than double the amount in combustion-powered counterparts. President Biden has even authorized use of the Defense Production Act to aid the situation by increasing domestic EV production and related supply chains.
For the most part, automakers don’t make their own batteries. They rely on contracts with battery manufacturers like Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL to supply what their lofty plans for electric vehicles will need. That’s changing little by little. Tesla has started to produce small quantities of its new 4680 battery cells next to Giga Austin.
General Motors just received a $2.5 BILLION dollar loan from the U.S. Department of Energy for manufacturing the Ultium battery in Tennessee. Slowly but surely, some OEMs are taking control of their own battery supply chains. This will be key to avoiding battery shortages.
Build Out Charging Infrastructure the Right Way
Over 62% of Americans support building out a nationwide charging network, and 39% of American drivers are considering buying an electric vehicle next time they’re in the market for a car. Frugal drivers are welcoming the fuel savings, albeit at a higher upfront cost. At current residential electricity rates, charging up is equivalent to spending about $1.00 per gallon of gas. The most expensive public chargers may approach $2.50 per gallon equivalent.
However, many Americans live in a charging desert. What good is the EV revolution if there’s nowhere to charge? Most EV drivers plug in at home, but not everyone can do that. From apartment dwellers to rural residents, owning an EV simply isn’t viable if there aren’t chargers for road trips, family visits and work transportation needs. When it makes sense for consumers, electric vehicles offer plenty of benefits. Cheaper fuel, less maintenance, sporty performance and no tailpipe emissions to name a few. But EVs risk remaining a symbol of luxury and impracticality if it doesn’t get a lot easier to charge up in America.
2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act included $7.5 billion for the build-out of a national charging network. In summary, federal funding is supposed to get the ball rolling, and the private sector will take it from there. EV charging stations, particularly DC fast chargers, are really expensive to install. On top of upfront costs, America’s electrical grid is not ready for the demand that would be generated by mass adoption of EVs.
The deadline is nearing for states to submit their plans for how they will spend their allocated funding for EV charging. Will they use the funding to install reliable, standardized fast charging stations along major transportation corridors and rural areas alike? We’ll soon find out.
Public Education: Tell the World What It’s Like to Drive Electric
The following are all things I’ve encountered at Electrify America charging stations:
- A brand-new Kia EV6 arriving at 0% without A/C on
- A driver standing in pouring rain for five minutes trying to charge
- Using the wrong connector type on a $60k car
- Many, many Chevy Bolts, Audi e-trons and VW ID.4s using the 350 kilowatt stations, despite their cars only accepting half of that.
We need to do better to educate EV buyers and prospective EV buyers about how to drive electric without the hassles. We can’t blame the consumer, EVs bring a very different ownership experience. But whose responsibility is it to educate drivers? The dealership? The automaker? The driver themself? Guys like me?
In reality, it will need to be all of the above. General Motors is leaning heavily on the success of what they call affordable EVs to dominate sales by the end of this decade. In the first real sign that OEMs might be taking their newfound responsibility seriously, Chevrolet just launched a great live chat and immersive experience on their website that is entirely devoted to educating the public about their EVs, with an emphasis on the ownership experience. We need more of that, and soon.
The woman I met who arrived at a charging station with 0% state of charge and no A/C should, in my opinion, be upset with her Kia dealer. She loved the car, but no one had explained to her how to plan for interstate travel in an EV. Dealers sell most vehicles in America, but the dealership sales model is under serious threat from the rising popularity of direct-to-consumer sales. Everyone wants to be Tesla. If legacy automakers are to stand a chance in the EV race, more OEMs need to prepare their dealer networks for the public education that comes along with selling EVs.
Don’t Forget the Power of Innovation
Does the lack of affordability, charging infrastructure and public awareness mean the electrification of the auto industry is doomed for failure? No, not at all. That’s because there’s still time to right wrongs, and to build out the nation’s charging infrastructure the right way. EVs are still under 6% market share in the U.S. (See the latest EV market share numbers here.) If these same problems persist when we exceed 15%, that will be real cause for concern.
It’s true that the electrical grid isn’t ready for mass adoption of EVs, but it’s getting there. Grid-scale battery megapacks (also pioneered by Tesla) are already being deployed to provide grid stability in times when the supply of electricity is not keeping up with demand. The sun only shines in the day, the wind is intermittent, but grid-scale batteries store and supply power from these renewable sources whenever they are most needed. Now, it’s like the sun is shining at night. These changes take time. Plus, the push for grid-scale battery storage could throw a wrench in EV battery supply chains. Nothing is certain, but things are moving in the right direction.
5 Innovations On the Way
These are some innovations that have the potential to make electric vehicles more affordable with longer ranges, faster charging and improved safety. These innovations also make EV supply chains less damaging to the environment and less harmful to vulnerable communities worldwide.
- Solid-state batteries are expected to enter mass production in just a few years. They promise higher energy density, lighter weight, and less rare earth metals for production.
- Cobalt-free batteries are entering production now, reducing the need for this element that is too often associated with child labor and environmental degradation
- Newer battery technologies are more energy-dense, meaning that more range is powered from the same-sized battery. In reality, automakers are likely to keep range figures around 250-350 miles, but they’ll require fewer batteries to get there.
- EVs burn through tires quickly. Michelin, Goodyear and others are designing EV-specific tires that will have longer lives on the road.
- Battery recycling and reuse efforts have recently received more attention as automakers and environmental health agencies work to avoid batteries ending up in landfills.
How can the nation as a whole get to where it needs to be by, say, 2025? I’ll leave you with my own suggestion for legacy automakers and policymakers: don’t be afraid to learn from Tesla. A seamless, almost hassle-free EV ownership experience already exists in America, from plug-and-charge, reliable fast charging to the peace of mind that comes with the vast Supercharger network. I encourage all policymakers and engineers to learn from Tesla’s successful growth strategies. Will automakers and politicians have the courage to consult Elon Musk’s Tesla, or will they try to figure it all out on their own? What do you think?