Cash Smarter

August 30, 2017  by: Aaron Crowe

The Biggest Thing Holding Electric Vehicle Sales Back

The Biggest Thing Holding Electric Vehicle Sales Back

I bought a used electric vehicle (EV) three years ago. My Nissan Leaf has been a great car, and one of my top concerns when I first got it — range anxiety — hasn’t turned out to be so much of a problem.

Instead of worrying if I’ll have enough juice to get home, I’ve found that two other concerns have been more troublesome. One I don’t have much control over unless I buy a new car, and the other is a frustration that electric vehicle companies should deal with if they want to see more people buy their cars.

The first issue, which some car companies such as Ford and Tesla are dealing with well, is creating a better battery for electric vehicles that gets longer range. When I bought my 2011 Leaf in 2014, it had a range of about 80 miles on a full charge. That’s now down to 60 miles, according to the car charger, though in reality it’s closer to 40 miles.

EV batteries lose charging abilities just as phones and other electronics do. They can only be charged so many times, and eventually they’ll die.

Forty to 60 miles per charge is fine for me because I use my car for local-only trips: Picking up my daughter at school, going to the grocery store, and other errands. For trips outside of our immediate area, we use my wife’s internal combustion engine car.

But someday the Leaf’s battery will get so low that I’ll either have to charge it at least once a day, or buy a new battery or car. A new battery costs about $8,000. For now, I charge the car about twice a week.

The bigger issue

Losing range and being unsure if your electric vehicle will have enough power to get you to a charging station or home to charge are big enough problems that can stop potential EV buyers.

The bigger problem is a lack of charging stations. And I don’t mean charging stations along roads — though those are welcomed — but charging stations at everyday places people drive to:

  • Work.
  • Train and other public transit stations.
  • Shopping centers.
  • Sport stadiums.
  • Grocery stores.

Pick a place where you drive and spend a few hours, and it’s a spot where electric vehicle charges should be. And not just two or four chargers, but 20 or more of them. If EV car companies want people to buy their cars, this is the solution that will get them there.

I live in the Bay Area, an area of California that you’d think would be full of EV charging stations because so many people own electric vehicles. Of the more than 500,000 zero-emission vehicles sold in the United States, half were bought in California and 20 percent were bought in the Bay Area, according to SPUR, a non-profit that promotes infrastructure to get people around.

But places I drive to that don’t have charging stations include BART stations, my local grocery store, the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s play, my kid’s school, and Tilden Park in Berkeley.

A few shopping centers or parking garages have EV chargers, but four is the max that any one site has and they’re often filled with cars plugging in for a charge or by non-electric cars that are parking there illegally because they want the parking spot.

EV chargers on roads aren’t enough

One of the big selling points for electric vehicles is that more charging stations are being added along roads so that drivers can avoid range anxiety and can get a charge when they need it along their route. That’s fine if you don’t mind stopping for 30 minutes to 1 hour so your car can charge during the middle of your 300-mile drive.

But most EV drivers that I’ve talked to aren’t driving that far and don’t need to use a charger along the road. They want a charger at their destination (work, the store, a subway station) and will charge when they return home.

California is adding 50 electric stations at 25 sites from Monterey to Lake Tahoe. That’s two chargers per station, which I don’t think is enough. Still, if you can find an open charger on that route, then it can make the trip to Tahoe a lot easier for a zero-emission car.

I doubt I’ll ever take that 170-mile trip to Lake Tahoe in my Leaf or any other electric car. But guess what, Nissan? Today I’m driving to a grocery store, my daughter’s school and maybe a side trip to a boba tea shop she likes, and I doubt I’ll make it on the 22 miles I have left on my car. It would be nice if one of those stops had a electric vehicle charger.

Electric vehicle sales still increasing

Despite the headline on this post, electric vehicle sales are surging, to 2 million in 2016 after being at almost nothing in 2010. They’re expected to reach 30 percent market penetration by 2030.

That’s great, but when you start from nothing, any increase is remarkable. EVs still only represent less than 1 percent of new car sales in America. So much more can be done. So many more electric vehicles could be sold if EV chargers were as common as gas stations, but not not put in places where not many drivers will use them — near highways and other major roads.

Those are great, but since most car trips are done locally, it makes more sense to have the chargers where people need them. Hospitals, sports stadiums, shopping centers, offices and even small businesses such as vets.

People want cars that don’t pollute the air, save them money on gas, and don’t require all of the regular maintenance that gas-powered cars do. To be encouraged to buy them, drivers need more than the promise that they can drive to Tahoe or some far-off vacation spot without worrying about having enough electricity to get there.

They need chargers for everyday life.

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