As gas prices have risen, so has the demand for electric vehicles

Thinking of buying an electric car? You are not alone.

With painfully high gas prices and a series of climate reports highlighting the urgency of withdrawing from burning fossil fuels, more and more Americans are expressing interest in electric vehicles.

Google searches related to electric cars have skyrocketed, reached a record number last month. Demand for electric vehicles on the car ads website Cars.com increased by 43 percent from January to February and by another 57 percent from February to March. And carmakers are ready with encouragement: almost all car ads during the Super Bowl in February featured electric vehicles.

But the journey to actual purchases, which put more electric vehicles and fewer gas vehicles on the roads in the United States, has two main obstacles: the supply of cars and the infrastructure to charge them.

As the United States, like most countries, struggles to find the political will to make the drastic changes needed to limit climate change, there is no doubt that more people switching to electric vehicles would be a positive step.

Even before gas prices began to rise, the supply of electric vehicles was strained by a number of factors. This includes supply chain problems, especially shortages of items such as semiconductors, which hamper the automotive industry as a whole. The war in Ukraine further disrupted production and long waiting lists for electric vehicles are common.

Shortages are not universal, of course, but places where demand increases are not necessarily the same places where supply is maintained. In states such as Arizona and Georgia, demand is significantly higher than Cars.com’s current supply, according to site editor-in-chief Jenny Newman. California has both the highest demand and the highest supply.

Although gas prices “should further increase interest in electric vehicles, hybrids and overall fuel efficiency, as the economy gets even better than before (which was already good), consumers may not be able to get what they want and they need it, ”David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an email.

This “reinforces the need for strong standards, as better choices must be made before price jumps, not in response to them,” Mr Friedman said, referring to policies such as fuel emission standards that create an incentive for manufacturers to invest in electric vehicles.

Once people start driving electric vehicles, the second hurdle becomes clear: the boundaries of public charging infrastructure. More cars will need more charging places, preferably in places close to electric vehicle owners.

Until now, most of the people who buy electric vehicles have been people with the capacity to charge them at home – for example, homeowners with garages. This is a great option for many Americans, experts say, but it is not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge at home are concerned about what the relative shortage of charging stations would mean for their ability to travel long distances if they switch to an electric car.

“Right now, people who buy electric vehicles almost all have their own home and a place to charge,” said Daniel Sperling, a professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis and founder and director of the University Institute for Transportation Research. These buyers tend to be wealthy and often own multiple cars, which means they can use an electric vehicle for everyday travel, but they also have a gas vehicle for longer trips.

For people who do not have several cars and live in residential buildings in densely populated cities, where it is difficult to find even regular parking, charging an electric vehicle is not as easy as plugging it into a garage, but its range between charges it becomes a more pressing issue.

This obstacle is not necessarily immediate. “In the short term, infrastructure can meet growing demand, absolutely,” said Luc Tonacel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Council for the Protection of Natural Resources.

In the long run, however, the International Clean Transport Council found last year that the United States will need to increase the number of public chargers by an average of 25 to 30 percent a year by 2030, “to prevent charging infrastructure from being a barrier to the electric vehicles, “said Dale Hall, a senior researcher on the council.

Some of this is already happening, Mr Tonashel said. Utility companies have invested more than $ 3 billion in charging infrastructure, he said, and pending applications, if approved, will add billions more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes another $ 7.5 billion for charging stations and, more broadly, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars to promote electric vehicles.

But geographical differences remain where these chargers are installed. And the main problem remains: profit.

“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit from selling electrons in vehicles,” said Professor Sperling, noting that so far most public chargers are subsidized in some way, or by government funding – federal, state or locally – or by employers who treat it as an advantage. But “in the future, we will probably need one public charger for every 10 vehicles,” said Professor Sperling. “And it’s very unclear how that will happen.”

Hiroko Tabuchi contributed to the reporting.

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