While plug-in vehicles are catching on in Europe, representing 21 percent of all new registrations in the first quarter of 2022, they’ve been less popular in the United States. Only about 5.2 percent of American registrations were of the plug-in variety (representing hybrid and purely electric vehicles) during the same timeframe. Despite the industry spending billions to develop and market these vehicles, with some progress being made, the overall take rate within North America remains underwhelming.
Ardent fans of battery based powertrains will undoubtedly disagree. But a couple of studies came out this month that drove the point home. Autolist’s Annual Electric Survey dropped earlier this month, effectively outlining why EVs haven’t been able to make more headway in the states.
Having surveyed more than 1,300 American car buyers, Autolist determined that there are several key factors prohibiting the segment’s growth. Some of the reasoning has changed within the last 12 months. However, despite the surging energy prices, people’s general acceptance hasn’t changed all that much. This was reinforced by a recent J.D. Power study that reported 24 percent of its 10,030 respondents (surveyed between Feburary and April) said they were “very likely” to buy an electrified car. But that represents a modest increase of just 4 percentage points over the last year — something it attributed to the forthcoming deluge of battery electric pickups.
The actual take rate has been smaller, representing something like a 2.5-percent increase of national EVs sales between Q1 of 2021 and 2022.
Autolist suggested this was down to a few key factors — with the limitations of all-electric range taking being the most important. Roughly 61 percent of surveyed individuals said this was the main reason they would avoid purchasing an electric car. Price also played a role, with 50 percent of respondents saying EVs were simply seen as too expensive. Charging was the third biggest item, with 49 percent citing long charging times and a lack of infrastructure to support the vehicles on a level akin to what’s already available for gasoline (or diesel) automobiles.
Charging and range are of particular interest to those driving in the United States or Canada. Americans have historically driven more miles per year than anyone else in the entire world. This is due largely to the geography of the region and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System helping to supplant rail travel. But cheap, accessible gasoline and tons of fueling stations dotted around the country hasn’t hurt. As such, 70 percent of the people Autolist spoke to said charging at home would be an “essential” factor in the decision to purchase an electric car.
I suppose the good news is that range anxiety is likely to come down as vehicles continue improving battery capacities. There also doesn’t appear to be much of a social stigma around owning an EV — with just 3 percent of respondents suggesting embarrassment might keep them from buying one. David Undercoffler, editor-in-chief of Autolist, suggested the other issues may also resolve themselves as time went on.
“Two years is a long time in the world of electric vehicles, and buyers today have more models to choose from and more places to plug them in,” he said. “That’s helped ease concerns about price and charging while pushing range to the top of their list.”
Shoppers’ reduced concerns about EV prices are likely from two factors.
For one, battery technology has continued to get cheaper. In 2019, the average cost per kWh was about $157. By 2020, that had dropped to $140, according to Bloomberg. By 2023, it’s estimated that battery packs will average $101 per kWh, making battery electric vehicles as cost-effective and profitable as their gas counterparts.
While most consumers aren’t keeping close tabs on these trends, they are helping to erode the perception that EVs have to cost more.
Secondly, consumers in 2021 are faced with an ever-growing number of EVs to choose from. These include the Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID4, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the Volvo XC-40 Recharge.
While these newcomers aren’t necessarily cheaper than what was available in 2019, the new additions are closer to well-known gas models in terms of size, vehicle type, execution, and perceived value than earlier electric cars were.
This is confusing because the outlet literally goes from discussing how EVs are getting cheaper, to stating that the latest models “aren’t necessarily cheaper.” Worse yet, they may not actually become more affordable in the coming years. Battery prices are set to balloon by at least 22 percent between now and 2026. That may not sound earth shattering in itself. But the batteries that go into all-electric vehicles frequently represent the single largest per-car expenditure for the manufacturer and prices seem to have bottomed out for the time being. Though this may not matter if other material prices spike by similar levels (which seems possible) or people decide that buying a slightly more expensive EV is worth it in the long run.
“Car buyers are less price-sensitive about EVs when the models you’re showing them look like the gas vehicles they already know,” said Undercoffler. “So a Ford Mach-E feels more value-oriented today because it looks like many other non-electric crossovers in the $40,000 – $50,000 range.”
“Consumers had a harder time making that math work several years ago when the only non-luxury EVs they saw were small hatchbacks that cost $40,000 before incentives,” he added.
Something tells me this goes beyond a matter of perception, however. A majority of respondents indicated they wouldn’t be willing to wait more than 30 minutes to restore 300 miles of range on an EV — with a third saying they wouldn’t even bother waiting that long. Presently, this is only achievable via the latest and greatest DC fast-charging points speckled around the grid. While one might believe this will be remedied as the technology evolves, engineers have noted that placing cells under higher charging loads is likely to diminish their lifespan. This has been one of the biggest issues holding back solid-state batteries. However researchers at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science now believe its possible to allow them to take on high levels of charge (shortening wait times) without upsetting their chemistry. The automotive industry is also working on this. But it’s difficult to trust that a breakthrough is right around the corner when we’ve been fed that line for years.
[Images: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]
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