Friday, May 17, 2024

Even Beyond Tesla’s Self-Inflicted Problems, EVs are Slowing Down

Electric vehicles, the sales of which grew 52% in America last year, are not continuing that.  I won’t deal with what’s been happening with Tesla, because I don’t know any more than anyone else what CEO Elon Musk is trying to do, and why they would release the Cybertruck with more bugs than a Kolkata food stand.  Individual companies will come and go no matter what, and Tesla, hardly assured of continuing to lead United States sales, is not the industry.

There has been a gap for a while, as “What electric vehicle shoppers want isn’t what’s for sale, and it’s hurting sales:  poll” (Medora Lee, USA Today, April 3rd).  I wondered, when I got a non-plug-in hybrid as a rental two years or so ago and enjoyed full convenience along with 60 miles per gallon, why that wasn’t the direction companies wanted to follow.  Instead, in this piece, an Edmunds study said potential buyers wanted “lower prices” (which have improved slightly in the weeks since), “cars and SUVs, not electric pickups” with the latter getting buyer interest in EVs far lower than for liquid fuel ones, and “EVs from the most trusted brands,” particularly Toyota and Honda, which combined at article time for one model selling new in America.  However, as a result, “the dearth of EVs for sale that EV shoppers want has pushed them to hybrids,” also cheaper “and ease people’s range and charger anxieties.”

A third well-established company has discovered that, as “Ford Slows Its Push Into Electric Vehicles” (Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times, April 4th).  It has “delayed the production of at least two new electric cars and said it would pivot to making more hybrids.”  That will mean production of its “large electric S.U.V.” will be put off two years at at least one plant.  It may indeed be doing the right thing, as “Hybrid vehicle sales revving up as EV demand sputters” (Brock Dumas, Fox Business, April 11th); a Kelley Blue Book editor called 2024’s “hottest auto trend… “Hybrids – a lot more hybrids.””  Another form of discomfort hybrids do not cause is “time anxiety,” with “parents of young children wondering how they would have to find an extra 45 minutes in their day for recharging their EV.”

Reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s March mandate for automakers to produce higher shares of EVs starting in 2027 has come in, and it’s not positive.  The Wall Street Journal editorial response was titled “Biden’s EV Mandate Blows its Cover.”  The Washington Post’s was “The best way to get everyone into electric cars? Hint: It’s not a mandate.”  A piece in USA Today was “If you like your car, good luck keeping it. Biden's EV mandate drives change people don't want.”  And national columnist George Will, channeling an old Ford quip about providing vehicles only black, called his writing “Biden’s impossible dream:  Any car you want, as long as it’s an EV.”  Will named several of the points I have made in this blog, and some more:  EV battery production requires huge amounts of mining including new facilities, there will be more large truck trips since battery weight reduces load capacities, we can expect extra roadway damage and additional “particulate-matter pollution” from that and necessary special tires, there will be massive electricity consumption, EVs have extra problems in especially cold or hot weather, and currently they have high rates of mechanical problems. 

Even beyond bipartisan issue-raising is concern on the left, as shown in a view “Inside the Climate Protests Hell-Bent on Stopping Tesla” (Morgan Meaker,, May 7th).  Demonstrators have been protesting outside a German Tesla “gigafactory,” calling company operations “”green capitalism,” a plot by companies to appear environmentally friendly.”  The activists have cited excessive mining, “the industry’s disruption of communities in the global south,” “unsafe working conditions,” and not only “using up local water supplies but also the potential that the company will contaminate them.”  If EV manufacturers cannot count on environmentalists’ support, they may end up with no group of core adherents at all.

A recent news item concerned a new set of import duties, as described in, among other places, “Biden announces 100% tariff on Chinese-made electric vehicles” (The Guardian, May 14th).  There are plenty of things wrong with tariffs, and one here is to raise the prices of the cheapest EVs, further discouraging people from making that transition.  Per “Don’t Slam the Door on Expensive Chinese Electric Vehicles” (Gernot Wagner and Conor Walsh, The New York Times, May 15th), “a recent survey” determined that 83% of US EV “drivers” were in the top half of national household income, with 57% with over $100,000.  Those numbers will not drop much soon.

Are electric vehicles moving in the right direction?  Not now.  It would be wrong to say they are in reverse – sales are still increasing, but they’re heading for a stall.  Do we want to almost require them within a handful of years?  It’s hard to say yes.  We won’t be ready, and the chances are increasing that we won’t during our lifetimes. 

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