As gas prices rose, so did Internet searches for electric vehicles

Are you considering buying an electric car? You are not alone.

With painfully high gas prices and a string of climate reports highlighting the urgency to move away from burning fossil fuels, more Americans are showing interest in electric vehicles.

Google searches related to electric cars have skyrocketed, reached a record number last month† On the auto ad website Cars.com, searches for electric vehicles increased 43 percent from January to February and another 57 percent from February to March. And automakers are ready: Almost all car commercials during the Super Bowl in February feature electric vehicles.

But the journey to actual purchases that will bring more electric vehicles and fewer gas-powered vehicles on roads in the United States has two major roadblocks: the supply of cars and infrastructure to charge them.

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

Even before gas prices started to rise, the supply of electric vehicles was under pressure from a number of factors. That includes the supply chain problems, especially shortages of items like semiconductors, which have hampered the auto industry as a whole. The war in Ukraine has further disrupted production and long waiting lists for electric vehicles are common.

Shortages are not universal, of course, but the places where demand increases are not necessarily the same places where supply stays up. In states like Arizona and Georgia, demand currently significantly exceeds supply on Cars.com, according to the website’s editor-in-chief, Jenni Newman. California has both the highest demand and the highest supply.

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

This “strengthens the need for strict standards because the better choices must be available before price spikes, not in response,” said Mr. Friedman, referring to policies such as fuel emission standards that encourage automakers to invest in electric vehicles.

As soon as people start driving electric, the second obstacle becomes clear: the limits of the public charging infrastructure. More cars will need more charging stations, preferably in places near electric vehicle owners.

Until now, most people who bought electric vehicles were people who could charge them at home, for example, homeowners with a garage. That’s an excellent option for many Americans, experts say, but it’s not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge at home worry about what the relative scarcity of charging stations would mean for their ability to travel long distances if they switched to an electric car.

“Right now, the people who buy electric vehicles almost all have their own homes and a place to charge them,” said Daniel Sperling, a professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis, and the founder and director. from the university’s Institute of Transportation Studies. These buyers tend to be wealthy and often own multiple cars, meaning they can use an electric vehicle for their daily commute, as well as a gas-powered vehicle for longer journeys.

For those who do not have multiple cars and live in apartment buildings in densely populated cities where even regular parking is difficult to find, charging an electric vehicle is not as simple as plugging it into a socket in the garage, and the range between charges is reduced. a more pressing question.

This hurdle is not necessarily immediate. “In the short term, the infrastructure can definitely meet the increasing demand,” said Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the longer term, however, the International Council on Clean Transportation determined last year that the United States should increase the number of public chargers by an average of 25 to 30 percent per year until 2030 “to prevent charging infrastructure from becoming a barrier to the electric vehicle market.” ,” said Dale Hall, senior researcher at the municipality.

Some of this is already happening, Mr Tonachel said. Utilities have invested more than $3 billion in charging infrastructure, he said, and pending applications, if approved, could bring in billions more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed Congress last year included an additional $7.5 billion for charging stations, and more broadly, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars promoting electric vehicles.

But geographic differences persist where those chargers are installed. And there remains one basic problem: profit.

“It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit by selling electrons to vehicles,” said Professor Sperling, pointing out that most public chargers are subsidized in some way, either through government funding — federal, state- or locally — or by employers who see it as a perk. But “in the future we will probably need one public charger for every 10 vehicles,” said Professor Sperling. “And it’s very unclear how this is going to happen.”

Hiroko Tabuchic contributed reporting.

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