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EV Discourse Once Again Lacks Nuance

 

Electric vehicles have once again become a political football.

As someone who lived through the Chevrolet Volt discourse all those years ago, I’m getting a sense of déjà vu.

To recap: Soaring gas prices lead to a Twitter discourse about EVs that was just, well, terrible.

Some EV advocates seemed to suggest that a mass move to EVs would help alleviate our dependence on fossil fuels (and thus lead to reduced demand for gasoline, which would cause prices to drop). Meanwhile, anti-EV folks pointed out that EVs are too expensive for the average consumer to switch to. The number $60,000 seemed to be thrown around as an average base price for EVs. They also pointed out that even if EVs don’t have tailpipe emissions, there’s still an environmental cost in terms of their assembly.

Both sides of the discussion were right about some things and wrong about others, but as usual in today’s world, there’s no place for nuance.

EV advocates are almost certainly correct that a long-term switch to EVs will be friendlier to our environment while reducing the demand for fuel consumption – even accounting for the environmental costs of manufacturing vehicles. But the keywords here are “long term”: As The Verge points out, even if Americans rushed out to buy EVs right freakin’ now, that wouldn’t solve the short-term problem of high prices at the pump.

Not to mention that as The Verge points out, the chip shortage and related (and unrelated) supply-chain problems are leading to low inventory, which means high prices. This means it’s going to be hard to find an EV (or any vehicle) right now, and even if you, it might not be affordable.

All this said, those who were saying that EVs are too expensive for the average consumer are both correct and wrong. Yes, many EVs are expensive. Perhaps they are thinking of Teslas, which are well-known to the average person, and also, generally speaking, expensive.

Certainly, some of last week’s discourse may be a callback to November 2021, in which conservatives attacked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for being out of touch when he said this: “The people who stand to benefit most from owning an EV [electric vehicle] are often rural residents who have the most distances to drive, who burn the most gas, and underserved urban residents in areas where there are higher gas prices and lower income,” Buttigieg said. “They would gain the most by having that vehicle. These are the very residents who have not always been connected to electric vehicles that are viewed as kind of a luxury item.”

That linked NY Post article contains a link to car-shopping site Kelley Blue Book that shows the average sticker price of an EV at $55,676, as of October 2021. The Verge cites the price for EVs as over $60K as of February of this year, and also says the average transaction price of an EV is $10K over the industry average.

This partisan criticism of Buttigieg ignores the fact that while the average MSRP of EVs is indeed high, there are affordable electric vehicles out there*, and government incentives still exist. Then again, Buttigieg seems to forget that EV charging in rural areas is sparse, at best.

*Affordable in normal times, anyway. As noted above, the current low-inventory situation may be driving prices up.

Here’s the truth: EVs will likely help move us away from fossil fuels in the long run, but a run on the EV market isn’t going to drop fuel prices this week. And not all EVs are too expensive for the average car shopper. Some folks would benefit from EVs, and some of those same folks can afford one.

That said, affordability is only part of the equation. Take me, for example – I wouldn’t buy even the most affordable EV. Not because I don’t like EVs or am worried about range, but because the building I live in doesn’t have a Level II charger. It would be massively inconvenient for me to own an EV. Again, once chargers are more plentiful – and are actually working as intended – and charge times come down, more consumers might make the shift.

In other words, while price holds some potential EV buyers back, others are held back from making the switch for other reasons, and high gas prices won’t change that.

I get it, gas prices cause a lot of our brains to break, and it’s easy to fall into partisan wrangling on social media when prices at the pump are high. I paid $4.79 for regular to re-fill a test vehicle the other day, and driving around Chicago this weekend, I saw prices at some stations that were close to $5.20 for regular.

High gas prices are a problem for most of us, so we naturally look to place blame – and propose possible solutions. But when it comes to EV discourse, the truth is nuanced. EV advocates, especially liberal pundits and pols, need to understand that EVs aren’t going to be the short-term savior, even if they do promise benefits over the long haul.

Meanwhile, anti-EV folks and/or conservative pundits and politicians need to understand that not all EVs are out of the price range for the average car buyer, at least when inventory is available, and that EVs likely will be beneficial to society eventually.

Finally, both sides need to learn that ignoring inconvenient truths to score political points only serves to make our discourse less honest.

There’s a reasonable debate to be had about the cause(s) of – and solution(s) to – high fuel prices. Too bad too many high-profile people (and random social-media users) don’t seem interested in that discussion.

[Image: U.S. Dept. of Transportation]

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