President Biden’s goal of transitioning the country from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric cars is fraught with challenges from sticker shock for consumers to the knotty logistics of recharging batteries.
Nevertheless, Mr. Biden’s climate change agenda depends on a retooling of the transportation sector, which accounts for 29% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
“Look, the future of the auto industry is electric. There’s no turning back,” Mr. Biden said during a visit to a Ford Motor Co. electric vehicle plant in Michigan. “We’re going to set a new pace for electric vehicles.”
One of the biggest detriments to electric vehicle ownership is the high cost.
Last year, Car and Driver magazine estimated that the base price of a compact gasoline-powered car was significantly lower than its electric counterpart.
For instance, the price of a Mini Cooper averaged around $24,000, while the Mini Electric ranged upwards of $30,000. Similarly, the base price for a conventional Ford F-150 starts around $28,000, while the “entry-model” electric version will be priced at upwards of $39,000.
More problematic is the lower driving range for electric cars on one full battery charge.
The electric Ford F-150 will have a total range of slightly more than 300 miles per battery. Its gas counterpart can go nearly 600 miles on one tank of gasoline, according to the company.
“The price and efficiency differential is one reason for why electric cars will struggle to overtake gas-powered vehicles,” said Dan Kish, a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research. “People don’t want to pay for something more expensive and less reliable just because it’s green.”
Despite the roadblocks to an EV future, automobile manufacturers are racing ahead. Car giants, including Ford and General Motors, have pledged to produce an all-electric fleet by 2035.
“Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution by putting everyone in an electric vehicle,” GM CEO Mary Barra said when announcing the decision.
Environmentalists also tout myriad benefits from electric cars, including reduced air pollution, cleaner streets and massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
A single electric car saves an average of 1.5 million grams of carbon dioxide or the equivalent of four roundtrip flights from New York to Atlanta, according to EV proponents.
To reap the benefits, however, environmentalists have to convince Americans that buying battery-powered cars is worth the expense.
Mr. Biden is aware of the price problem. The White House has proposed to expand the current $7,500 tax credit available to individuals purchasing electric vehicles. Talks are also underway to give the automobile industry a bevy of tax credits and subsidies.
The incentives would go to manufacturers to offset the higher cost of producing electric cars. The component most responsible for the high cost in most cases is the advanced batteries.
In some cases, the battery needed to power a midsize electric sedan runs upwards of $15,000.
“If you’re a car executive, this is a dream for you,” said Steve Milloy, who served on the Trump-Pence EPA transition team. “You get to charge a lot more for cars, and the cost will be subsidized by taxpayers.”
Even if manufacturers were able to discount the price of electric vehicles, the lack of proper charging infrastructure will hamper the transition away from gas-powered cars.
As of February, there were only 97,589 charging outlets across the country for plug-in electric vehicles. Nearly one-third of that total, more than 32,000 outlets, were in California alone.
Across the entire U.S., there was about 40,500 electric vehicle charging stations.
That’s roughly one charging station for every 6,800 cars in the U.S.
There were more than 276 million total registered vehicles within the U.S. in 2019. The sum includes both individually owned passenger cars and commercial vehicles, including publicly-owned buses, according to the Bureau of Transportation.
The White House wants its infrastructure package to include at least $174 billion for electric vehicles. At least $40 billion would be used to install 500,000 charging stations across the country.
It remains to be seen if more public charging stations boost demand for electric vehicles.
A study published in Nature Energy, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, found that one out of five electric vehicle owners in California reverts to gas-powered vehicles when buying their next car. The individuals who took part in the study said the main reason for their decision was not having easy access to charging at home, rather than in public.
Complicating matters further is the charge span of electric vehicle batteries. The typical battery used to power an electric car takes upwards of 8 hours to charge from empty to full.
The extensive charging time has forced most owners to continuously charge their vehicles, contributing to high electricity bills.
The source of electricity for the EV future is another wrinkle in Mr. Biden’s vision of a 100% carbon-free America.
Energy experts argue that a stable and abundant electricity supply would be required for electric vehicles to overtake gas-powered cars.
Currently, coal and natural gas industries produce 63% of all electricity consumed in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. The green economy promised by the White House includes decarbonizing the electricity sector in favor of solar and wind power.
“Here we are crippling our grid, by shifting the reliance on wind and solar,” Mr. Milloy said. “Yet they want to load up the electric grid even more by having people charging their cars 24/7, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Concerns also exist that the Biden administration’s embrace of electric vehicles will only serve to benefit America’s biggest economic competitor: China.
A report by the London-based firm, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, found that China produced 80% of the total raw materials used for advanced batteries. That includes not only lithium but also cobalt, nickel and graphite — all central to producing electric vehicles.
In 2019, China produced 72% of the world’s lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, while the U.S. only accounted for 9%. Such batteries are most frequently used to power electric vehicles, according to the Energy Department.
The communist regime’s advantage is the result of long-range investment and planning.
Beijing is on track to develop at least 107 lithium-ion battery mega factories throughout 2030. At least 53 of those factories are already up and running. The U.S. is only expected to develop nine mega factories in the same span. Only three of those mega factories are currently up and running.
“The supply chain for electric vehicle batteries runs directly through China,” said Myron Ebell, director of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment. “It’s more or less impossible to open a new rare earth mineral processing plant in the U.S. because of our stringent regulations.”
China’s monopoly of the rare earth mineral market is unlikely to change any time soon. Last week, Mr. Biden announced that the U.S. would not seek to excavate the minerals and metals required for electric vehicle batteries, choosing instead to rely on trade for such sources.