Why Buy Electric?
A DISCUSSION OFWhy the US Trails the World in Electric Vehicles
It is true that the United States, once the global leader in electric vehicles, is falling behind China and Europe, as John Paul Helveston writes in “Why the US Trails the World in Electric Vehicles” (Issues, Winter 2021). The policies the author references in China and Norway have an underlying theme: they make gasoline vehicles more expensive and less convenient to own compared with electric vehicles. In the United States where vehicle purchase tax and gas prices are very low, buyers have no reason not to purchase a gasoline car. Every time a household purchases a new gasoline vehicle, it is more comfortable, more efficient, cheaper to run, safer, and better equipped than ever before. There is nothing pushing car buyers away from gasoline vehicles, and therefore consumers do not seek alternatives such as electric vehicles.
On the issue of US car dealerships not selling or promoting electric vehicles, we should look to automakers, not dealerships, to get to the source of this issue. Dealerships sell the vehicles that automakers produce; if automakers don’t produce electric vehicles in large numbers, dealerships cannot sell them in large numbers, and therefore won’t be motivated to train salespeople on selling electric vehicles.
On the issues of government regulations, the increase in electric vehicle sales in Europe is largely attributed to European emissions standards, which are difficult to comply with without selling electric vehicles. In the United States, federal fuel economy standards may not be sufficient to do this, and the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) sales mandate, which is often credited with the commercialization of electric vehicle technology, needs to be updated to encourage more electric vehicle sales.
Without more progressive fuel economy standards and more ambitious ZEV sales targets coupled with higher gasoline prices and higher vehicle tax, the United States may continue to lag behind Europe and China. As Helveston notes, a more aggressive approach is certainly needed.
Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center
Institute of Transportation Studies
University of California, Davis