A stroll around the DC Auto Show recently showed the full range of electric vehicles available, from the $525,000 Rolls Royce model to the $27,495 Chevy Bolt (about $20,000 with the $7,500 federal tax credit at time of purchase).
Gabe Klein, Executive Director of the Office of Transportation and Energy, told a session at the show that there are about 100 EV models available now, of all types. EV sales in the U.S. hit a record 1.4 million in 2023. Klein added that is “a 50% increase in one year and nearly 10% of auto sales, saying “since President Biden took office, EV sales have more than quadrupled.”
Most automakers have EVs available or in production now, including Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (Chrysler), BMW and Mercedes Benz, as well as newer. smaller EV OEMS (original equipment manufacturers) like Rivian, Polestar and Lucid. Then there’s Tesla, of course. A spreadsheet on the Department of Energy website lists about 72 EV and Plug-In hybrid EV models, and about 133 hybrid vehicles.
David Turk, Deputy Secretary of Energy told the session that many EVs are affordable now too, especially with the $7,500 tax credit available at the purchase.
The chicken and the egg theory of tax credits
In a previous session at the DC Auto Show, Republican Congressmen pushed back aggressively on the need for the tax credit because EVs are only 10% of vehicle sales. When I asked Turk and Trottenberg about this opposition, Turk replied that scaling fast requires incentives.
“The way I would respond to that is, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg in any new industry, right? In order to get the cost down, you need to get the scale. In order to get the scale, you need to bring cost down,” Turk explained. “So, what we’ve seen in country after country that’s made success in the EV transitions is, you’ve got to have some investments, some purposeful, some intentional investment, doing it in a very targeted way to get to scale, that then bring this cost down.”
Turk also emphasized that China is ahead of the U.S. on EV manufacturing and that if we don’t make these investments – including those in the Infrastructure Investment Act IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the CHIPS and Science Act, all passed by the last Congress (under Democrats) – we’ll see China dominate this market and the jobs it creates.
It’s worth noting that, even though they voted against them, many Republicans are taking credit for these investments in their districts, including Representative Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY), and Representative Pete Stauber (R-MN).
But EV charging is a big problem
The biggest hurdle to EV sales today, though, is that drivers don’t trust they will find working EV chargers accessible where and when they need them. Still.
The Infrastructure Act allocated $7.5 billion to build EV chargers across the nation, with a goal of 500,000 chargers, but it’s up to state and local governments to build them, and that effort is stalled. Progress has been made though, Klein emphasized, “I was hoping we’d hit 170,000 (chargers installed) as of today, where it’s like 169,876, not that I’m counting, but we’re very close. (That’s) a 75% increase in chargers, public chargers, since the president took office.”
Other ways these officials said the Biden administration is tackling this problem include that they negotiated open-access to the Tesla NACS fast chargers for most EVs. As a result, several OEMs have agreed to use the Tesla plug standard in their vehicles, including General Motors, Ford, VW, Mercedes Benz and BMW, so their customers can use Tesla chargers.
Additionally, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg said they are collaborating across agencies, especially the DOT and DOE, and leveraging grants, to address it as an “ecosystem” problem. “It is a learning process. I think the goal here is to help the public sector get better at managing and operating these (charging) systems, working with the private sector,” she added. “And, I think we’re trying to do that with some of these grant dollars to find those places where we’re seeing those gaps.”
The Biden administration just announced “$623 million in grants to help build out an electric vehicle (EV) charging network across the U.S,” from the Infrastructure Investment Act.
New Consortium to fix broken EV chargers
“Reliable” means working when you get there, though and research firm JD Power found that, “Through the end of Q1 2023, 20.8% of EV drivers using public charging stations experienced charging failures or equipment malfunctions that left them unable to charge their vehicles.”
To fix them, the Biden administration formed what they call “the Charge X Consortium.” Klein described it as, “75 companies working with three National Labs on everything from unified payment systems to standardized error codes,” with the goal of “dramatically increasing the reliability and the usability of the existing system” within two years.
Trottenberg said initiatives to fix these broken chargers are among those she’s most proud of and announced new funding to do so. “We are awarding a total of nearly $149 million in our new, it’s a little bit of a mouthful, the new EV Charger Reliability and Accessibility Accelerator grant program, EVCRAA I think is what we’re calling it, in 20 states, and the funding is going to be used to address, what I think, is a very acute and important need. That is, the need to repair and replace existing, but broken or non-operational EV chargers across the country and bring them up to code.”
They’re in a hurry too. “We’re going to get it done in a year. We’re going to do it at a lightning speed,” Trottenberg added, “and those chargers are required to remain operational for five years. So, it is going to be, I think, a profound addition to the EV charging inventory.”
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Joan Michelson is an ESG consultant, host of the acclaimed Electric Ladies Podcast, dynamic public speaker and career advisor. energy, climate and sustainability, ESG (environment-social-governance). @joanmichelson or electricladiespodcast.com
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