As gas prices rose, so did the web searches for electric vehicles

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

With painfully high gas prices and a series of climate reports underscoring the urgency of moving away from burning fossil fuels, more Americans are showing interest in electric vehicles.

Google searches for electric cars have skyrocketed, reaching a record last month. On the Cars.com automotive ad website, electric vehicle searches rose 43 percent from January to February and 57 percent more from February to March. And carmakers are ready to cheer: almost every car ad during the February Super Bowl included electric vehicles.

But the journey toward real-world purchases that put more electric vehicles and fewer gas vehicles on U.S. roads has two major hurdles: the supply of cars and the infrastructure to charge them.

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

Even before gas prices began to rise, the supply of electric vehicles was strained by several factors. This includes supply chain problems, especially the scarcity of items such as semiconductors, which have hampered the entire automotive industry. The war in Ukraine has further disrupted production and long waiting lists for electric vehicles are common.

Scarcity is not universal, of course, but places where demand increases are not necessarily the same places where supply keeps up. In states like Arizona and Georgia, demand is significantly higher than supply on Cars.com right now, according to the website’s chief editor Jenni Newman. California has the highest demand and the highest supply.

While gas prices should further increase interest in electric vehicles, hybrids and overall fuel efficiency so that the economy becomes even better than it used to be (which was already good), consumers may not be able to get what they want and need, “said David Friedman. Consumer Reports vice president of law and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in an email.

This “reinforces the need for strong standards, because the best options must be available before prices rise, not in response to them,” Friedman said, referring to policies such as fuel emission standards. which create an incentive for carmakers to invest in electric vehicles.

Once people start driving electric vehicles, the second hurdle becomes apparent: the limits of public charging infrastructure. More cars will need more places to charge, preferably in places close to electric vehicle owners.

To date, most people who buy electric vehicles have been able to charge them at home, such as garage owners. This is a great option for many Americans, experts say, but it is not feasible for everyone. And even some people who can charge at home express concern 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, almost all people who buy electric vehicles have their own home and a place to charge it,” said Daniel Sperling, a professor of engineering and environmental policy at the University of California, Davis, and the director. founder. of the Institute of Transport Studies of the University. These buyers are usually wealthy and often own several cars, meaning they can use an electric vehicle for daily commuting, but they also have a gas vehicle for longer trips.

For people who do not have several cars and live in apartment buildings in densely populated cities where even regular parking is difficult to get, charging an electric vehicle is not as easy as plugging it into a power outlet. garage current, and its range between loads becomes a more urgent question.

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

In the long run, however, the International Clean Transportation Council found last year that the United States should increase the number of public chargers by an average of 25 to 30 percent annually by 2030 “for preventing charging infrastructure from being an obstacle to the electric vehicle market, “said Dale Hall, a senior board researcher.

Part of that is already happening, Mr. Tonachel. Utility companies have invested more than $ 3 billion in charging infrastructure, he said, and pending applications, if approved, would add billions more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year included another $ 7.5 billion for charging stations, and more broadly, the Biden administration is spending tens of billions of dollars on charging stations. promote electric vehicles.

But geographical disparities remain where these chargers are installed. And there is one basic problem: profit.

“It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit by selling electrons to vehicles,” said Professor Sperling, noting that at the moment most public chargers are subsidized in some way, either with government funding. , state or local) or by employers who treat it as an advantage. But “in the future, we’ll probably need one public charger for every 10 vehicles,” said Professor Sperling. “And it’s not very clear how this is going to happen.”

Hiroko Tabuchi provide reports.

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