Quick Facts About Roadblocks to EV Sales
Despite nonstop positive press, government subsidies, and Americans’ propensity for wanting and acquiring the newest “big thing,” electric vehicles (EVs) remain out of reach or unwanted by many in the United States. EVs are those cars, SUVs, and light trucks powered solely by electricity from a battery charged by plugging into an outside source. You will also sometimes see them called battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
According to Cox Automotive, Kelley Blue Book’s parent company, more than 1 million EVs were sold in 2023. Sales in Q3 alone topped 313,000, accounting for 7.9% of total industry sales. That’s a sizeable gain, up from 5.8% in 2022 and 3.2% in 2021. The figures will grow even more in 2024, but why is the proportion of electric vehicles not higher? With the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in EV marketing and incentives, how is it that EVs simply don’t have universal appeal? What roadblocks to electric car ownership prevent electric cars from being in every driveway?
What Are the Roadblocks?
Here at Kelley Blue Book, we spend a lot of time behind the wheel of EVs, driving them in real-world situations. Generally, we really like them. Our experiences run the gamut from the Chevy Bolt EV ($26,500) to the Mercedes-EQ EQS ($104,400). Overall, we give EVs high marks for acceleration, cutting-edge technology, quietness, and, of course, efficiency. Yet, we understand some consumer hesitation in making a $30,000-to-$100,000 commitment to a technology with which they still have some doubts.
Just what are those persisting doubts or roadblocks to EV ownership? We’ve looked to the experts at AAA car club for a few statistics and polled several of our editors and reviewers for some answers. The statistics are from a survey AAA published in July 2022, and many of the consumer concerns remain for 2024.
At 60%, tied for the top spot among the reasons for not buying an EV, according to AAA, is their high manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). Yes, there are a handful of affordably priced EVs, like the Hyundai Kona Electric, at $32,675. However, the bulk of EVs cost $40,000 or more. Cox Automotive data shows the average transaction price (ATP) for a new electric car is below $55,000, compared to about $48,000 across the industry. Even with incentives in December that made 10.6% of the ATP, the average monthly payment for a new EV was $833, while the average payment for new gas-powered vehicles was $693.
“At this point in the EV evolution, they’re a luxury purchase,” said executive editor Brian Moody. However, history shows us that the initial high price of products with new technology comes down.
Also registering as a primary roadblock for not buying an EV among 60% of Americans is charging station scarcity. In other words, some shoppers worry about being able to find a charger when away from home.
In reality, there are more than 60,000 public Level 2 and DC Fast chargers throughout the U.S., and several providers are increasing that number daily. Still, charger availability remains a serious concern for many, especially for potential EV buyers outside of urban areas. “The public charging infrastructure is growing, but it’s still nowhere near the nationwide availability of gas stations,” editor Eric Brandt said.
At 58%, nearly as many survey respondents are just as worried about range as the top two AAA concerns on our list. This is the case even though 60% of those same respondents believe EVs have a range somewhere between 100 miles and 350 miles. Indeed, the average range for vehicles is improving and road trips are possible. However, the fear of running out of juice without a charging station in sight remains as much of a concern today as it was five years ago. Still, proponents maintain the position that most EVs have more than enough range to accommodate most drivers’ average daily miles.
Although none of our Kelley Blue Book experts mentioned battery range as a continuing concern, they cited the loss of range in colder temperatures as a prevailing uncertainty. “EVs have a noticeably shorter driving range and longer charge times when the temperature is cold,” Moody explained. “The bottom line is, an EV will be a dramatically different experience for those living in upstate New York than those in Southern California.”
Brandt agreed, saying, “Freezing temperatures can reduce EV range by as much as 32%. There have even been reports of public charging stations not working at all in sub-zero temperatures, but gas pumps work just fine in any climate.”
Our experts all mentioned an insufficient variety of available EV models as a reason some consumers aren’t purchasing. “Car variety isn’t vast at the moment,” said reviewer Lyn Woodward. “And, if you are brand loyal to, say, Honda, they don’t even offer an EV.”
Moody chimed in, “The lack of availability of mid-priced all-electric SUVs is a barrier, for sure. Automakers need to make an EV SUV about the size of a Toyota Highlander and price it in the $40,000 range.”
Brandt pointed out the limited number of EV family vehicles. “What EVs are available for a family with four kids?” he said. “The cheapest 3-row EV is the Tesla Model Y for around $53,000 with a tiny third row. The family-friendly Rivian 1S starts at $78,000. There is good reason to stick with a $38,000 (gas-fueled) Honda Odyssey.”
EV battery warranties cover at least 8 years or 100,000 miles, with some automakers covering even more. For example, Mercedes-Benz covers 10 years or 155,000 miles. Despite the terms of battery-warranty coverage, concerns over the costs of replacing them persist. Of those AAA surveyed, 55% expressed replacement cost concerns. “Worries over battery cost and longevity are surely a barrier for the average new-car shopper,” Moody said.
Fewer AAA survey respondents, 33%, said the inability to install a charging station at home was a reason not to purchase an EV. According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 56.3 million Americans live in apartments. Millions of others own condos in multi-unit buildings. These all are problematic for charging EVs.
“As an apartment owner/dweller, I am at the mercy of the building HOA/management to install an EV charger,” said Woodward. “The expense of installing a charger (under such conditions) wouldn’t make the EV purchase worth it. Apartment renters face an even tougher struggle, especially in older buildings that would need to be rewired.”
Another potential EV roadblock is the effect towing — or hauling heavy payloads (people plus cargo), for that matter — has on an EV pickup truck’s range. Despite poor fuel economy, pickup trucks are America’s best-selling vehicles and have been for decades. Not every pickup truck performs heavy work, but many do. EV pickups offer significantly more torque, especially from a standing stop, than traditional piston trucks; however, the heavier the load or trailer, the less range.
Towing can cut the range by as much as half. Moreover, EV pickup trucks provide a much lower payload limit than combustion pickup trucks. While the standard Ford F-150 has a maximum payload of 3,335 pounds, the F-150 Lightning EV version’s payload limit is 2,000 pounds. Many truck buyers aren’t able to trade the work capability of piston pickups for the fuel-economy benefits of an EV pickup.
You’ve probably read or heard reports of EV battery fires. There have been enough of them to make some consumers wary. Although the frequency of EV fires per mile driven is no more than for gasoline-fueled cars. Some studies suggest EV fires are less frequent than fires in gas-powered cars. Still, the incidents gained the attention of the media and put that concern into the minds of many consumers.
There are indeed many EV repairs your neighborhood mechanic can’t make. Some electric-only brands like Tesla and Rivian have neither dealerships nor service centers. However, they will send a service technician to the vehicle’s location. Still, this leaves a degree of uncertainty that some consumers don’t want to deal with.