President Biden’s goal of transitioning the country from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric cars is fraught with challenges, including sticker shock for consumers and 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 national greenhouse gas emissions each year.
“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.
Car and Driver magazine reported last year that the base price of a compact gasoline-powered car was significantly lower than its electric counterpart.
The price of a Mini Cooper averaged around $24,000, while the Mini Electric ranged upwards of $30,000. The base price for a conventional Ford F-150 starts around $28,000, but the “entry-model” electric version will be priced at more than $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-fueled counterpart can go nearly 600 miles on one full tank, the company said.
“The price and efficiency differential is one reason for why electric cars will struggle to overtake gas-powered vehicles,” said Dan Kish, a distinguished 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. Ford, General Motors and other industry giants have pledged to produce all-electric fleets 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 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 3,300 pounds of carbon dioxide during its life cycle, or the equivalent of four round-trip flights from New York to Atlanta, EV proponents say.
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 an expansion of the $7,500 tax credit available to individuals who purchase electric vehicles. Talks are 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 battery.
In some cases, the battery needed to power a midsize electric sedan runs more than $15,000.
“If you’re a car executive, this is a dream for you,” said Steve Milloy, who served on the Trump-Pence Environmental Protection Agency 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 prices of electric vehicles, the lack of proper charging infrastructure would hamper the transition away from gas-powered cars.
As of February, only 97,589 charging outlets were available across the country for plug-in electric vehicles. Nearly one-third, more than 32,000 outlets, were in California alone.
About 40,500 electric vehicle charging stations were in service across the U.S. — roughly one charging station for every 6,800 electric cars.
In 2019, more than 276 million vehicles were registered in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The number includes both individually owned passenger cars and commercial vehicles, including publicly owned buses.
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 whether more public charging stations boost demand for electric vehicles.
A study published in Nature Energy, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, found that one-fifth of electric vehicle owners in California revert to buying gas-powered vehicles. Those surveyed said the main reason was a lack of easy access to charging at home rather than in public.
Complicating matters is battery charging time. It takes more than eight hours to fully charge an empty electric car battery using a standard household outlet without any modifications.
Because of the extensive time, most owners continuously charge their vehicles, contributing to high electricity bills.
Electricity sourcing is another wrinkle in Mr. Biden’s vision for a 100% carbon-pollution-free power sector.
Energy experts say a stable and abundant electricity supply would be required for electric vehicles to overtake gas-powered cars on the road.
Coal and natural gas industries produce 63% of all electricity consumed in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. The green economy that the White House promises 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.”
Another concern is that the Biden administration’s embrace of electric vehicles will serve to benefit only America’s biggest economic competitor: China.
A report by the London-based firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence said China produces 80% of the total raw materials used for advanced batteries. Lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite are all central to producing electric vehicles.
In 2019, China produced 72% of the world’s lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, while the U.S. accounted for 9%. Such batteries are most frequently used to power electric vehicles, the Energy Department says.
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 megafactories through 2030. At least 53 of those factories are already up and running. The U.S. is expected to develop only nine megafactories in the same span. Only three are now operating.
“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 anytime soon. Last week, Mr. Biden announced that the U.S. would rely on trade instead of domestic excavation of the minerals and metals required for electric vehicle batteries.