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5 Unsolved Problems That Are Obstacles To Greater EV Adoption

by Stephen Fogel

The outlook for electric vehicles (EVs) has never been better. There are more EVs on the market than ever before, with many more being released within the next few years. There are electric sedans, electric SUVs, and electric sports cars. It truly seems that a golden age of EVs is upon us.

But the numbers say otherwise. EVs make up only three to four percent of annual sales in the US market, where they are widely available. On a worldwide basis, EVs represent only 0.2 percent of all light vehicles. How can this be?

As it turns out, there are some very good reasons why there are not more EVs cruising along our roads and highways. Here are the 5 top unsolved problems that are obstacles to greater EV adoption:

1. Cost

EVs are expensive because their batteries are expensive. EV batteries use lithium and cobalt, substances which are in tight supply and high demand. The construction of the batteries is complex and time-consuming. Lithium-ion batteries require cooling systems to prevent overheating. The battery packs must be protected from impacts that can lead to damage and intense fires. This is why an EV’s long-range battery pack alone can cost $8,000 to $10,000. And that’s also why EVs are more expensive than conventional vehicles.

The market has shown that it will not accept an EV that carries a large price premium over a comparable internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, as most do today. Once that price parity between the two types of vehicles is achieved, probably around 2025, cost will no longer be an obstacle to EV sales.

2. Range

Most EVs are unable to go as far on a charge as the average ICE vehicle. Consumers considering an EV purchase often balk at EVs’ limited range, which produces a condition known as “range anxiety.” Most mass-market EVs have a range of 100 to 150 miles, which is simply insufficient for consumers used to getting 350 miles or more on a tank of fuel. Add to this the increased power consumption from using the heater in winter and the air conditioner in summer, and you have a serious range problem.

While some EVs are now available with 200+ miles of range, this is still not enough for the needs of most single-vehicle families. Today’s best performing EVs are approaching and even exceeding 300 miles of range, but these are premium vehicles that are out of financial reach of the average consumer. Until the average EV can go as far on a charge as an ICE vehicle can go on a fill up, EV sales will be limited.

3. Charging Time

This is yet another area where EVs will need to be the same or better than ICE vehicles. Filling up at the average gas station takes five minutes or so. Fully charging your EV on your 240V Level 2 home charger will take eight hours, give or take. This is not acceptable to the general populace. Even a half-hour stop at a Tesla Supercharger or a DC fast charger is more time than most people want to spend “refueling.”

Once you can charge your EV in five minutes or less, this major obstacle to more widespread EV ownership will be gone.

4. Charging Infrastructure

Most EV owners are perfectly fine with charging at home every night, and driving around their local area each day. But when it comes time to take your EV on a longer trip outside of your home area, recharging plans need to be made. This can be a cause of stress and added travel time during a trip.

Unlike gas stations, EV charging stations may be hard to find. They may not be open, they may not work, they may be blocked with other EVs that are using them, or they may not be compatible with your vehicle’s charging system. Chargers may not be open to the public, or they may use a payment app you don’t have. They may be very expensive, or you may have to pay a steep fee for parking while you charge. There may be no signage identifying the charger’s location, or there might even be an ICE car parked in front of the charger, blocking it.

Unless you own a Tesla, and have access to their extensive Supercharger network, finding a charging station for your EV can be a hassle that could leave you stranded. Until the entire charging infrastructure is compatible, accessible, plentiful, and reasonably priced, the sales of EVs will be limited to the true EV believers, and not average car buyers.

5. Public Policies & Incentives

Because EVs are more expensive to purchase, and more difficult to charge away from home, a variety of actions have been taken by various governmental authorities to encourage the adoption of EVs. These include:

  • Tax credits for purchase of an EV
  • Tax exemptions for EV buyers
  • Use-based benefits (free use of toll roads, free public charging, HOV lane access, etc.)
  • Requirements that manufacturers produce a specified amount of ZEVs
  • Carbon taxes

It has been determined that policies that reduce the price of an EV, or give improved access to charging facilities, are the most effective incentives. Tax exemptions, such as Norway’s purchase tax and VAT exemptions, plus free parking, road tolls and ferry fees, have worked very well, making EV ownership there much less expensive than ICE vehicle ownership.

But there is room for improvement. Some of these incentives, such as the US EV tax credit, are not fully usable by lower-income consumers, who do not pay high enough income taxes to completely benefit from the credit. California has had to dial back its HOV lane access for single-occupant EVs and PHEVs, due to serious congestion issues. Better policies will be necessary in this area before EV sales can accelerate.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There are a great many committed EV pioneers who have stepped up and voted with their wallets, and that is a truly wonderful thing. In the meantime, the rest of the world is waiting for an electric vehicle that is reasonably priced, has a long range, can be charged in a few minutes, and can be driven anywhere with no charging hassles.

Once that goal is achieved, there will be no need for government incentives. By being just as easy to live with as ICE vehicles currently are, the inherent advantages of EVs (lower cost of electricity vs. fuel, lower maintenance costs, quiet operation, environmental benefits) will make them the logical choice for the average consumer. When that happens, the battle will be over, and EVs will have won.