It appears the age of all-electric vehicles is upon us.
President Joe Biden is proposing $174 billion in spending to boost the electric vehicle market, and he wants incentives for state and local governments to build electric vehicle charging stations to power those new cars. Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions also mandates that all new cars sold in the state be electric by 2035.
But as desirable as those goals may be, are they realistically achievable?
Scott Shepard, principal research analyst for the technology consulting firm GuideHouse, has no doubt about it.
“It is going to happen," he said. "It is not pie in the sky. And some of the reasons why it's going to happen have to do with the momentum the technology has."
Shepard cited dramatic technological improvements that are removing the barriers to consumer acceptance. The principal ones have been cost and what's know as "range anxiety," or the fear of running out of juice with no outlet in sight.
His research shows that over 5 years, the cost of battery-powered electric vehicles has declined by 30% while the distance they can travel without needing a recharge has grown by 40%.
A study done by another consulting firm showed a dramatic increase in consumer sentiment for electric vehicles. In the spring of 2020, 34% of respondents to an Oliver Wyman survey said they would be willing to buy one. In March 2021, that figure shot up to 51%.
Scott Smith of Holliston began looking at electric vehicles 10 years ago. But the Nissan Leaf he was considering could travel only about 70 miles before needing a recharge. Plus, his wife really didn’t like the unusual look of the little car. But as he saw the improvements being made in electric vehicle development and design, he took another look — and finally took the plunge three years ago.
Guy Bedeau, the Milford Nissan salesman who sold Smith his electric car, said he sold very few electric vehicles when he first started working 10 years ago. But that all changed thanks to Elon Musk.
”Tesla ... captured the imagination of a lot of people in a way that a traditional battery powered car didn't,” he said.
Teslas now make up about 80% of all electric vehicles registered in the U.S. But the cars are still expensive, which is why rebates have been essential in jump starting the transition to electric.
Smith was offered a generous dealer discount of $10,000 and rebates totaling another $10,000 — $2,500 from the state and another $7,500 from the federal government. What would have been a $40,000 purchase ended up costing him just $20,000. That convinced him it was a good deal.
Paulina Muratore of the Union of Concerned Scientists supports rebates but said they should be offered at point of sale rather than making buyers wait months for the money. She also believes they should be extended to used electric vehicles, which would make them more affordable for lower-income buyers.
Given all the improvements, the stars seem aligned for an electric vehicle revolution. Favorable government policies, improving battery technology, pricing incentives, a wider choice of vehicle types and higher gas prices will all drive the change.
And then there's the word of mouth endorsements from enthusiastic owners like Smith, who has enjoyed three trouble-free years with his Nissan Leaf.
“I tell people all the time, the minute you drive an electric vehicle and you get back into your fossil fuel burner, it's a night and day difference," he said. "I just think the adoption is going to accelerate massively, because it just makes sense.”