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America's Electric Vehicle Future

A long line of 2020 models charge outside a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)
A long line of 2020 models charge outside a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

President Biden took a spin in Ford’s new all electric F-150. American automakers say it’s not long before they’ll completely stop making cars that run on gas. Is this the turning point towards an all-electric future?


Darren Palmer, general manager of battery electric vehicles for Ford Motor Company.

Jeremy J. Michalek, professor of mechanical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Director of CMU’s Vehicle Electrification Group. (JJMichalek)

Also Featured

Brad Sowers, president of Jim Butler Auto Group, the largest seller of vehicles in Missouri.

Jonathan Levy, chief commercial officer at EVgo, a fast charging network. (@JonDC51)

Interview Highlights

On how to best understand the growth of the electric vehicle market

Jeremy J. Michalek: “This is an enormous change and it’s really a revolution. I mean, if you think about it, the past century we have relied almost entirely on petroleum for moving us around, moving people around, moving goods around. And we are at the beginning of an enormous change in how we power our vehicles.

“So, yes, a decade ago, electric vehicles, what was available was so limited. And so for such specific audiences now, with the introduction of the electric F-150 as an example, there’s whole new markets that have access to use these types of vehicles.

“So the growth has been exponential. I think last year was about 2% of all vehicles in the United States. But for cars specifically, it was more like 5% to 7%. And so trucks and SUVs are playing catch up. So there is enormous growth. It has been bigger in some other countries, like in China, it’s more like 6%. And the E.U.’s been jumping up to about 10%.

“With specific countries like Norway, I believe 80% of their vehicles are electric. What’s different in all these countries, public policy is a big difference. Diesel and petroleum is a lot more expensive to buy in Europe than it is here. So there are these different trajectories, but pretty much in all of the countries we’re seeing this exponential growth.”

In the past couple of years, what’s led consumers to buy more electric cars?

Jeremy J. Michalek: “If I had to narrow it down to two things, I would say battery cost and public policy. So let’s take each of those. Battery cost has dropped just enormously in the past 15 years. That’s partly because of economies of scale. The more we produce, the more efficiently we can produce them. It’s partly because we’re learning how to make batteries cheaper. And it’s partly because we’re learning how to make better technologies that are that are cheaper to manufacture, and last longer and have longer range and those kinds of things.

“So there has been enormous movement and it’s really outstripped most of the projections that were made, you know, five or 10 years ago, including my own. And so that has really made electric vehicles much more competitive for a mainstream audience. And not just those early adopters who are so enthusiastic about it that they’re sort of willing to pay extra. I think that’s one big thing. The other really big thing is public policy. So, for example, California requires automakers that want to sell vehicles in their state to have some percentage of those vehicles have no tailpipe emissions.

“And there’s only a couple of ways to do that electric or fuel cell. And so the automakers are forced to come up with a way to make electric vehicles. And some automakers have taken more of a compliance strategy, make kind of the minimum that they’re required to. But others have said, if I’m going to make electric vehicles, I’m going to go all in and try to make that a big part of my brand image and a big part of the vehicles that I’m selling.”

On the future of electric car charging stations 

Jeremy J. Michalek: “There’s very different levels of charging. At your home, you’re going to get like a level one or a level two charge. Level one is like any old outlet. Level two is like the thing that runs your electric dryer. It can charge a lot faster. But these really fast chargers, you can’t have them at home. They’re not safe. And so you need to have them in sort of a specialized location. And those are going to be really critical for, you know, if you live in Brooklyn or Manhattan or something. And parking is a big enough issue as it is.

“And now you’ve got to add in this additional challenge of trying to find a charger that’s available and then moving your car once it’s fully charged. I mean, it’s kind of a nightmare. But if you have this really fast charging, like a service station, where you can just as you’re running low on charge, stop by and grab a bag of chips and be on your way, that will make the difference.”

From The Reading List

MarketWatch: “Opinion: I’m an EV expert, and I’m skeptical about how quickly electric cars will go mainstream in the U.S.” — “Electric vehicle battery prices have fallen dramatically over the past 15 years, outpacing many past predictions, and electric vehicle sales are accelerating exponentially. Governments and businesses are announcing commitments to an all-electric future.”

New Yorker: “Your Electric Vehicle Can’t Get There from Here—At Least, Not Without a Charge” — “I pulled into a Whole Foods parking lot in Bedford, New Hampshire, hoping against hope—but no, someone was already there, their Chevy Bolt plugged into the fast charger. Damn.”

National Geographic: “Will charging electric cars ever be as fast as pumping gas?” — “Electric vehicles are gaining popularity fast, but some prospective buyers remain hesitant. One big reason is that charging EVs is slow.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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