One of the things that Elon Musk said during Tesla’s annual shareholder and Battery Day event that snagged my brain was that even though EV market share is up, most people don’t have an EV. It’s a simple statement, but the point is that we have a long way to go to get non-electric cars off the road.
As of 2019, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) noted that there were more than 1.18 million EVs on US roads as of March 2019, but as of April 2020, there were at least 273.6 million vehicles registered in the US. Although 1.18 million EVs is something to celebrate, this shows that EVs are not nearly as mainstream as we need them to be.
There are many reasons — largely myths — why people still choose not to go with an EV. The most common myths from people I know or who I’ve interacted with in person concern:
- Batteries catching on fire.
- Child labor/slave labor.
- Elon Musk.
Although there are Superchargers everywhere for Teslas, Tesla is the only EV maker that thought of ways to keep its customers from running out of power all across the country and even on long road trips. Today there are initiatives by federal, state, and even local governments — as well as EV charging companies and some large corporations — to install DC fast chargers along highways, but gas stations are much more commonplace.
People are still scared of being stranded. They have this vision of being on the road at 4 am in the middle of nowhere and stuck. They’d have to tow their car and go through all sorts of drama. So they just prefer a gas car.
The idea of losing range is silly in the sense that prevention is key. Many people who have smartphones often charge them fully before leaving the house — or even bring a charger with them. True, you can’t fit a Supercharger in your purse, but you do have the power to take preventative measures. Charging at home or work if possible can cover the vast majority of charging needs. If you don’t have those options, you have to find easy alternatives for regular use (like at grocery stores or large big box stores like Target). All you have to do is make sure you don’t head off on a long trip where you’re not going to be able to charge before running out of electricity.
However, range is still a major fear that will only be solved by word of mouth from close friends or relatives who own an EV.
EVs are much lower in price today than they used to be, but they still mostly cost much more (new) than the average American can fit into their budget.
Teslas are still expensive, even though the cost has dropped tremendously. A base price of about $40,000 is just too high a price for many people to stretch to. Other EVs competing with Tesla are in the same range or cost much more, with the exception of a small selection that are a bit cheaper, such as the Nissan Leaf.
The total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle is much more competitive, because you save a lot of money on lower-cost fuel and maintenance. However, the upfront costs of an EV or the monthly payments are still too high for many consumers.
This is one argument that I can’t really win unless the person I am talking with has a budget that works with at least a mid-priced automobile.
Elon Musk said basically the same thing earlier this year: “The thing that bugs me the most is that our cars are not affordable enough. We need to fix that.”
That said, even here, many more consumers could benefit from looking into total ownership costs and realizing that the savings from not buying expensive gasoline, having half the maintenance costs, and ending up with much less depreciation mean electric cars are more cost competitive than they seem on the surface.
New vs. Used
Whether you are buying new versus used also factors into this matter. There are more sales of used vehicles than there were new vehicles. In 2019, 17 million new vehicles were sold in the USA, while 40.8 million used vehicles were sold here.
In order for new EVs to get into the hands of consumers who can only afford to buy used cars, prices will have to drop immensely. Otherwise, transitioning the fleet of vehicles on the roads requires the same trickle-down process as with other automobiles — which means waiting years for new EVs to hit the used car market.
For more on this topic, see our used electric car archives.
Batteries Catching Fire
I was in an Uber headed home from the store when the topic of Tesla came up. My driver said, “But don’t the batteries always catch on fire?” Fortunately, they were talking to someone who researches and writes articles on EVs for a living. I asked him why is it that you’re not supposed to have your car turned on while pumping gas? And then I pointed out that you can have your car turned on while charging it.
In the case of Tesla, there was only one Tesla vehicle fire for every 175 million miles traveled from 2012 through 2019. If you compare that with information from the National Fire Protection Association and the US Department of Transportation, that pales in comparison with the average gas car. If you drive a gas car, you have a much higher chance of having your car catch on fire — there’s one fire for every 19 million miles traveled.
The idea that gasoline isn’t that flammable compared to batteries is absurd, but many people believe this myth for no clear reason. They know gasoline is flammable, but I think the reason why they don’t see it as dangerous as batteries is that they use gasoline daily, whereas batteries are new. Also, there have been many headlines on very few EV battery fires, but there are very few headlines on many, many gasoline car fires. People are comfortable with familiarity and EVs are not as familiar as gas cars. Again, word of mouth and increasing exposure are the top solutions to this problem.
Child and/or Slave Labor
Another myth is that Tesla and other EV makers use child slaves to mine their minerals to make their batteries. Child and slave labor, unfortunately, do exist in this world, and there are plenty of governments that simply do not care about human rights. But EV producers, including Tesla, have been working hard to source only “ethical” minerals.
This is a prime example of marketed misinformation. I’ve had people tell me some of the craziest lies about Elon Musk — lies that were marketed by headlines aiming to not just harm Elon, but to use his name to make some quick clicks (fast money).
The truth is, Elon Musk is an oddity — oddities stand out and are different from average humans, some of whom find this type of being threatening due to them being different from the “herd.” When you say something is impossible, Elon Musk does it. He launched a Tesla into space — something that many thought was cool while others thought it was silly or stupid. Some of those in the latter camp also believe that he’s some ruthless billionaire who has a secret agenda — or think he is insane for wanting to put a computer chip in your brain. Yet they don’t think twice about the tech placed in your heart to restart it if it stops.
Despite these myths I’ve encountered and debunked, people will eventually evolve — the only way into the future is forward. The International Energy Agency pointed out that EV deployment has been growing “rapidly” over the past decade. The global stock of EVs passed 5 million in 2018, which was an increase of 63% from the previous year. So, we are gradually evolving. I think that the more people are exposed to EVs, the more EVs we will see people buying year after year.