Credit: Coltura

Let’s Put An End To The Myth That Electric Cars Are Not Suitable For Rural Drivers

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There is a popular belief that people who live in rural areas of America are not good candidates for electric cars. They drive too far, there aren’t enough EV chargers available to charge them when away from home, and they can’t tow a 6-stall horse trailer up and over the mountains on the way to the next rodeo. There is some truth to all three of those beliefs, but according to a recent report from Coltura, an organization that works to reduce the amount of gasoline American use every year, there are perfectly good reasons why rural drivers should consider an electric car. The most prominent reason is money — electric cars can save people a lot of it.

The name Coltura is a combination of CO2 and culture. The group says its mission is to change the culture of acceptability of gasoline  — to change people’s satisfaction with gasoline to dissatisfaction with this polluting, expensive fuel. Just as the no smoking movement highlighted the dangers of secondhand smoke, the “beyond gasoline” movement highlights the health, equity, and climate harms of gasoline through art, social media, and public performances.

Electric Cars Have Many Benefits For Rural Drivers.

The report says people who live in the country tend to drive a lot. Nearly 70% of US road miles are in rural areas, and without much public transit, it makes sense that more rural households have cars than urban ones. Driving all those miles also requires more gasoline. Rural drivers consume 25.6% of all gasoline used by drivers of light duty vehicles in the US even though they are only 18.8% of all drivers. Then there are the rural “superusers” who make up just 3.6% of the U.S. population but consume about 1,950 gallons of gas annually, or nearly 13% of the nation’s total gasoline consumption. That equates to more than the entire gasoline use of Russia, India, Japan, or Canada, according to an analysis by the Rural Climate Partnership.

Buying all that gasoline costs a lot of money. Rural superusers earning below the national median income spend 25.5% of their household income on gasoline — a higher proportion than their urban or suburban counterparts. Even drivers of regular rural light-duty vehicles spend more of their household income on gas than non-rural drivers — 8.9% compared with 5.1%. All told, rural drivers buy more gas than non-rural drivers, but if they had electric cars that they could charge at home or work, they wouldn’t have to buy any gasoline at all. “It’s an economic equity issue as well as a climate issue with policy implications,” said Josh Ewing, director of Rural Climate Partnership, in a recent webinar with Coltura. Rural drivers “spend more to get around, which can impose an enormous economic burden on families.”

Asking Rural Drivers About Their Electric Cars

The people at Yale Climate Connections read the Coltura report and decided to ask some actual rural drivers of electric cars what their experience has been. Yes, it is not a scientific survey, two is a rather small sample size. But there are important lessons to be learned nonetheless.

Juliana and Sean Dockery live in Grass Valley, California, a rural community of 14,000 between Sacramento and Reno. Two years ago, they bought a Volkswagen ID.4, which is the only car for themselves and their three children.  Just 17% of rural Americans live within a mile of a public EV charger —  whereas 60% of urban dwellers do —  so it was reasonable to wonder whether they could keep their car charged without drama. Would they still be able to manage longer distance drives, like chaperoning out of town school field trips for their kids? Juliana told YCC recently that after two years driving their ID.4, the answer to both questions is yes.

Like most drivers of electric cars, the Dockerys charge their ID.4 mostly at home and use apps to plan longer trips around charging station availability. Juliana said even though she is excited to hear that more charging infrastructure are coming to their area, the family has already been able to get everywhere they need to go without drama. In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, she said the family has benefited financially by ditching their old gasoline powered Honda Fit and transitioning to the Volkswagen ID.4.

According to an online calculator, based on their vehicle types and California gasoline and electricity prices, the family saves $1,814 annually just by not having to buy gasoline. That adds up to more than $9,000 over five years The calculator takes into account how much they pay for electricity to charge their car at home.

Electric Cars Find Their Place In Vermont

On the other side of the country in Richmond, Vermont, Jennifer Brookes and her husband have been driving a Ford F-150 Lightning since 2022. She estimates that driving her e-truck saves $2,000 to $3,000 per year in gas and maintenance, again accounting for the cost of electricity to charge at home. She also points out that her vehicle is cheaper to maintain, as are many electric cars. “Our truck requires only tire rotation and a quick fluids check. The service is free for the first couple years and only costs like $50-$100 a couple times a year thereafter. Our other car runs something like $800-$1,000 a year to maintain, excluding tire purchases.”

A home charging station is key for both the Dockery and the Brookes families. These are often less expensive to install than people think, thanks to a federal tax credit of up to $1,000 that is part of the Inflation Reduction Act passed two years ago as part of the Biden administration’s climate agenda. According to a Climate Nexus survey on consumer perceptions, most people are still not aware that the IRA provides a $7,500 credit to buy or lease a qualifying new electric car in addition to the $1,000 tax credit for installing an electric car charger at home.

There are important non-monetary benefits for these two families as well. According to a US Department of Energy calculator, people like the Dockerys generate 1,385 pounds of charging related emissions annually, compared with 12,594 pounds of climate pollution for an average gasoline-powered car. In Vermont, where almost 100% of the state’s energy mix is renewable, the Brookes and other EV drivers contribute virtually zero emissions from charging their vehicle.

The Takeaway

In the conclusion to its report, Coltura says, “Focusing efforts on the transition of rural gasoline superusers to EVs can unlock significant economic benefits for rural households burdened by disproportionate fuel expenses and achieve a substantial reduction in national gasoline use. Further, increasing EV adoption by superusers in rural areas can catalyze expanded charging networks to enhance accessibility and convenience for all electric car drivers. State governments and policymakers should forge strategic, data-informed initiatives that prioritize the economic and environmental well being of rural communities.”

When I mentioned this in the executive dining room at CleanTechnica global headquarters, my colleagues all responded with a simple, “Amen.”

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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