The U.S. Can Think Bigger on Electric Vehicle Adoption


America is making progress with electric vehicles (EVs): auto makers are pivoting towards EVs and chargers are popping up in parking lots all over. Sales of EVs have grown by an average of 46 percent annually over the past three years, bolstered in large part by the success of Tesla’s mass market Model 3.

However, our pace of progress is still not fast enough if we want to achieve a zero-carbon society by 2050. It is also not nearly as fast as countries like China and Norway, which have demonstrated that faster growth and adoption rates are possible.

The United States isn’t China or Norway, but their experiences show us that it is possible to transition away from fossil fuel-powered cars faster, and we can glean lessons from them that we can adopt in our own efforts to bring more EVs onto roads.

Up until this year, China offered incentives of up to $7,900 to manufacturers for every electric car with at least 400 km of range, while also investing in the nation’s charging infrastructure. As a result, China now makes up over 50 percent of global EV sales, with more than a million EVs sold in 2018. Norway has the highest EV ownership per capita in the world, with EV sales accounting for well over half of car sales – compared to barely over 2 percent in the U.S. – also as a result of heavy incentives and infrastructure investments.

These aggressive steps recognize that breaking more than a century of fossil fuel dependence in transportation is going to require consistent effort and a significant investment of money. The same amount of effort and resources will be needed in the United States.

To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, consumer incentives, such as tax credits and preferential access to parking or high occupancy vehicle lanes (at least initially), will be critical. Building up the charging infrastructure to support many more EVs will also be necessary. America needs more public chargers in parking lots, workplaces, and highway corridors, and state policies can ensure that new development and infrastructure projects include charging infrastructure. We also need to get more out of the charging infrastructure we already have. As our Ready to Charge report from earlier this year highlighted, too many charging stations are limited by exclusivity, opaque payment methods and lack of interoperable plugs. Policies that encourage the construction of more charging stations and that ensure that chargers are accessible through standardized plugs, are available 24/7, and have greater price transparency, would all be steps in the right direction.

Individual U.S. states are working to push things along by adopting a set of ambitious goals for EVs, such as California’s commitment to reach 5 million EVs by 2030, and Colorado’s decision  to join the Zero Emission Vehicle program, joining 10 other states in requiring car manufacturers to make EVs 5 percent of their vehicles for sale by 2023. In California, the state has gone further in promising $2.5 billion in investment for EV infrastructure and consumer rebates.

Other states can follow their lead and commit to more EVs themselves, and make the investments needed to make those goals a reality. As the examples of China and Norway show, public policies can make a huge difference in getting EVs on the road – and do so at a faster rate than many of us might have thought possible. We have an urgent need to fight pollution and reduce our impact on our climate; a stronger push for more EVs will help us get to where we need to be.

Image by MikesPhotos from Pixabay