(NEW YORK) — With the national average for a gallon of gasoline stuck above $4, some Americans may be ready to go electric.
Searches for “green vehicles” on Edmunds.com jumped 39% over the last month as fuel prices skyrocketed. Battery electric vehicles totaled 2.6% of new vehicle purchases in 2021, according to Edmunds, and that number could rise to 4% this year.
“People are very frustrated with gas prices right now and are searching for alternatives,” Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights, told ABC News. “In 2008 — the last time we saw significant consumer reaction to gas prices — people moved into smaller vehicles. The dialogue now is about EVs, not downsizing.”
EVs, however, come with a hefty price tag. The average transaction price for a new EV was $60,054 in February versus $45,596 for the industry average, according to Edmunds.
“It’s a big commitment to get into an EV. These are luxury-priced products,” Cox Automotive senior economist Charlie Chesbrough told ABC News.
Even so, “a lot of vehicle shoppers will consider electric vehicles and whether they meet their family needs. Nothing makes Americans more unhappy than seeing high gas prices,” he said.
So if you’re new to EV ownership and intrigued by these silent, battery-powered machines, here’s what you need to know before pulling the plug on internal combustion engines.
Mark Wakefield, a managing director at AlixPartners, said owning an EV is a “bigger shift” for a consumer than downsizing an engine or vehicle. But ICE vehicles have more parts and require more assembly, which translates to higher maintenance costs.
Chad Kirchner, editor-in-chief of website EV Pulse, noted that EV drivers who are skilled at one-pedal driving (releasing on and off the accelerator) rarely use the brake pedal.
Replacing the brakes “is a maintenance cost you don’t have to worry about as an EV owner,” Kirchner told ABC News. Plus, “when you let off the accelerator and let the car coast, you’re recharging the battery,” he said.
And EV batteries can last at least a decade, John Voelcker, a contributing editor at Car and Driver, pointed out.
“Batteries are designed to last the lifetime of a car — with some range loss,” he told ABC News. “Leaving the car plugged in for a week won’t impact the battery. Don’t expect to replace the battery in the first 10 years.”
Voelcker said a vehicle’s range — the number of miles an EV can travel on a full charge — drops as the battery ages. But carmakers are getting better at reducing range degradation.
“In the worst circumstance, maybe 30% of a vehicle’s range will take a hit” over 10 to 15 years, he said.
EV motorists who live in colder climates can also expect less range as the mercury drops.
“Heat in cold weather is a range killer. You can lose up to a third of your rated range if you have the heat blasting,” Voelcker said. “Heat and to a lesser degree air conditioning affects your range more than it does a gasoline-powered vehicle.”
Repairs for an EV (no more oil changes and air-filter replacements!) can cost $330 less than a gas-powered car, a savings of $949 annually, according to a 2020 AAA study.
Tesla and General Motors have sold more than 200,000 EVs in the U.S. since 2010, meaning new buyers of Teslas or GM’s Bolt or Hummer EV pickup no longer qualify for tax credit savings, which phase out after an automaker reaches the 200,000 federal sales cap limit.
Consumers still have an array of EVs (including plug-in hybrids) to choose from to receive a tax credit up to $7,500; nearly every automaker now produces a qualifying electric vehicle. It’s important to note, however, that any tax credit only applies to new purchases of an EV; leases are not eligible.
EV owners who claim the $7,500 reduction may not get the full credit; the owner’s tax liability has to total at least $7,500 for the year the vehicle was purchased.
The driving experience
Love hearing the crackles, pops and growls of a powerful engine? Then an EV may not be the right choice. EVs are completely silent unless they’re traveling below speeds of 18.6 mph to warn pedestrians and cyclists. Automakers have also largely refused to pump in “artificial” ICE sounds into the cabin.
But not hearing the constant engine noise allows for a calmer and more peaceful ride, Voelcker said.
Another benefit of EVs is the instant acceleration. “There is no transmission shifting, just a single, smooth surge of power. You get maximum torque from zero rpm,” he said.
One-pedal driving may require a little bit of practice and patience, though. Some EVs come with a vehicle creep feature that allows the vehicle to automatically move from a standstill when the brake pedal is released, replicating the feeling of an ICE.
“It’s OK to climb in the car and not like one-pedal driving … it can be weird getting used to,” Kirchner said.
Added Voelcker: “You learn to modulate the accelerator and literally drive with one foot. Electric cars can drive exactly like regular cars with automatic transmissions.”
Matt Stover, Ford’s director of charging, energy services and business development, agreed that one-pedal drive can be startling at first. Now, when he drives the Mustang Mach-E SUV, Ford’s first EV, he only touches on the brake pedal in an emergency situation. He also noted that 70% of Mustang Mach-E customers are new to Ford, with the majority new to EVs overall. Ford sold 63,683 Mach-Es globally in 2021.
“The SUV is bringing new customers to the brand,” he told ABC News.
More than 80% of EV battery charging occurs at home, according to government data. Owners can plug in their vehicles at night and expect a full charge in the morning. Apartment dwellers will have to seek out public charging stations scattered along highways and shopping centers. Rural communities are also at a disadvantage; automakers and operators of EV networks are actively building stations to meet demand in these areas.
Owners can opt for a 110-volt cord or have an electrician install a hard-wired 240-volt outlet into a garage for even faster charging (as little as 20 minutes depending on the model and type of battery).
“People have misapprehensions about charging. Because we don’t have gas pumps at home, we don’t think about refueling a car at home overnight,” said Voelcker. “Installing a charging station is the same circuit as a clothes dryer but a little more powerful. You’re not installing a nuclear reactor.”
For customers who purchase or lease a 2022 Bolt EUV or Bolt EV, Chevrolet will cover standard home installation of a powerful Level 2 charging outlet.
Stover, of Ford, said EV owners first have to take into account the size of the vehicle’s battery — a larger battery offers greater range but takes longer to charge — and what type of experience they want. Every Mach-E comes with a mobile charging cord that can deliver power at 120 volts.
“It’s not a great day-to-day experience,” Stover acknowledged. Many Mach-E owners though are taking that mobile cord as they travel, he said, and finding EV charging stations via the Ford Pass app.
Ford also provides all Mach-E customers with 250 kW worth of free public fast charging via Electrify America (about five full charges) and customers also have access to the company’s BlueOval Charge Network — a public charging network with more than 70,000 chargers.
Kirchner said the FordPass app, along with the My Porsche app and Volvo On Call app, are incredibly helpful for EV owners who need to charge away from home and keep tabs on a vehicle’s charging status. But it’s Tesla that has the best in-trip planning functionality, he argued.
“You put in a destination and the car will tell you where you need to stop for charging and and how long it will take,” he said. “It’s really powerful at reducing range anxiety.”
For those who are strongly debating whether to buy an EV, “the silver lining is that vehicle prices have gone up so much, making the cost of EVs seem relatively less expensive,” said Chesbrough.
The ongoing chip shortage and supply constraints have disrupted production of all vehicles, so finding an EV for sale may be challenging. New models are coming, with at least 20 new vehicles expected to arrive at dealerships this year, Chesbrough noted.
And for consumers still ambivalent about range, Kirchner said a vehicle will at least 250 miles is plenty for running errands or commuting to the office.
“The reality is most people charge at home and you don’t need 300 to 400 miles of range,” he said. “It’s a good time to be excited about EVs.”
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