Americans remain resistant to the lure of EVs, which are still unaffordable

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There are a number of issues, both real and perceived, for EVs to become more mainstream.

I could extol the virtues of having a car you never have to go out of your way to fill up, but Alex does a better job than I could:

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That article confuses me. At one point it says:

this year the average price of a new car in the US was a shocking $48,080, which in turn has driven up the price of used cars.

And at another, it lists the EVs under that price:

Bolt EUV ($27,200), Nissan Leaf ($28,895), Mazda MX-30 ($34,695), Hyundai Kona Electric ($34,845), and if we fudge it a bit, the Mini Cooper SE ($35,075).

So… is it that these cars aren’t interesting to those people, or that people expect to pay less than an average car’s cost to own one?

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Are there a lot of communities with handy charging stations? I can’t say I’ve ever seen one in my area (though I haven’t looked around much.) If the infrastructure isn’t there to support them, people will be less likely to purchase an electric car.

(I like the idea, but at this time there’s no way I could afford one.)

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There’s a charging station at the Meijer near me; but your area isn’t so hot on shopping plazas, is it?

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Nope. We don’t have any major retailers in the neighborhood, though some are a short drive away. It’s probably a 30 minute drive to the closest Meijer. The nearest mall is a 15-20 minute drive… and it’s not much of one, considering how many stores were closed last time I was there. That was years ago, and I doubt it’s improved much since then.

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I live in a relatively small town (12,000 people) compared to anywhere I’ve lived before and we have a big charging station at the end of the block. I think it’s Tesla only though. Compatibility is still a problem.

Another problem is that one of the big selling points is you can charge it at home while it’s parked overnight and never really need to stop just for daily commuting and errands, only on long road trips when you’d need rest stops anyway. But in reality most people don’t have a charger station built into their house and that can be very expensive too. And not at all an option for the many people in apartments or with street parking. Mostly only wealthy suburbanites.

But as the title suggests, the biggest problem is cost. They’re calling $30,000 to $70,000 ‘cheap’. That rules out the working class and most of the working middle class.

Six years ago my wife bought a $10,000 used car and it took us 3 years to pay it off, during which time we missed 5 payments (but made them up after). Finally having that paid off, (and not having to pay more for repairs each year than it was worth), was a major major deal. Our first car that cost more than a few thousand dollars and the first one that was reliable.

We don’t want to take on debt like that again anytime soon, let alone paying 4 to 7 times as much! If it takes 30 years to pay off a car, how good is the battery (and the software and the rest of the car) going to be at that point? Unlike the old gas-powered cars, modern electrics are very tech-dependent. And a lot of tech tends to become obsolete everything every couple of years.

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Which are somewhat tech-dependent when it comes to chips running things. No matter what fuel it runs on, though, a car is a money pit.

Addendum: And then there’s tires, which all cars need, along with the frames, bodies, chasses, et al. Of course, there’s insurance, too…

Ah, the good old days when a guy wanted everyone to own a vehicle they could easily repair themselves if need be, as long as the color they wanted it to be painted was black.

E. Musk seems to’ve been crazier earlier than H. Ford was.

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My dad always fixed cars himself. He’d be appalled at modern cars with all their black box chips, special proprietary dealer-only tools needed to fix, and things like having to lift out the engine to change a headlight.

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My mom had a hybrid. The big issue with electric is that the dealerships make money on servicing cars, not selling them. The electric cars have less routine maintenance and big batteries that occasionally need expensive replacement but aren’t like gas powered cars. My mom got a high mileage civic for her last car because when it came time for battery replacement she couldn’t get service.

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That is an oddity in that article. If I were to guess, it that all of these (with the exception of the Bolt EUV) are more-or-less commuter cars. The short answer is that the majority of vehicles sold in the US are Trucks or SUVs, and any cars that make the top 25 are what I would describe as mid-sized. I think it’s more about the class of vehicle than the cost. In other words, your initial hunch is likely correct. The longer answer is, appropriately, longer. I may make that a post on its own.

I think this is covered better in the Technology Connections video above, but if you have a way to plug in at home and don’t have a very large commute, your charging needs can be managed by simply plugging in at home each night. 120V can work just fine for this, or 240V if you really need it. For longer trips, it requires more planning, but can be doable, or you could rent a car for the trip and still probably come out ahead.

All cars sold in the US (except Tesla) use the SAE J1772 connector for Level 1 (120V) or Level 2 (240V) charging. Most cars in the US (except Tesla, and some earlier EVs) use the CCS connector for DC fast charging. Tesla vehicles can use J1772 with an adapter, I believe, but it’s not a great experience. I’m not sure if there are adapters to allow Tesla vehicles to use CCS, or for CCS cars to use Tesla superchargers. It’s true that it’s a problem, but hopefully we’re starting to converge on at least cross-compatibility.

A portable EVSE that can be plugged into either a 120V or 240V outlet can be purchase for around $200. Most cars come with one as standard equipment too.

This is a real issue, and a harder one to fix. Ideally, apartment complexes and the like would start offering charging equipment as an incentive to potential renters much like a gym or a pool, but the reality is that most of them are too busy driving up rents to spend anything above the bare minimum on improvements.

I plan to dig into this more later. I suspect it’s less about actual cost and more about relative cost.

Modern cars are very tech-dependent, regardless of what powers them. EVs are neither the cause nor the solution to that problem.

They used to all be the same:

My 2013 Leaf has a battery that has degraded from ~80 miles of range to ~60 miles. It is out of warranty, so a replacement of the battery would run upwards of $15,000, which is more than I paid for the car used. Modern electrics don’t have the same problems as the early Leafs (Leaves?), and often have longer warranties, but it can weigh on your decision making.

For my part, I was able to buy a cheap used EV, and it has worked well for the purpose of driving to and from work, making the round trip with no problem when the office was closer to my home, and charging in the parking garage during the day when the office was farther away. It worked because I had very specific needs and very fortunate circumstances, but my situation is not anyone else’s, and I wouldn’t recommend it without sharing the fine print. Hopefully we’ll start to see more used EVs enter the market and also more models that compete more favorably to existing popular ones.

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But for now, the price of owning and maintaining, as well as leasing, an EV is out of the reach of working-class Americans.

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I have to contradict you here. Modern gasoline cars may have their tech dependencies, but EVs tend to go beyond that… between charger standards, additional tech thrown in to control the end user, and the overall lack of ubiquity, EVs have challenges on the tech side that go beyond their gas counterparts.

I have a (gas-powered) hybrid, myself, which I’ve had absolutely no complaints about. So far, it’s been doing very well for me, but I dread the day it needs a battery replacement. I’ve been tempted by more recent EVs. I do, however, do very long trips occasionally through unpopulated areas… and I also live in an area where, if work requires me to travel on short notice, I could be on the road for an extremely variable amount of time in traffic and temperature extremes. Both of those have made me a bit hesitant to jump on the EV bandwagon.

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I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Are there specific technologies that are unique to EVs that are designed to control the user?

EVs are definitely different enough that it requires a different set of decisions to see if it would meet an individual’s needs. If you frequently need to travel long distances through areas that don’t have supporting infrastructure, an EV is probably not a good choice for your sole or primary vehicle at this time.

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Worded it poorly (and it was pretty late when I typed that), but I am, in general, referring to things that make it more difficult for repair/troubleshooting by the end-user or other mechanics. It’s not necessarily something specific, and it could even just be a side effect of EVs not being ubiquitous. But the amount of technology in a modern gas-powered car doesn’t really compare well to the amount in an EV, and especially if you’re comparing proprietary tech.

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There’s a lot of complicated process control shit that gas cars do in order to save fuel. But the same is true of lithium batteries.

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That makes more sense. It would be interesting to find out if EVs have a larger number of unusual or proprietary components as compared to a similar ICE car. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there is a lot more tech in a Tesla Model X as compared to a Ford Explorer, but I’m not sure if that has more to do with the X being an EV or that it has features like AutoPilotTM. In my experience, I have found that I’m just better off going to the dealership. I tried to take my Leaf in to our regular shop to get the AC looked at, and even asked them beforehand if they could work on it. I dropped it off the morning of the service appointment, and then got a call later that day to the effect of “You didn’t tell us it was electric!” In a stroke of luck, the problem was releated to an active recall, so it was fixed at no cost to me, but it certainly left me with a sense that my options are limited there. I have the feeling that it has more to do with the relative newness of EVs, and that there is likely additional equipment and training necessary to work on them, not that the information is unavailable. One area that is definitely disappointing on the Leaf, and I suspect other EVs, is that the battery pack is not only not easily replaced, but actually takes some sort of jailbreak procedure to be done if you are not an authorized service provider. This has the effect that you have essentially only one supplier for replacement batteries, except for a very small set of specialist, and even they are mostly salvaging battery packs from wrecked vehicles. It’s workable, but makes it largely inaccessible and more expensive than it would need to be if the parts were more open and standardized. Hopefully we can start to see some standardization on this front, as well as more progress in the right-to-repair direction. It is technically possible for my 2013 Leaf to have a later model battery installed that would effectively double it’s range, except that the availability and technical hurdles put in place make it more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. This is going to lead to cars going to waste simply because one part was no longer viable. There were something like 300,000 Leafs sold worldwide as of 2017. I would bet the majority of them would make fantastic, cheap, cars that would serve a variety of needs with a new battery pack, but because of reasons will just become junk instead.

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Speaking of Teslas, this is an older article, but apparently just getting body work on a Tesla can be a pain.

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I’d say so. The only comparison I have is our (relatively) new Subaru Crosstrek XV Hybrid. It seems to have both the controls and widgets for gasoline mode and electric mode. The controls are horrifically complicated but can mostly be ignored.

It’s only got 30 km of electric-only range but that does it for us. We mainly use it for errands and school runs, and so haven’t bought fuel in months. And charging is free-- we have an excess of solar available at our house, and it happily recharges even from flat in about five hours. So as long as we use 30 km at a time, and at less than 80 kph, it’s basically an electric car for us, as intended.

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Hmmm…

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From the article, it appears that they plan on charging ~$1/kWh, so that $50 figure is based on a car needing 50 kWh to fully charge. While I would expect a premium on faster charging vs. slower charging, $1 seems pretty steep. For comparison, the most recent time I paid for charging added 5.65 kWh for $1.36, so about $0.24/kWh, or 24% of their proposed pricing. For further comparison, my standard rate for electricity at home is… Actually, I can’t seem to figure that out easily. Instead, by naively dividing my bill by my usage for a few months, I’m getting an average of $0.15/kWh. That’s not super accurate, since that’s going to include both fixed and variable costs. Given that back-of-the-napkin math, here’s a quick table to compare the costs of a hypothetical 50 kWh charging session:

Name $/kWh kWh Total Time $/h
Level 1 (1.4kW) 0.15 50 $7.50 ~35:00 $0.21
Level 2 (3.6 kW) 0.24 50 $12.00 ~14:00 $0.85
DC Fast (~25 kW) 1 50 $50.00 ~0:30 $100

I couldn’t find any power output figures in the referenced article, so I just took their “about 30 minutes” number at face value and assumed a charger roughly able to output 25 kW. Level 1 charging is both the cheapest and slowest, with DC fast charging being the fastest and most expensive. I based the Level 2 charging on my actual observed rates at the charger I would use back when I used to drive to work, but a different car and charger could have different variables. Finally, I based the Level 1 values on the Technology Connections video from above which calculated 12A at 120V, which is 1.4 kW.

I would argue that the situations where most people would need to charge 50 kW, let alone 50 kW in under an hour, would be rare. Most people with access to a standard 120V AC outletreceptacle can probably recharge to full overnight under normal usage. Taken on its face, though, being able to get the same result 28-70 times faster for only 4-7 times the cost actually doesn’t seem like too bad of a deal.

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