Where E.V.s Are (and Aren’t) Taking Off Across the U.S - The World News

Where E.V.s Are (and Aren’t) Taking Off Across the U.S

Electric and hybrid vehicles have soared in popularity.

Last year, Americans bought more than one million fully electric cars, trucks and SUVs, a record and a milestone for the country’s transition away from gas-powered vehicles.

Electric vehicles grew to 8.5 percent of new auto registrations nationwide. Hybrids, which are gaining popularity among those who still want gas as a backup, accounted for an additional 10 percent.

But enthusiasm for plugging in hasn’t spread equally across the country.

Electric vehicle registrations grew rapidly in many metro areas, including in some states like Florida and Texas that were “not on the map” just a few years ago, said Tom Libby, an analyst at S&P Global Mobility, an automotive market research firm. But the West Coast, and especially California, continued to dominate the electric vehicle market.

E.V. Popularity is Unevenly Spread

Electric share of new auto registrations in major metro areas

Source: S&P Global Mobility

Note: The 50 major metropolitan areas with the highest share of vehicle registrations that were electric in 2023 are shown.

Last year, electric vehicles accounted for more than 30 percent of auto registrations in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to data from S&P Global Mobility. In Los Angeles, that number was close to 25 percent.

At the same time, “there are still parts of the U.S. that, frankly, don’t have anything to do with E.V.s,” Mr. Libby said. “They just have no interest in them.” Just 3 percent of vehicle registrations were electric in Detroit, the country’s auto capital, and only 1 percent in the Bismarck, N.D. area.

Americans who have made the shift to electric vehicles so far tend to be richer, younger and more likely to live in urban areas than the average person, research shows. Many reported being motivated by environmental concerns, and some by interest in the latest, cutting-edge technology.

That profile is changing, experts said, but slowly.

To fight climate change, the Biden administration and many state governments want to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles. That’s because cars, SUVs and pickup trucks powered by gas and diesel are, together, one of the biggest sources of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. (They’re a major source of other harmful air pollution too.)

But many consumers still have reservations about going electric.

A 2023 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found half of American adults, and 70 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican, said they were not likely to consider purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car.

Lack of widespread and reliable public charging stations is one of the biggest roadblocks to broader electric vehicle adoption, experts said. Small towns and rural areas with few charging stations have some of the lowest rates of E.V. uptake in the country. But even people in urban areas can have trouble plugging in if they live in an apartment building instead of a single-family home with a garage.

“Being able to charge at home is the thing that very much still divides the E.V. experience from pretty easy and kind of hard,” said Ken Kurani, a researcher focused on electric vehicles at the University of California, Davis.

Public chargers can be less efficient in freezing temperatures, too. Some Tesla owners in Chicago struggled with charging during an icy blast in January. Experts said that was an unusual case. Norway, no stranger to cold, has the highest E.V. adoption rate in the world. Still, stories of charging troubles like these can affect public attitudes, Dr. Kurani said.

High prices are another top consumer concern.

Domestic E.V. manufacturing has boomed.

Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Charging is still a concern for many consumers.

Philip Cheung for The New York Times

An analysis of vehicle prices by S&P Global Mobility found that most electric automobiles on the market today cost significantly more than similar gas-powered models. “We’re talking 20 to 40 percent more for E.V.s,” Mr. Libby said. Federal tax credits of up to $7,500 are available but apply to a relatively small number of models.

Only two electric vehicles in the analysis, both made by Tesla, cost the same or less than similar gas models. One of those, the Model Y, became America’s fifth best-selling car last year, the first time an electric vehicle broke into the top five.

Tesla has repeatedly cut prices on the Model Y and other vehicles to make them eligible for tax credits and to lift sales. The company also owns and operates the largest fast-charging network in the United States.

Tesla is now opening up that network to electric vehicles made by competitors, including BMW, Ford and Hyundai, which will move to a common charger standard. And the auto industry is making improvements to range, battery costs and other factors.

Still, demand for E.V.s has cooled, a sign, industry experts say, that the hard part may just be starting for the budding electric vehicle transition.

“We’re starting to see E.V.s having to move more into the mainstream market and become desirable to everyone rather than just the early adopters and evangelists,” said Jessica Caldwell, the head of insights at Edmunds, a website that tracks the automotive industry.

Ford and General Motors recently scaled back their E.V. ambitions, citing slowing sales. Some models are piling up on dealers’ lots. Even Tesla, the industry leader, is facing a slowdown in growth.

Analysts expect the American electric vehicle market to continue growing in 2024, but at a slower pace. Nationally, E.V. sales were up 46 percent between 2022 and 2023, according to Kelley Blue Book. This year, sales are forecast to grow around 20 to 30 percent.

As charging stations and battery performance continue to improve and prices come down, electric vehicles will most likely gain wider acceptance, said Dr. Kurani of U.C. Davis. But for now, “there are some very real ways in which, in comparison to conventional vehicles, electric vehicles either really are still struggling to be as good or better, or are struggling against the imagination that they’re not as good or better,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said, before everyone is buying an E.V.

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