Just because automakers produce plug-ins doesn’t mean that consumers will want them. Drivers believe that the disadvantages of driving an electric vehicle far outweigh the advantages, according to a 2011 national survey of 2,300 adult drivers by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Drivers cited limited driving range, relatively high cost, and the inconvenience of recharging batteries as the primary issues – although not all of those perceptions match the facts.
So what can the Obama team and Congress do to surmount these and other EV-related problems?
First, the government can give buyers bigger tax breaks and significantly increase funding for battery research. More effective and cheaper batteries would make EVs more marketable. In mid-March, 2013, Obama urged Congress to authorize spending $2 billion over the next decade on EVs and biofuels. Congress should do so, and spur innovation and green jobs.
Second, the Obama team can work to raise the federal gasoline tax, making EVs even more competitive against gas-powered vehicles. (To make a higher gas tax more palatable, such an increase could be offset with lower payroll taxes, leaving consumers with no overall tax increase. Or, some of the gas tax monies could be used to pay down the national debt; the poor will also need to be protected against any regressive gas tax).
Third, the government and automakers need to expand the limited number of plug-in stations. Indeed, EVs still require power, and most people don’t have access to off-the-grid or renewable energy. So that needs to change to make EVs environmentally sustainable.
Fourth, the extra electricity needed to run EVs should come from cleaner sources of electricity such as wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and even natural gas. If America is merely going to produce the extra vehicle electricity with coal, it may defeat the environmental benefit of EVs because coal is dirtier than oil.