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Electric Cars Are Still Not Good Enough

The Chevrolet Bolt was the little electric car that could. Never the fastest or the fanciest EV, the Bolt and its sticker price of roughly $30,000 made it cheaper than lots of gas cars, all while delivering a respectable 259 miles of range. With its legion of fans, the Bolt outsold every non-Tesla EV in America last year. But if you want to buy a new one, you’d better hurry: Chevy’s parent company, General Motors, stopped making the Bolt at the end of 2023.

The demise of the Bolt was supposed to mark the end of the beginning. In place of the Bolt—GM’s first mass-market EV—the company had planned to unleash a fleet of more advanced EVs early this year. It hasn’t gone as anticipated: Software bugs, battery problems, and factory delays have plagued the cars. The battery-powered Equinox SUV has yet to go on sale, and its larger sibling, the Blazer, was released before GM suspended sales. You can buy the fully electric version of the Silverado pickup truck—but demand has been so lukewarm that GM has delayed production at a factory that, you guessed it, used to make the Bolt.

Right now, America’s transition to electric cars is stuck between stages. For electric cars to accelerate toward world dominance, car companies must sell millions of EVs to Americans with no attachment to the idea of battery-powered driving, not only to the early adopters who had few good options beyond Tesla and the Bolt. Now there are at least 50 models available, and nearly every large carmaker has at least one true EV on the market. But few of them are affordable enough for many car buyers, and the next generation of EVs—the ones designed to entice people who have not yet gone electric—isn’t coming soon enough. As a result, 2024 is shaping up to be a lost year for EVs, with little movement toward our supposed all-electric future.

Even in a lost year, Americans are poised to keep buying EVs. Corey Cantor, a senior EV analyst at BloombergNEF, predicts 1.9 million electrified cars (which includes EVs and plug-in hybrids) to sell in 2024, an all-time high. But that’s dwarfed by the fact that Americans bought more than 15 million total vehicles last year. Ford’s EV sales jumped 80 percent last month over the previous February, but the grand total amounted to just over 6,000 electric cars sold.

Without the enormous sales they’d anticipated, carmakers have walked back hasty electrification proclamations and grown cagey about the inevitability of EVs. In December, GM CEO Mary Barra hedged on its goal of selling only EVs by 2035, saying that although the company still plans to meet that target, “we’re going to be responsive to where the customer is at.” In the face of disappointing EV-truck enthusiasm, GM said it would build plug-in-hybrid versions of its top trucks, something the company had dismissed just over a year ago as a half-measure that would “dilute” its mission to electrify. In December, Ford halved the 2024 production goal for its electric F-150 truck. The unease isn’t limited to the big car companies in Detroit. Mercedes pushed back its goal of 50 percent “electrified” sales, which includes hybrids, from 2025 to 2030.

Maybe carmakers should have seen this coming. The EV revolution has arrived at the end of its first era, which was propelled by early adopters who’d pay extra to save the planet or be seen driving the next big thing, says David Rapson, an economist at UC Davis who studies decarbonization. “There are only so many of those people,” he told me, and a lot of them already drive a Tesla. The next phase, when electric cars leap from early adoption to mass adoption, depends on the people Rapson calls “the pragmatists”: Americans who will buy whichever car they deem best and who are waiting for their worries about price, range, and charging to be allayed before they go electric.

The current slate of EVs isn’t winning them over. Tesla’s Model Y, the top-selling EV by far, starts at $44,000. Popular models such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Volkswagen ID.4, and the Hyundai Ioniq5 are in the same ballpark, and many early entrants in the EV race cost much more. Meanwhile, the gas-powered Honda CR-V that rules the suburbs starts at $29,500; a Toyota Prius starts for even less. Without the Chevy Bolt, a bargain-EV shopper has few options beyond the uncertain market for used electric cars. They can be had for cheap, because older EVs are depreciating fast. But driving range declines as EVs age for the same reason your smartphone battery fades.

That is not the only reason EVs are not taking off, of course: Public chargers are sorely lacking and prone to malfunctions. And car dealers can lack necessary info about EVs and what tax credits they qualify for. But price matters most of all, and there are just far too few cheap EVs. Following the Bolt’s surprisingly good sales, GM reversed course and promised to revive its best-selling EV with a better version—but it won’t arrive until next year.

Lots of other cheap electric cars aren’t ready either. Tesla is reportedly working on a new, entry-level EV that will start at just $25,000, which the company appeared to confirm in a recent earnings call—but the long-awaited vehicle won’t debut until next June at the earliest (and probably later, given Tesla’s tendency to miss its own deadlines). In that same announcement, Elon Musk warned that Tesla would be “between two major growth waves” in 2024, as the top EV brand would not have a new EV for sale. Ford has been developing an affordable electric for the masses in secret, but it likely won’t come this year either. Yesterday, Rivian revealed its more affordable electric SUVs, but those won’t hit the street for another two years at least. (The place cranking out very cheap EVs is China, which has Europe and the U.S. in a furor over how to stop them from upending the market.)

In 2024, then, shoppers considering an EV might do best to wait out the car industry’s lost year. Even if sales numbers tick up slightly—and February did see a year-over-year increase—that slow, steady growth won’t put EVs on pace to go mainstream anytime soon. “I think a lot of those people are on hold,” Loren McDonald, the CEO of the consulting firm EVAdoption, told me. “They’re going to wait a few years for the perfect model.” Faced with a complicated car market in flux, buyers will go with what they know, he said: “That means just staying with the regular gas-powered Ford Explorer.” Considering that a car stays on the road for a decade or more, that adds up to a lot of carbon dioxide we could otherwise avoid.

Then there is the election, the outcome of which may compound this lost year. Donald Trump has made electric-car antagonism part of his campaign, and his victory would sap federal support for electrification just as EVs are maybe ready to turn a corner in 2025. During an election year, “I think there’s a natural tendency [for car companies] to hedge, just because we don’t know how things are going to shake out,” Cantor told me. Car companies that charged ahead with electric models under Joe Biden might rethink their ambitions in the case of a Trump win, Cantor said. (The CEO of Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler and Jeep, has basically said as much.)

Politics could stymie the advance of EVs in other ways. Rapson’s third batch of American buyers after the enthusiasts and pragmatists is the holdouts—people who might reject electric cars outright. That includes millions of potential buyers of electrified Ford and Chevy trucks who, for reasons political and mechanical, have shown little interest in battery-powered pickups. “Pickup buyers do not want electric trucks,” McDonald said. Their reluctance casts doubt on the goal of total electrification put forth by politicians and car execs.

The car industry’s malaise is a response to a mirage. A country without adequate charging infrastructure—and with lots of drivers who resent the idea of electric cars—was never going to meet soaring declarations and 2030 deadlines that promised America would electrify in a hurry. But EVs can overcome a lost year. No matter what, the cars will get cheaper—and sooner rather than later. So many years and billions of dollars have gone into electrifying the car industry that it’s now impossible to stop. Small SUVs in the $35,000 range such as the Chevy Equinox and the Volvo EX30 are coming later this year, which could generate momentum for 2025.

Once automakers fill the holes in the EV market with practical vehicles that cost about as much as gas cars, tax credits or no tax credits, the car-shopping decision will come down to whether Americans believe that EVs are truly better cars, period. More pragmatists will start to say yes. Then their neighbors will decide it’s time to keep up. And then, when electric cars are just cars, even EV haters might decide a $25,000 Tesla is worth it.

This article was originally published by a www.theatlantic.com . Read the Original article here. .

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