Across the country, we hear more about electric vehicles (EVs) today than we ever have before, and there’s good reason for it. U.S. and foreign car manufacturers have been betting big and are committing massive amounts of capital to developing and marketing this form of petroleum-free transportation. Investment in electric vehicles announced by the beginning of this year include at least $19 billion by automakers in the U.S., $21 billion in China and over $52 billion in Germany.
While sales of EVs today comprise just 2% of all automobile sales, automakers are betting heavily that those numbers will change. A recent study by Bloomberg estimates that EV sales will exceed 60% of all new car sales in the U.S. by 2040 and over half of new car sales worldwide. That seems like the distant future, but it’s hard to believe that is only 20 years from now.
Regulatory issues and consumer sentiments about climate change are fueling this ramp-up of EV investment, but what’s at the heart of it is the huge strides that have been made in battery technology. Th e average cost of a lithium-ion battery pack has dropped 85% from $1,160 in 2010 to $176 in 2018 and continues to decrease. Further development in batteries will drive the cost even lower, but will also help ease the two biggest roadblocks for potential EV consumers – range anxiety and charging wait times.
The average range of an electric vehicle today is 190 miles compared to 475 miles for a gasoline-powered car, but that is changing with Tesla’s new Roadster, boasting a range of up to 620 miles between charges. The time it takes to top off your vehicle is coming down as well. Rapid chargers now provide an additional 60 to 200 miles of range in as little as 20 minutes of charge time.
Most EV charging is done at home or at work while the vehicle is idle, which is 95% of the time. While on the road, the network of public fast charging stations across the country is growing rapidly. As of January, Tesla’s supercharger network of fast charging stations consisted of over 12,000 charging stalls with plans to grow that number to over 15,000. As of May, there were more than 68,800 nonresidential charging units throughout the United States.
One of the biggest selling points of EVs is that despite the higher purchase price, the cost of ownership can be much less. With 25% fewer parts and significantly fewer moving parts, maintenance costs are dramatically less. Oil changes are essentially a thing of the past with electric vehicles. Operating costs can also be dramatically reduced. Fuel costs will range between 3 to 4 cents per mile with an electric vehicle compared to around 10 cents per mile for a standard vehicle, depending on gas prices and your vehicle’s gas mileage.
Despite the hype and all the technological advances, North Dakotans have been slow to adopt this new form of transportation. Cold temperatures reduce the operating efficiency and range of batteries. Our rural nature means we have to drive farther than most Americans do, and as I sit at my desk writing and watching vehicles go by my window, I’m reminded that we gravitate toward SUVs, pickup trucks and the like. Over time, technology will overcome cold temperatures and long distance, but automakers will ultimately decide what choices we have for model options. To that end, I recently watched a YouTube video of the new all-electric Ford F-150 prototype pulling a freight train weighing over a million pounds. I guess at least Ford is betting rural America will eventually embrace electric vehicles.
In August, we co-sponsored an event at Minnkota’s Grand Forks campus to showcase electric cars and North Dakota’s first all-electric school bus. Th e event was well-attended by folks interested in learning about growing EV adoption over the next few years. Electric vehicles will certainly play a central role in new car purchase options in the years ahead – how long it will take until they become mainstream in North Dakota is yet to be seen. Automakers are betting big this will be sooner rather than later.