In October, California mandated all vehicles be “zero-emission” by 2035. The Biden administration then outlined a plan in December to ensure 50% of all new cars sold in the United States by 2030 are electric.
There were 14.5 million new cars sold or leased in 2020, which was significantly below the 17 million-plus vehicles reported in the previous five years, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported. Although Edmunds predicted in January 2021 that the industry would sell 15.5 million new cars that year, supply chain disruptions and severe microchip shortages affected the final number.
If automakers sell over 17 million cars and trucks each year, is it realistic to expect half of them to be electric in eight years?
While some people applaud the shift to electric vehicles (EVs) to battle climate change, others say it’s unrealistic to expect a nation already struggling to keep power grids fully operational during peak winter and summer months to handle the daily burden of charging millions of electric cars.
This article summarizes the most frequently cited challenges facing widespread EV adoption.
Fewer than 1% of American automobiles are electric, but that’s about to change. General Motors announced in December 2020 plans to phase out gasoline-powered cars and light trucks in favor of battery-powered vehicles by 2035, according to the New York Times.
Many automakers will add EVs to their product lines in the years ahead. Forbes reports 400 firms already produce EVs in America. However, the state with the largest number of EVs, California, already experiences rolling blackouts in the summer. Can the nation’s power grid handle the added load?
To accommodate an electric fleet, America needs more charging stations and each one currently costs $2,000, the Times article explains. Every home garage will need to be wired for 240-volt power, which is twice the strength of standard household electricity.
While it’s easier for homes to install charging stations, how will people living in apartments or who must park on the street charge their vehicles? The New York Times reported President Joe Biden wants to build 500,000 new public chargers by 2030, the same year he wants half of all new cars to be electric.
If every American switched over to EVs, the nation could end up using 25% more power than it does today, the publication notes. This will require a slew of new powerplants and upgraded electrical transmission lines.
Building an infrastructure to provide more power requires a delicate partnership among businesses, local governments and utility companies—all of which are tasked to produce and use more “green” energy from solar and wind while reducing use of nuclear reactors and coal-burning power plants.
When gas-powered vehicles run out of fuel, drivers can pull into a station and fill up in less than five minutes. Not EVs.
According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), top-performing cars using an 11.5-kW charger on an 80.5-kWh battery require 7 hours to fully charge. However, typical EVs use a 6.0-kW charger, which doubles charging time.
Direct current fast chargers, which deliver power at 250 kW, can charge a battery to 80% capacity in 20 minutes, KBB explains. Yet, consistently relying upon rapid chargers can significantly reduce the lifespan of an EV’s battery.
The ability to fast charge EVs in 20 minutes may sound quick unless someone is in line for a charger—especially on a long-distance trip.
Recharging also poses a challenge for convenience stores and truck stops. It can take five minutes to fuel one car on empty and slightly longer if the owner slips inside for a moment. Still, the business can serve 10 to 12 gasoline-powered vehicles an hour per pump, while a fast-charging station can accommodate only three cars.
Although there are currently 100,000 charging stations in America, most of them are in California. In fact, the number of stations in that state equal the total available in 39 other states, according to The Hill.
While proponents of EVs tout their fuel efficiency compared to gas-powered cars, EVs currently lack the ability to recharge themselves as they travel.
An alternator on a gas car will constantly recharge its battery when in use. However, EVs may start out with a decent mileage range when fully charged, but turning on a heater, air conditioner and entertainment center or charging other things, like phones, will draw more power from the vehicle’s batteries. As a result, the effective mileage range may be reduced.
Gasoline cars draw heat from the engine and blow it into the cabin in colder weather. That’s not the case with EVs which must pull energy from batteries to power electric heaters. A study by AAA found cold temperatures can reduce driving range by over 40%.
According to GreenCars.com, an electric car rated to run 150 miles on a charge in normal weather conditions will average 88 miles in temperatures below 20 degrees before needing to recharge. It also takes longer to fully charge a battery in cold weather.
The study reported that, at 20 degrees, the average driving range fell by 12% when the car’s cabin heater was not used. When the heater was on, the range dropped by 41%. At 95 degrees, range dropped 4% without using air conditioning, and fell by 17% when the cabin was cooled.
The article recommends storing EVs in heated garages, which again represents a problem for people living in apartments and areas where only street parking exists. Apartment complexes must create charging stations in parking lots, which may reduce the number of cars these spaces can accommodate.
EV repairs will not cost much more than those on gasoline-powered cars because of fewer moving parts, but battery replacement costs may catch owners by surprise.
New car prices range between $44,990 and $146,490. However, it can cost thousands of dollars to replace a battery pack. Most electric cars come with warranties protecting against battery replacement for eight years or 100,000 miles. When warranties expire, owners face a significant bill.
EVs lose about 2.3% of their initial range every year, and its battery pack will become a life-of-car issue at 100,000 miles, Geotab reports. A new battery will cost between $15,000 and $20,000.
One man in Finland was so upset after learning it would cost $22,600 to replace the battery on his 8-year-old Tesla Model S that he packed it with 66 pounds of dynamite in December and videotaped himself obliterating the vehicle. According to news reports, the car originally sold for $57,400.
“An eight-year-old used non-electric car is still valuable because it still has lots of life left. An eight-year-old EV with an eight-year-old battery has much less life left unless you replace the battery. This cost is reflected in the cratered resale value of old EVs,” Spectator.org notes.
Once lithium batteries are replaced, what can be done with them? Consumers cannot toss them into landfills because the Environmental Protection Agency considers them hazardous waste. They also can create a fire hazard when damaged or crushed. So, unless we recycle batteries, they will simply pile up in special disposal centers. However, there are not a lot of places looking for recycled lithium now.
According to FreedomForever.com, four start-up companies launched to recover lithium and convert it into black mass containing graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium. Eventually, there will be a market for all those rare elements, but it may take years to develop.
The good news is that though other countries mine lithium today, by recycling EV batteries, America may not depend on those foreign sources as much in the future.
Impact on Dealership Labor
While EVs create new opportunities for auto dealers, they create challenges as well. First, dealers must be prepared to repair electric and gas-powered cars for the foreseeable future.
A TechForce Foundation report from 2020 noted the auto industry would be short, approximately 642,000 technicians (automotive, diesel and collision) by 2024. EVs will affect an already stressed labor pool. Technicians must become high-voltage and computer techs. This requires a whole new skill set for which they must be trained.
Because EVs aren’t as messy to repair, dealerships often can do maintenance at an owner’s home or place of business. To provide that service, dealerships will need mobile technicians or they may surrender that business to independent repair professionals.
However, the technical complexity of high-voltage EVs means most people won’t be able to do their own repairs. They will entirely depend on trained technicians.
Getting Ready for EVs
Most manufacturers are putting more energy into building EVs and rolling out marketing plans. Sales will steadily climb in 2022, says Eric Fifield, chief revenue officer at EFG Companies. “It will not be an overnight jump in numbers, but it will increase every year.
“In a handful of years, we're going to find ourselves with a pretty good percentage of customers driving EVs, and that will continue to evolve,” he adds. “Dealerships can prepare by having equipment in place to service them. Even if dealers don’t sell a lot of EVs, they will want to sure to train technicians to work on all brands.”
Dealers also will want to ensure they have a good inventory of EVs on their lots. That should be easy with over 400 companies producing EVs in the United States today, according to Forbes. There are also over 200 firms competing to make parts and technology for the cars.
“Dealers will need a robust lineup of EVs, or they cannot do commerce,” said Brad Stewart, CEO of Fair Technologies. “Dealers who have franchises are, in some sense, putting aside the sale of used vehicles. Parts and service will be tied to quality of the electric vehicle lineup the OEMs can produce.”
Ronnie Wendt is an editor at F&I and Showroom magazine.