Electric vehicles could be cheaper to drive and operate but can all Americans afford them?

4 mn read

President Joe Biden said electric vehicles are “a vision of the future that is now beginning to happen.” The president has spent the last year vowing to transition into EV by 2030. Executives from three of the largest auto companies in the country are thrilled about Biden’s ambitious goal, as they agreed to turn at least 40 percent of their new car sales electric by the end of the decade.

Transitioning to electric cars is one of the biggest ways that president Biden aims to address climate change, especially as gas-powered cars are the biggest single source of greenhouse gases and produce more than a quarter of the country’s total emissions. The US Senate recently passed the Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill with 19 Republican votes. The bill includes a $174 billion investment in EV but will need to be passed by The House first before Biden can fully sign it into law.

One of the biggest obstacles for making the transition to EV is America’s charging installations. Throughout most of the president’s campaign, he repeatedly proposed to install “500,000 charging stations” across the US. There are about 136,000 gas stations but currently only 43,000 charging stations in the country, according to the Department of Energy. Another major concern has been the potential loss of jobs for traditional autoworkers, which the president will have to set alternative options for. Filling a regular car tank with gas takes less than 10 minutes, while fully charging an electric car takes around 45 minutes or even more depending on the battery. For this reason, it is common and crucial for public charging stations to be built in areas where people can have the option to eat at a restaurant or shop while they wait.

Most EV owners charge their cars at home instead throughout the night or when they are not using them — but it can be much harder to charge an EV while sharing a house or apartment where people cannot afford having a charging station. “Real estate developers have also wanted to build a new set of condos or apartment buildings,” said Marty Bitner, the Co-Chair of the Belmont Energy Committee in Massachusetts. “We want to make sure we are encouraging them to wire their facilities so they can include charging infrastructure.”

The Committee focuses on a climate action plan to encourage residents in the city of Belmont — where 8 percent of cars are electric — to switch to EV in order to reduce town emissions in the state by 80 percent and switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050. “It’s not just good for the environment but electric cars are more fun to drive,” said Bitner. “They’re cheaper to own and operate and our utility has also been generous when it comes to rebates for charging stations,” he explained. The organization called Belmont Light, provides grant money to the committee to help install public charging stations in the city so non-home owners could still have options to charge their vehicles nearby.

Bitner added, “We should frame this as ‘shopping local’ meaning that if you fuel a powered-by-gas car by filling up your gas tank, well that money is going to a multinational corporation and shareholders.” He further explained that whereas in this city the residents would own the utilities so if they power their vehicles with electricity, that money would stay in town. Overall, he believes it is beneficial to the utility which is then actually an additional benefit to residents by keeping rates lower for them.

Only two out of every 100 new cars being sold in the country are fully electric and less than 4 percent of new cars were sold as electric in June. The average electric car user would save around $11,000 just by no longer needing to go to the gas station. Some other factors as to why electrical cars help save money include the lack of oil changes required and a cut down of around $4,000 due to its regenerative braking, along with other reduced maintenance costs.

However, the reality is that people can only have all these benefits if they can actually afford to pay the price of an electric car in the first place — which the majority of Americans cannot. The government can provide drivers with a $7,500 discount on their next federal income tax bill through the Federal Electric Car Tax Credit. According to the Congressional Research Service, EV tax credits are “disproportionately claimed by higher-income taxpayers. The research calculated that 80% of the people getting this tax credit make an income of $100,000 a year, which is why the shift will not be as easy or fast. Tesla, General Motors have already maxed out their credit for the first 200,000 eligible vehicles, while Nissan and Toyota are close to maxing out as well. Another popular option that has helped some people involves offering drivers a cheaper lease instead. 

The tax credit began with President George W. Bush and continued with Barack Obama, but it is becoming a barrier for low- and middle-income Americans preventing them from feeling ready to make the switch to electric. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the third in the country for EV sales, proposed earlier this year with Representative Peter Welch of Vermont to restructure the tax credit. The changes would be for the current $7,500 tax credit — to increase the credit maximum to $12,500 by adding $2,500 for EV made in the US and an additional $2,500 for EV produced by union labor. Honda and Toyota have publicly criticized the proposal of tying tax credits to union workers, which Biden has supported and was recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

There are a number of other obstacles and strategies that Congress will need to get through in order to help make electric cars accessible for all Americans in the future decades. Biden’s plan to reduce all carbon emissions by 2050 might be a challenge for the country but experts believe right now is the best time to start.

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Victoria Gonzalez is a U.S. correspondent for Eat News who covers a variety of topics about the entertainment world and politics.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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