Since taking office, President Joe Biden’s administration has prioritized green energy, including electric vehicles (EVs), as a means to combat climate change, allocating tens of billions of dollars to support the purchase of electric vehicles and the development of EV infrastructure to stimulate.
This summer, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm took a road trip through four Southern states, driving an electric car to promote the administration’s efforts. But despite its intentions, the trip showed many problems with the concept of an EV summer road trip.
According to J.D. Power’s 2023 Electric Vehicle Consideration Study, 61 percent of shoppers are now “generally likely” to consider purchasing an electric vehicle, a modest increase from previous years. But of those who would not consider an electric car, 49 percent cited a lack of availability of charging stations as the main reason. While “most EV owners will say charging is one of the biggest benefits of ownership because 85% of it is done at home,” says Stewart Stropp, executive director of EV Intelligence at JD Power, “it is an exceptional use case – as a holiday road trip, that’s what stops shoppers.”
According to a separate JD Power survey from August, “owner satisfaction with charging is declining even as the number of charging stations grows.” Specifically, it found that “busy charger locations increase wait times, and frequent downtime can make it difficult to find a work location at first.”
Even when chargers are available, the experience comes with challenges. Although many electric vehicles currently on the market have a battery range roughly equal to the distance a car can travel on a tank of gasoline, the refueling experience still varies. Motorists accustomed to filling up a tank in five minutes may experience growing pains, while even the fastest public chargers can take an hour or more to charge an electric car to 80 percent. (As with smartphones, it is recommended that most EV batteries remain between 20 and 80 percent).
All of these problems were present during Granholm’s journey: According to NPR’s Camila Domonoske, who accompanied Granholm, the convoy had difficulty finding enough functioning chargers in some places. In a suburb of Augusta, Georgia, the secretary’s team found a station with four chargers, one of which was broken and the other occupied. So an employee tried to “park a non-electric vehicle at one of those working chargers to reserve a spot” for Granholm, a maneuver that left a family with an infant “locked out.” (And yes, non-electric vehicles were included for Granholm’s electric car promotional tour.)
Granholm’s team experienced that level of difficulty even though “the secretary’s trip had been meticulously mapped out in advance to allow for charging,” such as choosing hotels with chargers and mapping the fastest chargers for afternoon stops.
And range and charging time are not even the only problems with an electric road trip in the summer. According to Automotive NewsAnalytics firm Recurrent has found that EVs experience a “significant decrease in range” at higher temperatures. At temperatures above 90 degrees, the company found an average reduction in range of 5 percent, but at 100 degrees, some vehicles recorded a drop of as much as 31 percent. That means you’ll have to spend even more time in the scorching heat waiting to get back on track.
The southern US in particular experienced a record heat wave this summer, with temperatures above 100 degrees stretching from California to Florida and lasting for weeks in some places.
It’s clear that EV technology has made impressive leaps since Nissan introduced its Leaf, with a 100-mile range, for the 2010 model year. But for the summer road tripper, it’s not quite there yet. And federal policy should recognize that fact by not using taxpayer dollars to incentivize the purchase of technology that doesn’t yet meet consumer needs.