What to know before you buy an electric vehicle
by Katherine Loving, Contributing Columnist
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicle sales doubled from 2020 to 2021, reaching a record high of 608,000. By contrast, sales of internal combustion engine vehicles grew by only 3% in the same year.
That’s a trend that will continue, especially as gas prices remain high. The number of EVs on the road will grow in the next five to 10 years, and many brands have pledged to manufacture only EVs within the next three to 12 years.
Part of this sales growth stems from more choices. Today, more than 80 base models of sedans, SUVs and minivans are available. The number of automakers exclusively manufacturing plug-in vehicles is also increasing, from recognizable brands like Tesla to growing brands like Rivian, Polestar, Karma and Lucid. Ford introduced its now sold-out F-150 Lightning in April and is already taking orders for 2023.
While the EV market is growing, it has some challenges to overcome before broader adoption takes place. The upfront cost of an EV is more expensive than a comparable gas-powered vehicle, and many EVs are limited to a driving range of 250 miles on average, though there are exceptions. Some automakers offer EV models with ranges of more than 300 miles and a handful are approaching 400.
Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Nissan offer EV models that are priced around $30,000, and available federal tax credits can bring the initial costs down considerably. EV range numbers are approaching those of a tank of gas, but EVs require more time to charge, compared with a gas-powered vehicle’s quick fill-up. Even at the fastest charging level, it takes approximately 20 minutes to charge 80% capacity. This makes EVs suitable for daily driving needs like commuting or running errands, but less suitable for longer road trips.
Access to publicly available charging stations is not as plentiful or as geographically accessible as gas stations, which makes using an EV for an extended road trip less straightforward. However, the U.S. Transportation and Energy departments have teamed up to offer grants to help states and local partners, including electric cooperatives, to develop a national charging network with EV chargers located every 50 miles on interstates.
The goal is to place EV chargers where they make the most sense in terms of business or recreational activities. National parks, convenience stores and local businesses could be popular stops for EV charging.
Compared with a standard wall outlet, charging times can be shortened by using a Level 2 charger. Level 1 chargers are the standard charger that come with an EV and provide about 40 miles of range after eight hours of charging. Level 2 chargers provide about 25 miles per charging hour. They consume a lot of power over a short amount of time and require local electric infrastructure to support the increased energy load.
If you’re considering a Level 2 charger, make sure your home’s electrical system is in good shape and give your electric co-op a heads up. This allows the utility to ensure the transformer in your neighborhood can safely and reliably provide power. Your neighbors will thank you.
Katherine Loving writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.