“There has never been a better time to be in the market for an electric car. … New electric models are abundant, clean and efficient,” said U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming in a recent op-ed.
Clean and efficient? Yes. But abundant? No. Only 1 in every 47 vehicles sold in the United States is electric. And if Congress gets rid of the tax credits for electric vehicles, as the senator recommends, while continuing to subsidize oil, it will make it even harder for Americans to save money on gas by going electric.
Buying a vehicle is a big, important purchase for families. Electric vehicles offer families a way to save money on gas and make our air safer to breathe. Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Americans have used tax credits to make buying an electric vehicle a little easier.
Unfortunately, automakers are still making it hard. Barrasso cites investment promises made by General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen, but so far those three big car companies combined have just two all-electric vehicle models for sale in the United States today, and neither of those electric vehicles is a truck or sports utility vehicle. That’s not nearly enough emissions-free options from some of the world’s biggest car companies.
Instead of constructive reform, Barrasso’s new bill looks to pull the plug on progress just before more people are able to see for themselves how an electric vehicle would cut the cost of their daily driving needs. Doing so would hurt consumers looking for a better option and would be damaging to America’s auto industry and its workers in a competitive global industry.
The primary beneficiaries of anti-EV legislation are oil companies, who are also lobbying to gut America’s clean car standards even as they get $4 billion to $15 billion in U.S. federal subsidies each year. Right now, most American drivers are tethered to gas stations. The federal EV tax credit helps change that.
There is room for improvement in the current tax credit program, which is why Consumer Reports supports several common-sense reforms. One idea is to put a limit on the vehicle price that these rebates can be applied toward, so the money isn’t used up by funding luxury vehicle purchases. Another idea is to increase the discount for larger batteries, so that automakers are incentivized to innovate ways to extend range and electrify crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks. Congress can also expand consumer choice by reforming the sales caps that currently cut off the tax credit for the EVs most people are buying.
Consumers also need to feel comfortable with the availability of vehicle-charging options in order to reap all the benefits. While vehicle-charging infrastructure is robust in some parts of the country, and the number of charging stations is expanding rapidly, other areas have little or no options. The EV tax credit helps solve “the chicken and egg problem” because increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road complements the rollout of more comprehensive infrastructure.
Meanwhile, most electric vehicle owners will only need public charging stations for road trips, since most electric vehicle charging can be done overnight at their homes. Most EVs can travel at least 150 miles on a single charge, and American drivers travel an average of fewer than 30 miles per day, according to recent data from the Federal Highway Administration.
Americans want more fuel-efficient vehicles, but the upfront cost of EV technology is still one of the biggest barriers to making the switch. That’s what makes the EV tax credit so important and why attacks on transportation electrification can’t run out of gas soon enough.
Shannon Baker-Branstetter is a senior policy counsel on energy and environment for Consumer Reports.
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A previous version of this opinion piece misstated oil companies’ role concerning anti-EV legislation, saying that the companies were a “benefactor” of the legislation, instead of “beneficiary.”