How to overcome the biggest obstacle to electric vehicles
Pnever shouts more ions to increasingly smaller batteries, dotting the landscape with charging stations, reducing the cost of producing electric cars and trucks: these are complex, interesting challenges that solve engineers, regulators and others. The more difficult problem, the one that may explain the end of the American market for electric vehicles, is very silly. It is polarization, the substance that makes the EV go but in his metaphor he curses not only American politics but, increasingly, its culture and market.
Three researchers who studied the adoption of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles between 2012 and 2022 found that half of them went to Americans living in the top 10% of counties with the highest share of Democratic voters. A third went to only the top 5% of such places. The pattern held even when the researchers controlled for income and population density.
Lucas Davis, a professor at the Berkeley Haas School of Business who was the author of the study, was surprised that the relationship with ideology did not go away over the period under study, a decade in which the car market changed electric with several models. “The market has matured in many ways, and I expected to see more expansion EVs across the political spectrum,” he said. “I think the results indicate that it may be more difficult to achieve across the board than previously thought EV adoption.”
From the popularity of the so-called “obvious” researchers EVs, they tentatively concluded that many purchases were driven by “extrinsic” motivations – a desire to advertise one’s concern about climate change. That’s a signal many Republican drivers want to avoid.
This problem has caught the attention of one of America’s most experienced Republican activists, Mike Murphy. An enthusiast of indoor combustion, Mr. Murphy grew up in Detroit and boasts that he has averaged about eight miles per gallon over the years. But when he traded in his Porsche for electricity BMW he became fascinated by both the achievements and the community of engineers and enthusiasts who were trying to overcome the barriers to electricity. “It’s like the Apollo program,” he says. “They are full of joy. They are solving very difficult engineering problems and they have a reason for that. And that’s a little contagious.”
Mr Murphy decided to apply his skills to breaking down the barrier that the boffins were ill-equipped to overcome. In January he launched clothing, the EV Politics Project, to advise automakers on how to overcome Republican resistance and also counter what it expects, in the 2024 campaign, to be a strong resistance to attacks on electrification .
Mr Murphy commissioned a poll to measure the problem. He found that Democrats and Republicans had similar views on car brands in general, but were sharply divided only over electric car makers. Democrats approved them by a net margin of 15 points, but Republicans opposed by 40 points – “an Osama bin Laden number,” Mr Murphy says. While 61% of Democrats said their friends and relatives would recommend them for a “smart move” if they bought one eVonly 19% of Republicans said so.
The son of a labor lawyer and the grandson of auto workers, Mr. Murphy fears that America’s auto industry will not survive if electrification grows. “If half of the American market is ruling this stuff based on bull and tribalism – and on marketing that doesn’t understand that – that’s a gift to the People’s Republic of China,” he says. Mr. Murphy is a Reagan Republican who advised the likes of John McCain, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. The toughest enemy he faces on electrification politics is the same one he has been fighting for years, unsuccessfully, for the leadership of his party: Donald Trump.
Mr Trump has pointed to the polarization over electric vehicles, the type of energy that has powered his politics since 2016.They MUST rot in hell“, he wished EV supporters, among others, on Christmas Day. He owned a Tesla, according to his aides, but he has said that electric vehicles are bad for the environment, require charging every 15 minutes and take 40% of a car’s fuel. ‘ American auto jobs will disappear in a year or two. Some Republican-led states have begun taxing it EVs, restrictions on how they can be sold and even new taxes, reportedly to make up for lost fuel tax revenue, though not usually Republican leaders, starting with Mr Trump , to combat tax evasion.
But some Republican leaders have embraced the possibilities of electrification. It took an awfully long time for states to start opening new charging stations with the $7.5bn fund created by President Joe Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law. But Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, was the first governor to do so, in December. Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, is busy recruiting battery manufacturers.
The electric body
Mr. Murphy sees other openings. He notes that five of the top ten states are for EV investment, including Georgia and Michigan, are swing states in presidential elections. He thinks his pro-EV messages on them. But 66% of Democrats think Elon Musk is a bad ambassador for him EVs, 61% of Republicans agree. “So China is Nixon? ” Mr. Murphy is surprised.
Mr. Murphy’s poll also suggests, hopefully, whichever party most Americans share important feelings about. EVs. They have the same concerns about price and range, and are drawn to some of the same benefits: not paying for petrol, cashing in on government rebates. Mr Murphy believes carmakers need to close about how EVs to help the environment – those who care are already sold on the vehicles – and talk instead about how they benefit their owners. “If we want to move iron, we have to do it about cars, not about luxury ideas,” he said. There may be a lesson there for Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign as well. ■
Read more from Lexington, our columnist on American politics:
Why America’s Political Parties Are So Bad at Winning Elections (January 25)
It’s Not Trump’s Party Yet (January 18)
Ron DeSantis has lessons for America’s politicians (January 11)
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