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Monday, June 17, 2024

Why I Don’t Own an Electric Car Yet

This story is part of Plugged In, CNET’s hub for all things EV and the future of electrified mobility. From vehicle reviews to helpful hints and the latest industry news, we’ve got you covered.

In my line of work, I’m asked all the time if I have an EV. People are surprised and, I suspect, disappointed that my answer is no. Here are my reasons, none of them perfect, for not yet taking the plunge into what I nonetheless think is the future of driving. 

Lousy timing

This is the big one: It’s an awful time to buy any car, thanks to record high transaction prices and record low choice on dealer lots. I don’t relish getting at the back of a long line to pay top dollar for any commodity, which I suspect CNET’s Farnoosh Torabi has my back on. That said, major consultancies believe we are close to a sea change when EVs will equal conventional cars in total cost of ownership and even beat them on purchase price, without incentives. 

Used cars FTW

I much prefer to buy late-model used cars, but they’re also experiencing high cost and low supply, compounded by the fact that there are even fewer desirable used EVs in the pipeline. Sorry, a first-gen frog-eyed Leaf just isn’t on my list. This situation will correct itself over time and I don’t worry about a used EV having some range loss; see my piece from not too long ago about giving yourself a reality check on how much range you need — it’s less than you think.

Beyond Tesla

There has to be more to the story than Tesla, but right now that one brand essentially is the US EV market and pretty much owns the excitement around it. But history tells me that two to three other major makers, existing or new, will emerge with similar or even greater success, and I want to see how they get there before I buy.

Waiting for monotony

I’ve covered many tech revolutions and they all have a similar arc, starting with convulsively innovative products before morphing in a marvelous monotony of uniformly excellent offerings trying to make big news out of small improvements. That describes smartphones, TVs, laptops and combustion-engine cars today, with products in each category doing about the same thing as the other guy and about as well. EVs will get there, which is when I prefer to buy anything that depreciates. 

Charging will get easier

I live in a single-family home, so charging would be easy, but I’m also cognizant of an increasing drumbeat behind daytime charging away from home, as advocated by a new Stanford study that says such charging behavior pays major dividends in terms of grid stability and cleanliness. Ideally charging should be the same as parking, just about anywhere you go, but we’re a long way from that. 

Spending more, polluting more

You probably buy an EV to save money and the environment, but for the first year or two you may pollute and spend more, because you caused a huge battery and car to be built and transported, and because you spent a bunch of money to buy a car at historically high prices that you probably didn’t need. Both deficiencies can be earned back, but timing your purchase well can shorten both windows thanks to better market conditions and improved technology, like…

Solid-state batteries

These may be coming at scale by 2025 and could reduce the carbon footprint of an EV battery by nearly 40%, take an 80% charge in 15 minutes instead of 30 and have a longer cycle life of charges and discharges, giving cars equipped with them better long-term value. That said, a solid-state battery revolution is still nebulous enough that I rank this concern fairly low, but I also don’t want to be that last guy who bought a laptop running on nickel metal hydrides.

Byzantine tax incentives

The US federal tax incentives for buying a plug-in car recently changed and became a complicated eye of a needle, with an estimated 70% of new EVs failing to qualify fully or even partially over the next couple of years. The new rules scrutinize the origin of key materials, the price of the car and where it’s assembled. Carmakers are rejiggering their processes to check the new boxes, but in the meantime many desirable electric cars will effectively cost thousands more than they might later. Since I like used cars, this one is rather low on my list, but perhaps No. 1 for you.

The other car with a plug

I’ve long thought that plug-hybrid electric vehicles are the unsung heroes of green driving, at least in the interim between now and truly widespread EV adoption. The latest PHEVs can handle most or all of your daily driving without combustion and easily segue into long trips using gas — goodbye range anxiety. The downside is that they are less elegant machines, with two powertrains and an admittedly complicated  story, but try telling that to Akio Toyoda, whose family business knows a thing or two about hybrids and remains committed to them at scale. It might also surprise you to know that a ranking by transport analysis consultancy TNMT slots PHEVs lower in carbon footprint than a pure electric car.

Fewer miles to improve

I drive much less since COVID, and I think that’s permanent. Commuting, shopping and my interest in dining out have simply changed. I now go days without getting into a car, unheard of a couple of years ago. That means the benefits of any EV I might buy would have a lot fewer miles to act upon, apropos to the cost and emissions earn-back conundrums I mentioned above.

A weak link

I don’t like single points of infrastructure failure, and electric cars help create one as we supposedly electrify everything. Now, I will always have several cars, most of them combustion, but if you’re thinking of making an EV your sole vehicle right now, think twice, or at least shop for one that can be a power source, not just a power consumer.

Find the right car for you

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At this point I’ve probably enraged the Tesla-rati, tree huggers and coal rollers alike, but my work has taught me to be a clear-eyed consumer, not an early adopter. I want more model choice, inventory size, technological maturation, purchasing leverage and federal incentive applicability than exist today. Waiting for those will only bring me better tech and a more informed perspective.

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