The recent labor turmoil that pitted the United Auto Workers against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis coincided with a raft of announcements that appeared to slow automakers’ enthusiasm for electric vehicles.
Ford said it will delay construction of a battery plant in Kentucky; GM announced it would postpone the start of light-duty electric truck production in a Michigan assembly plant and lowered its near-term EV production plans. Honda and GM walked away from a deal to jointly develop and manufacture affordable electric vehicles. Automotive dealers say that EVs aren’t selling as fast as the manufacturers are making them.
But the numbers show that electric vehicle sales jumped 49% year over year in the first three quarters of 2023, according to Kelley Blue Book, a Cox Automotive brand. Nearly 8% of U.S. automotive sales in Q3 were EVs, according to Cox, which predicts full-year sales of more than one million electric vehicles. So Albert Gore doesn’t believe the narrative that consumer demand for EVs is waning.
This Albert Gore is executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, a coalition advocating for full adoption of EVs by 2030. He is the son of the former vice president and well-known climate advocate. “We’re seeing continued monthly growth, but also year-over-year growth of [EV sales],” he explained. “It’s just important to keep our eye on the longer-term trend and not overreact to these individual data points that in many cases seem to be anecdotal, or maybe very specific and regional.”
Gore pointed out that buying an EV is often a slower decision process for consumers than a more familiar gas-powered car: “No matter what EV you’re in, it’s really different than a gas car.” Buyers have questions about safety, charging, range and other factors, he said.
The current federal incentive of up to $7,500 for the purchase of a new, qualifying EV comes in the form of a tax credit that is applied to the buyer’s annual tax filing. However, starting Jan. 1, 2024, the credit will be applied at the point of sale, directly reducing the cost of the vehicle. That may influence some electric vehicle shoppers to wait until the new year, which Gore said “artificially warps the market.”
Electric vehicles will help cities cut emissions
Transportation accounts for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and the nation’s road network is responsible for most of those emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, total transportation GHG emissions grew approximately 19.4% from 1990 to 2021 as the number of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. by passenger cars and light-duty trucks jumped 45.1%.
Gore said that “transportation is even more heavily weighted within cities, and particularly with regards to medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.” He added that, in addition to greenhouse gas emissions, other particulate emissions from larger vehicles affect “disadvantaged communities close to very high-traffic roadways.”
California has led the nation in adopting clean truck rules, which several other states have followed. The regulation sets a phase-in of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks until 2036, when manufacturers will only be able to sell clean trucks in the state.
Transit agencies across the country are also turning toward electric buses as the Federal Transit Administration makes funding available for the transition under the Buses and Bus Facilities and the Low or No Emission grant programs.
“If it’s a medium- or heavy-duty delivery vehicle or transit vehicle driving to your neighborhood every day, or 10 times a day, you benefit a lot from that being electric,” Gore said.
Some cities also want to encourage more walking, biking and public transit use in a shift away from personal vehicles.