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Why EVs Haven't Sparked Interest in the US

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On: Mon, May 5, 2014 at 2:33PM | By: Karen Cook

Why EVs Haven't Sparked Interest in the US

Back in 2007 and 2008 it appeared that the electric vehicle revolution was about to begin. With fuel prices rising with no end in sight and awareness of the effect of gas-powered engines also rising, President Obama predicted that there would be one million electric vehicles on the roadways of America by 2015. The US Department of Energy even paid out billions in low interest loans under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program. What happened to derail what many automakers saw as a necessary and fated shift in consumer purchasing? Actually, it was a combination of factors that include better technology and buyers’ disinclination to purchase unfamiliar engines.

The first thing Americans did when fuel prices began to rise is to opt for smaller cars, purchasing compact or subcompacts as opposed to large or mid-sized vehicles. Automakers also began downsizing engines giving buyers an option of buying a 4-cylinder instead of a 6 or a 6-cylinder instead of an 8 without sacrificing power by using turbocharged engines. Sales of 4-cylinder engines rose 12% in 2013 over 2012. Manufacturers were able to improve fuel economy significantly even for consumers who needed or wanted bigger vehicles.

Other factors for slow EV sales can be traced to a more positive perception of diesel engines by Americans. Europe has been the stronghold for diesels for decades but only recently the US has seen its buyers becoming more interested in this technology due to the softer imprint on the environment. Aluminum-bodied vehicles are also on the horizon with new ways to overcome prior drawbacks which included initial expense (even though fuel efficiency rose dramatically) and the difficulty of dealing of working with it in high-volume production.

On the other hand, electric vehicles have not seen a price drop significant enough to make them attractive to buyers who are less familiar and thus less trusting of the new technology. Batteries have not improved, charging stations have not appeared quickly enough, and news stories highlight possible flaws in the system which can cause damage to person or property.

The best selling EV in the US is the Nissan Leaf. The automaker invested a large portion of its loan money from the government to build factories capable of producing nearly 200,000 of these vehicles per year. Unfortunately Nissan can barely move 30,000 Leafs off dealer lots per year since 2010 when they were introduced.

There are other options in the not too distant future, such as hydrogen-powered cars, but it appears that Americans are much more comfortable with the good old combustion engine.


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