Rise of the Electric Car (BEV)

By L. David Roper, ROPERLD@VT.EDU, http://www.roperld.com/personal/roperldavid.htm

Recently much has been written about the efforts of the oil industry and the legacy-auto industry (gasoline/diesel vehicles) to slow down the rise of electric cars, as epitomized by Tesla BEVs (Battery-Electric Vehicles)(tesla.com). For example, see https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/16/oil-industry-electric-car-1729429 and https://thedriven.io/2019/09/09/the-future-of-legacy-auto-manufacturers/.

As a “car guy” I have closely followed the auto industry for about 70 years. As a scientific environmentalist I have striven to become more environmental aware in my daily life for the last 50 years. As a result I have been driving BEVs since 2007 (http://www.roperld.com/Science/My5BEVs.pdf). This article is my take on the Rise of the Electric Car (BEVs) and its hindrance by the fossil-fuel industry and the legacy-auto industry.

For many years the U.S. has spent large sums of money subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry; for 2015 it is estimated at $649-billion! (https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/06/15/united-states-spend-ten-times-more-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies-than-education/#4aa2456f4473)

Because of the Great Recession, from 2008-2014 the U.S. provided $80.7-billion to rescue the auto industry, the much largest fraction being for the legacy-auto industry (https://www.thebalance.com/auto-industry-bailout-gm-ford-chrysler-3305670).

Estimating U.S. subsidies for electric cars is not easy. For one thing the term “electric” is not well defined. Some legacy auto companies include hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and BEVs when using the term “electric” car. More honest auto companies refer to hybrids as “electrified” and reserve “electric” for PHEVs and BEVs, with PHEVs and BEVs collectively labeled as EVs. Federal EV tax credits have been and still are different for those three types of cars and other factors; also, some states have EV tax credits (https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/electric-vehicles-tax-credits-and-other-incentives). Using a reasonable estimate of the number of “electric” cars on U.S. roads in 2018 (https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/research/electric-vehicle-sales-hit-new-peak-in-2018-but-a-lot-of-room-for-continued-growth/) as 1-million and assuming that the probably-high average tax credit was $7500 (maximum federal  = $7500), the tax-credit subsidy was about $7.5-billion. So, the EV subsidy is very small compared to the fossil-fuel and the legacy-auto subsidies!

So, it is clear that the U.S. and state governments have greatly favored the fossil-fuel and legacy-auto industries over the EV industry.

The Tesla excellent BEVs on U.S. roads have “forced” legacy-auto companies to start making BEVs. There are many problems legacy-auto companies have trying to catch up with Tesla:

  • Sales persons are usually not knowledgeable about EVs.
  • It takes longer for knowledgeable sales people to explain EVs to uninformed customers, which most are.
  • Dealer maintenance profit from BEVs is much lower than for ICEVs (internal-combustion-engine vehicles).
  • Many non-Tesla BEVs are available only in California and 11 other states that have adopted California’s Zero-Emission-Vehicles (ZEV) regulations (https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/california-and-western-states/what-is-zev).
  • Legacy-auto companies do not advertise their BEVs as much as they do their ICEVs.
  • BEVs made by legacy-auto companies do not have access to Tesla Superchargers for charging on long trips.
  • Tesla BEVs are more efficient than most BEVs made by legacy-auto companies, so have longer ranges and about 1/3 the fuel cost per mile traveled (about $0.03/mile for BEVs versus about $0.09/mile for ICEVs and about $0.06 for HEVs).
  • Tesla has almost a decade of experience making BEVs ahead of legacy-auto companies.

Because of these dealer deficiencies of selling BEVs compared to ICEVs, the efforts of legacy-auto companies are slowed by resistance of their independent dealers. Tesla sells its BEVs online, without having to satisfy independent dealers. Volvo is trying to somewhat emulate the way Tesla sells BEVs by having online selling for its Polestar BEV and “dealers” where viewing and test driving can occur (https://carbuzz.com/news/polestar-announces-first-dealership-location). Probably other legacy-auto companies will have to do something similar if they are going to succeed in selling their BEVs.

Volkswagen, because of its diesel scandal, is moving rapidly into making BEVs; it will be interesting to see how independent VW dealers will adjust to this new reality. Helpful for VW and other non-Tesla companies will be Electrify America (https://www.electrifyamerica.com/our-plan), a company established by VW with funds mandated by an EPA diesel-scandal settlement that is promoting BEVs nationwide and establishing a nation-wide network of fast charging stations:


Most of the blue locations have not been built yet.

Comparing this to the Tesla map of Superchargers, one sees that Electrify America has a long way to go to catch Tesla:


The red locations have been built and the gray locations are being built or planned.

And Tesla is building new Superchargers at about the rate Electrify America is building generic fast charging stations. In addition, Tesla BEVs with an adapter can use at least one charging port at all Electrify-America stations:

Given all the information above it is easy to see why legacy-auto companies and fossil-fuels companies are doing all they can to slow down the transition from fossil-fuel ICEVs to BEVs, especially Tesla BEVs!

There are many reasons to move from an ICEV to a BEV; here are 5 of them (Union of Concerned Scientists): 

  1. BEVs save you money.
  2. BEVs cut emissions (https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-reichmuth/new-data-show-electric-vehicles-continue-to-get-cleaner)
  3. BEVs offer a better driving experience.
  4. BEVs cut oil use.
  5. BEVs are more convenient.

The exponential rise of global EV sales has convinced me that one can reasonably project when and how EVs will take over from ICEVs globally: http://www.roperld.com/science/ElectricCarsTotal.htm.