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What’s Standing in the Way of Full-Scale EV Adoption? A Lot

The headwinds facing electric vehicle adoption range from supply side issues to charging infrastructure. However, EV observers see things gradually moving toward electrification and “transportation-as-a-service” models.

Electric vehicles charging
Even though electric vehicle ownership continues to expand as new models are introduced, driving range is increased and charging infrastructure is built out, the “tipping point” for wholesale adoption of EVs is nowhere near and may never show itself in any splash.

The EV tipping point has been “so gradual so far, it’s probably going to continue to be gradual,” said Gabe Klein, a partner at Cityfi and the former commissioner for both the Chicago and Washington, D.C., departments of transportation. Klein was moderating a panel at the CoMotion Miami conference April 21.

“I don’t think there’s a tipping point,” agreed Andre Dua, senior partner at McKinsey and Company, and who heads up McKinsey’s Miami office, as he cited supply side issues, limited charging infrastructure and the need to scale up battery development and technologies.

“You look across the board… and what you see is delays, bigger challenges, supply problems. That just tells me this is a steady improvement. And each year you see further and further penetration,” he added, underscoring the idea that the process of electrifying transportation will be a gradual one, rather than all at once.

There are more than 2.6 million light-duty electric cars on U.S. roadways, with California home to nearly half of those, according to Veloz, an industry advocacy group. Some 12.5 percent of cars registered in California are now electric.

One estimate by McKinsey shows EV adoption in the E.U., U.S. and China will be 120 million vehicles by 2030. A more aggressive case shows 240 million vehicles. The three biggest barriers to adoption are price, driving range and access to charging.

“So there’s a real risk that EV adoption gets out ahead of, have we provided the infrastructure that people need, even if the price and driving range issues are addressed,” said Dua.

However, that transition is not without headwinds. Consumer confidence is a problem as Americans struggle with high prices as a result of inflation. Then again, steep sticker shock at the gas pump is tugging car owners toward EVs, given their operational savings.

“People vote with their pocketbooks, and this is the direction everything is heading,” said Jeff Brandes, a Republican state senator from Pinellas County, Fla., and a transportation innovation advocate.

Other trends are also influencing the issues of electrification, said Brandes, pointing to the development of autonomous technology as well as the rise of shared vehicles and “transportation-as-a-service,” a move away from the vast majority of cars being exclusively private.

“As you have more shared economy, it makes more sense for them to be electrified, and then it makes more sense for them to be automated, so those assets can be utilized more effectively,” said Brandes.

“I think transportation-as-a-service is definitely going to be real,” agreed Anuj Chokshi, director of e-mobility at Florida Power and Light.

“It’s definitely going to be a game-changer in this industry,” he added.

But will this gradually evolving world of shared, electric and autonomous mobility lead to less traffic, less car ownership and perhaps even reducing the climate impacts posed by transportation?

Probably not.

“I do think Americans will still own one car, but not the fourth car, and maybe not the third car,” said Brandes, a comment that seemed to be spectacularly tone-deaf toward the high transportation costs many Americans — and Floridians — face.

“We do have transportation-as-a-service,” Dua interjected. “It’s called public transportation.”

“But it’s not a good service,” Brandes, shot back, as he offered up the idea of eliminating some bus service in favor of giving riders vouchers to use private-sector mobility providers like Uber.

“But that’s the key point. It comes down to really understanding what is it that people value in their transportation,” said Dua. “So, if it’s difficult to get to, if it doesn’t run regularly enough, and you can imagine all these same problems being the case if you have the newer versions of transportation-as-a-service."
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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