As consumer interest in electric vehicles grows, government officials at all levels in Texas are scrambling to decide how to add infrastructure to further support electric vehicle ownership in the state, a transportation researcher says. at Texas A&M.

Chase Akin of Fort Worth has owned his electric vehicle for three years and hopes to one day replace the family’s gas-powered van with an electric one. John Kent/Texas Climate News

With transportation being the largest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and one of the largest in the world, the reduction in the global fleet of fossil-fuel vehicles is widely seen as a handy fruit ready to be picked in the struggle. against climate change. To that end – and for other reasons ranging from low operating costs to driving excitement – ​​electric vehicle sales are growing globally, including in the Texas oil patch.

In 2019, Chase Akin of Fort Worth bought a new all-electric Tesla Model 3 sedan primarily for his Autopilot suite of electronic driver aids. He imagined the system shielded him from distractions and ended up doing some of the driving while he caught up on emails and other work during a long drive. The system does indeed have some high-tech features that Akin found useful – automated steering, lane changing and parking, to name a few – but in general it has evolved more slowly than him and many Tesla owners had expected it.

But something happened while Akin waited for the technology to mature – the car’s other charms began to work their magic. “Now the reasons I’m glad I bought the car have a lot more to do with the EV side,” Akin said. “It’s such an easy car. Maintaining an electric vehicle is much easier. Long-term spending is better, it’s good for the environment.

And the EV’s raw performance was a revelation. “You know, it’s like, oh, I can just step on the gas and go whatever speed I want. Electric vehicles in general are just fast. And gasoline cars – well, there’s this lag,” said Akin, whose Tesla replaced a well-worn Lexus ES 300.

Growing demand

Akin is one of a rapidly growing legion of Texas drivers making the switch to battery-electric vehicles. The number of electric vehicles registered in the state has increased 55% from 2020 to 2021, with 81,000 electric vehicles on the roads of the Lone Star State at the end of last year. (Globally, electric vehicle sales have doubled over the same period.) In terms of the absolute number of electric vehicles per state, Texas is near the top, behind only California (563,000) and the Florida (96,000).

However, when viewed in terms of per capita uptake, the Texas numbers look rather low – only about one in 370 Texans were driving an electric vehicle by the dawn of 2022. This ratio could be tighter without supply constraints.

Electric vehicles like the Cadillac Lyriq, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4 SUVs and the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup are already sold out for the model year, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV are in such demand that production is nearly doubled, and the clamor for Teslas has put that brand’s most popular models chronically out of stock. To make matters worse for Texans hungry for EVs, the 2,000 EV rebate applications for the state’s Light Motor Vehicle Purchase or Lease Incentive Program have been announced through the next statutory funding period.

Nevertheless, sales trends show a clear shift towards electric vehicles and away from gasoline-powered vehicles. In the second quarter of 2022, electric vehicle sales were up 66% year-over-year nationwide, even though the overall auto market was down 20%. According to a survey cited in the November 2022 issue of Consumer Reports, the percentage of Americans who say they are “definitely” considering buying an EV has more than tripled since 2020.

For its part, the Texas legislature has continued its enthusiastic support for the state’s oil and gas industry and steadfastly avoids action on virtually any measure that mentions the word “climate” — a trend that has persisted for years. But he notably left the door open for the passage of electric vehicles, as evidenced by both his funding of electric vehicle rebates and his pursuit of companies focused on electric vehicles like Giga Texas, the massive manufacturing plant of Tesla in Austin.

Government action in Texas

Ben Ettelman of the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University notes that, far from ignoring battery-powered cars, the state government is actively working to prepare for a future where electric vehicles overtake the market and the roads.

“From our perspective, federal, state, regional and local governments are working closely together to determine how to implement infrastructure to support increased electric vehicle ownership in the state of Texas,” Ettelman said. , Associate Researcher and Head of TTI’s Health and Sustainability Program.

As these efforts continue and consumer interest in electric vehicles continues to grow in Texas, market forces outside the state are exerting increasing pressure within its borders. California recently passed a phased ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 – a lead that a number of other states are expected to follow under federal authority to adopt California’s emissions rules. These moves to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles are meeting with opposition — Republican attorneys general in Texas and 16 other states are suing to block the California ban.

Whether or not the Republican-initiated litigation succeeds, however, most major automakers have now publicly pledged to end production or development of most or all fossil-fuel vehicles before or during the next decade. Many governments around the world, meanwhile, have already passed laws banning or restricting the sale of these vehicles as early as 2030, ensuring a sharp drop in global demand for internal combustion vehicles.

In the United States, the recently enacted Cut Inflation Act includes the extension of tax credits of up to $7,500 for the purchase of new domestically produced electric vehicles, and a credit for maximum tax of $4,000 (or 30% of sale price, whichever is lower) for used vehicles. Electric vehicles that are at least two years old and priced under $25,000. These incentives take effect in 2023. The law also supports the construction of a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers.

Texas is moving forward with its own plan to install hundreds of electric vehicle charging points across the state, using up to $408 million in funding from the federal bipartisan Infrastructure Act recently. promulgated. Ettelman, the TTI research scientist, believes that a confluence of circumstances will lead to a steady increase in the number of electric vehicles on Texas roads:

“The two most important factors that we believe are impacting electric vehicle ownership are, on the one hand, the increase in the number of electric vehicles produced by automakers – especially older [automakers] — and, second, the influx of funding provided by the federal government through policies such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to dramatically expand charging infrastructure.

More affordable models

Reasonably priced used electric vehicles have also started to percolate on the market, attracting buyers who might not be able to afford a new one. Among national markets for used electric vehicles, Texas is the second largest after California.

“While EVs were considered a luxury item in the not-too-distant past, the availability of mid-priced EVs and EVs entering the resale market, coupled with accessible charging infrastructure, is expected to increase. adoption rate in Texas,” Ettelman said.

Electric vehicles are still more expensive to buy than fossil-fuel cars despite the significantly lower operating costs of electric vehicles, and the price is likely to affect the rate at which Texans abandon their internal combustion vehicles.

“If we continue to see EV manufacturers introduce mid-priced EVs to the market and charging infrastructure is accessible and affordable, EV ownership will more than likely increase,” Ettelman said. “Conversely, if manufacturers determine that mid-priced EVs do not fit their business models and/or charging infrastructure is difficult to access or increasingly expensive, EV ownership will likely stagnate. “

Akin, the owner of Fort Worth Tesla, says he and his wife Hannah “would love to have two electric cars” once an electric vehicle with the people-carrying capability of their minivan arrives. With four young children and all their stuff to haul, the Akins have their eyes set on the upcoming Volkswagen ID.Buzz, a battery-powered pickup truck with styling cues reminiscent of the iconic VW Microbus.

Akin hopes never to buy another gas-powered vehicle, but admits that, given the current state of electric vehicle technology, a traditional pickup would probably work better for his vision of one day towing a motorhome when family outings.

“It’s not really who I am right now, so it’s only if I become that guy. I hope not, though,” Akin said. “You know, I don’t want my children have to learn to drive. So I hope autopilot will resume soon. I don’t want them putting gas in the car or learning how to change their oil. I don’t think these things will be needed in 10 years.

John Kent is a Fort Worth-based writer specializing in transportation and environmental topics. He is the editor of Texas Climate News.