It will take more than EV promises from car companies to limit climate change damage

I went to the LA Auto Show recently, and much has changed in the world of EVs since my first trip in 2015. Many more models of EVs are available or coming soon, and quite a few presentations from car company executives promise even more electric options in the future.

But a look at the latest sales figures for EVs shows a markedly different picture, with most sales (and growth in sales) coming from Tesla, a company that wasn’t even on the main floor at the auto show. EV sales from traditional automakers have been flat for the last three years. What should we make of this divergence between a growing number of EV models and sales that aren’t seeing the same growth?

It seems clear to me that this disconnect is due to many automakers that are technically offering EVs but are doing little to improve their design and sell them. This disconnect needs to be fixed now if we want to try to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

I’m convinced EVs can sell in the United States if they are a compelling car, crossover/SUV or truck with range and features that meet buyers’ needs (and not simply a gasoline car substituting a battery and electric motor for an engine) and widely available for purchase in the United States. Among the EVs for sale today, most don’t meet either requirement.

In the past, automakers have argued that they’ve made many models of EVs available, but claimed that low U.S. sales figures show there just isn’t interest in EVs, in effect blaming buyers for low EV sales figures. For example, the Auto Alliance, an industry trade group, has a webpage titled “Buyers Wanted” that claims over 50 models of EVs are available in the United States, but laments that sales remain “modest.”

This argument ignores the huge influence of marketing (automatic PDF download) and sales strategies, ones that the car companies are very good at using to sell their existing gasoline vehicles. It also fails to acknowledge that most EVs simply are not available nationwide.

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