Electric Skeptics

By Will Houston

August 7, 2019 4 min read

At first glance, switching to an electric vehicle seems like a logical step for those living in more isolated parts of the country. Longer commutes, rising gas prices and a more frequent need for repair leaves rural Americans with the opportunity to save nearly twice as much by switching to clean vehicles compared with their city-dwelling counterparts. With that in mind, why is it that many continue to refuse abandoning their allegiance to fossil fuels?

Electric vehicle companies and rural residents are locked in a stalemate. There are over 18,000 dedicated car charging stations in the U.S., but the locations of these stations are disproportionally populated in California and on the East Coast. Unfortunately, those with longer commutes to work and school find themselves within unreasonable distances between available charging stations. This leaves many rural electric car owners with a problem known as "range anxiety."

Range anxiety is the concern that electric cars will be insufficient in the case of an emergency. According to Pew Research Center, Americans living in the most isolated counties can be forced to travel over 30 minutes, on average, to reach the nearest hospital. With these drivers' homes being the only effective power source for charging, the risk of running out of power in a dire situation is a serious concern.

On the other side of the coin, due to the sheer lack of electric drivers on the road, electric car companies don't see any incentive to add charging stations in less populated areas. Currently, steep hikes in utility fees have made it very difficult for car charging stations to turn a profit. In the U.S., tariffs and fees can accumulate up to $2,000 a month for each charger at a dedicated charging station. With low usage expected of these stations, no investor would see it financially sound to build up a chain of electric charging stations in, for example, rural South Dakota.

Finally, there is a larger and often less discussed obstacle for many prospective buyers: a cultural barrier. Over 65% of U.S. coal is still mined in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Rural economies in these states are dependent on coal for success, and many in these communities see the switch to electric as turning their backs on the process that built their towns. In addition, all of these states voted red last election. According to Gallup Poll, 58% of Republicans still actively oppose reducing the use of fossil fuels in the wake of clean energy.

The ball is now in the court of companies like Chevrolet and Tesla to show rural America how driving electric is not only advantageous, but also more practical. This will eventually mean tailoring products more toward this audience. Rivian currently has plans to release an electric pickup truck in 2021, priced competitively with the industry-dominating Ford F-150. Until then, no change is going to happen without incentivizing the establishment of affordable, fast-charging stations in all parts of the country, instead of just our largest cities.

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