This is why EVs are not very popular in the United States

Open roads and lower fuel costs keep larger internal combustion cars on America’s highways.

Motor1 EV sales figures Motor1 EV sales figures

Global awareness of environmental issues and the role of humans in change is growing. Electric vehicles are not the solution to all the pollution problems caused by combustion cars, but they can help reduce emissions from urban and rural mobility. As with most things, there are pros and cons to the technology. But the world is shifting in that direction, in some places faster than others.

One of the major economies where the automotive industry is an important driver of prosperity is the United States. The growth of electric vehicles in this region has been slow compared to others, relegating the electric segment to that of a minor player in the sector. Sales are simply not taking off as some automakers expected. Why is that? There are four main reasons to consider.

Big cars, big roads, big infrastructure:

SUVs and pickup trucks were born in America. The need for more cargo and cabin space to traverse the vast rural landscapes outside of cities has made them very popular among American consumers. Americans love everything big, and that includes horsepower. Having a large vehicle with enough power is not necessarily about driving fast, but simply about having the courage to travel long distances without breaking a sweat. As such, no other country in the world has more large vehicles than the United States.

Looking at the numbers, we see that the average weight for an SUV in the US in 2023 was 4,969 pounds. Trucks were even heavier at 5,840 pounds. As you might imagine, it takes a lot of fuel to move those vehicles. However, thanks to the vast energy resources available in the US, consumers can travel without having to worry about refueling. The US economy is heavily based on the oil and gasoline industries. This is why muscle cars, pony cars, trucks and SUVs have grown more in the United States than anywhere else.

It takes time to transition from fossil fuels to electric energy, both physically given the sheer size of the country and culturally. Installing a reliable charging infrastructure that covers all areas will be a years-long effort. It may take longer to transition drivers from large engines to smaller electric motors.

Price at the pump

The availability of energy resources in the US has a direct – and beneficial – impact on fuel prices across the country. Gasoline and diesel costs remain much lower than in many regions where government policies encourage less driving and electric alternatives through higher fuel taxes.

For example, in France the average price of a liter of gasoline in February 2024 was $7.50, compared to just $3.49 in the United States. Due to the relatively low operating costs of an ICE vehicle in the United States, there is currently no strong financial incentive for consumers to drive electric.

Import laws make EV production a challenge

Due to increasing competition from China and its global expansion plans, the US government has taken steps to promote local production with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Despite good intentions for the U.S. economy, the regulations could have negative consequences for battery electric vehicle makers in the country. By trying to leave China out of battery manufacturing and metal suppliers, companies like Tesla, General Motors, Ford and Stellantis could find it harder to build products locally once supply chain constraints are considered.

The lack of competitive raw materials could make the IRA an obstacle for US automakers in producing BEVs. This is another reason why consumers are delaying the switch from ICE to electric vehicles.

2023 2024 2025 2027
40 percent of battery raw materials must come from the United States or countries with which America has a free trade agreement. Do not use battery components made in China. No battery metal is mined or processed in China. 80 percent of battery raw materials must come from the United States or countries with which America has a free trade agreement.

A political controversy:

American citizens are preparing for the election campaign that will decide the next president. The most likely candidates are Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and electric vehicles will be a major issue in the battle for the White House. On the one hand, there is the current government trying to defend the country’s interests with the IRA. On the other hand, there is strong rhetoric that automatically links BEVs to China. The political uncertainty is forcing some automakers to postpone their electrification plans, sending a negative signal to potential electric vehicle customers.

The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an automotive industry specialist at JATO Dynamics.

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