Kerry Jackson | Would You Buy a Used Electric Car from This Man?

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

In his last year occupying the governor’s office, Jerry Brown issued an executive order that he said would put 5 million zero-emissions cars on California roads by 2030. 

Not to be out-virtue-signaled, Gov. Gavin Newsom last year dropped an order on the state that outlaws the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2035. That beats by five years legislation introduced but never passed that would have done the same thing by 2040.

Decrees can’t change consumer preference, though. No matter how hard politicians bully Californians toward electric cars and activists promote them as the only responsible choice, a significant number of consumers simply aren’t happy with electric and hybrid vehicles, and they’ve been dumping them into the used-car market.

“On the basis of results from five questionnaire surveys, we find that PEV (plug-in electric vehicles) discontinuance in California occurs at a rate of 20% for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle owners and 18% for battery electric vehicle owners,” say University of California, Davis, researchers.

The inconvenience of charging battery vehicles is one of the reasons owners are walking away from them. Many don’t have access to high-powered level two chargers, which need a 240-volt connection. And even with the right equipment, it can take six hours to build enough battery capacity to last 300 miles. 

Meanwhile, filling the tank of even the biggest gasoline-burning car or SUV takes no more than a few minutes.

In some cases, plug-in car owners are renting conventional automobiles for long drives out of fear of being stranded because the battery in their EV died before they could find a charging station on the open road. 

Santa Clarita has more than 25 charging stations in and around the city center. But imagine driving up Interstate 5 on a low battery and having to wait two, three, or four hours to recharge an electric vehicle in Lebec.

Put another way by a Business Insider reporter, survey respondents said, “Charging the batteries was a pain in the … trunk.”

The political response to owners’ frustrations is of course to plow more taxpayers’ dollars into a construction campaign to build more charging stations. 

But that’s not a market-driven response. It’s a central planning answer, intended to nudge consumers toward a certain decision.

To meet the charging demand expected to be produced by Newsom’s order, “​​The state will need nearly 1.2 million public and shared chargers” by 2030, says the California Energy Commission, and another 157,000 chargers “to support 180,000 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks and buses.”  

So far, only 73,000 or so public and shared EV chargers have been installed in California, according to the commission. An additional 123,000 are planned by 2025, which falls “short of the state’s goal of 250,000 chargers by 54,000 installations.”

Already Sacramento is spending billions in an effort to modify consumers’ choices. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported two years ago that various state agencies had “committed $2.46 billion in public funds – some of it already spent and the rest planned over a number of years,” which includes funds for charging stations and other EV-related infrastructure.

The current state budget dedicates $2.7 billion over the next year for electric and zero-emission vehicles and associated EV “investments.” 

Roughly a fifth, $525 million, will be used for clean-vehicle rebates, another $500 million will be spent on charging infrastructure, and $125 million is set aside for zero-emissions vehicle manufacturing grants. 

There’s no denying that a number of California consumers favor EVs over conventional automobiles. But if consumer preference increases the need for more charging stations, it’s up to the private sector to meet the demand. 

Spending public money on charging infrastructure to drag the state into an EVs-for-all campaign is not a legitimate government function.

Electric vehicles are not right for everybody. The numbers bear this out: Despite the monetary gifts Sacramento has handed to buyers over the years, fewer than 3% of registered cars in California are EVs. 

As does the trend of EV owners going back to cars and trucks that burn carbon-based fuels.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

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