A version of this story first appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today for more stories like this one, plus receive a $15 gift card to the Gear Patrol Store.
If you’re anywhere along the car-buying spectrum right now, you’ve probably asked yourself a question your forebears never had to contend with: Should I get an electric car?
After all, saying goodbye to gas is more in vogue than ever. Elon Musk has become one of the world’s richest people based on market expectations that Tesla represents the future of transportation. And governments around the globe have announced plans to ban the sale of fossil fuel cars before today’s infants start driver’s ed, with good reason. EVs have many advantages over internal-combustion-engined vehicles: you can refuel them at home; they require less maintenance; their torque-laden motors make them feel zippier; and, of course, they don’t produce harmful emissions.
Here’s the thing, though: you shouldn’t buy an electric car. Not yet.
This isn't to say today’s EVs suck. Far from it. From Tesla to Taycan, many of the electric vehicles you can buy right now are among the most cutting-edge passenger vehicles ever sold, capable of doing everything from almost driving themselves to delivering acceleration that could make Neil Armstrong puke.
And though you might know the term “range anxiety” as a reason to be apprehensive about electric cars, it’s not the issue it’s made out to be. Today’s EVs can usually cover at least 200 miles on a charge; that may not be the equal of fossil fuel cars, but it’s still more than enough to handle 99 percent of the average person’s needs.
What remains a deal breaker in 2021, however, is another hang-up: a paucity of charging options. While there are around 168,000 gas stations in the United States, there are only around 47,000 public electric vehicle chargers in the U.S. and Canada combined. Less than 6,000 of those are fast chargers capable of substantially recharging a vehicle in under an hour — and more than 1,000 of those only work with Teslas.
The vast majority of chargers are Level 2 units, which can fully recharge an EV over five to 12 hours. That makes them ideal for recharging at home overnight or at the office, where cars sit stationary for hours, but not so great in the areas many of them are actually located: places like shopping malls and grocery stores, where people are in and out. Add it all up, and America’s EV infrastructure still has a long way to go before it can come close to matching gas stations.
The other primary obstacle: the number of electric vehicle options is still limited compared with internal-combustion options, and they’re relatively pricey for what you get. As of this story’s publication, there are only 19 true EVs in U.S. showrooms. Want a pickup truck, like millions of Americans buy every year? A giant SUV, a convertible or a station wagon? Tough luck. And even if you’re shopping in a category that is fairly well-represented, like all-wheel-drive crossovers — the EV equivalent of a $29,000 Honda CR-V — you’re looking at shelling out more than $45,000.
Thankfully, the next few years should see both of these stumbling blocks fall away. On the charging front, the Biden administration aims to make EVs far more appealing through an onslaught of investment, including plans to add 500,000 charging stations across America. That would not only make electric-car ownership easier for road-tripping suburbanites, but also open up the door to EVs for city dwellers, who often don’t have the luxury of a dedicated parking/charging space at home.
And by 2024, the market will be flooded with a broad array of EVs, as nearly every car company that sells in America dives into the space. Given the fast pace of EV development and the ramping up of battery tech and production, those cars will likely pack more power and range than many of the EVs you can buy today — quite possibly with smaller price tags.
But if you’re locked into a lease or loan you signed in 2021, you’ll be left watching from the sidelines, grumbling under your breath every time one of those new electric Cadillacs, Fords or Mercedes-Benz EQs glides by.