A charging bay is seen at a new indoor electric vehicle charging station in San Francisco on February 7, 2024.

According to the January issue of Consumer Reports, electric vehicle (EV) owners experience 80% more problems than gasoline vehicle owners (see “Who Makes the Most Reliable Cars?”) ?”). Recent headlines have reported an increase in owner complaints about reliability, limited charging stations, and other EV-specific issues. Sales are good, but not as high as they were a year or two ago.

This has led some industry observers to conclude that electric vehicles are a failed technology, destined to disappear like so many other overhyped innovations. Are EVs the new 3D TV?

We believe reports of the demise of EVs are greatly exaggerated. Complaints may be legitimate, but we need to keep them in perspective. EVs have been around for a long time, but they have not been mass-produced. EV sales will exceed 1 million units for the first time in 2023 (up from just 320,000 units in 2020). This is surprising, but it is roughly equivalent to the situation in 1913, before what is now considered the age of the automobile, when cars powered by internal combustion engines existed.

The 1913 car was not without its complaints. They were unreliable, slow, uncomfortable, and usually only came in one color. The nation's first drive-up gas station had just opened in Pittsburgh. Repair shops were difficult to find, as were paved roads.

By 1913, cars had wipers and headlights, but not radios, air conditioning, or power steering, each of which was still more than a decade away.

In 1913, automobiles were not yet a mature technology. They worked reasonably well for the wealthy, but mass-produced consumer cars were still in their infancy. American society also lacked the infrastructure and support systems necessary for a motorized society. But within 20 years, the automobile had completely changed American society.

Like conventional cars in 1913, EVs in 2024 are not yet mature, but they are maturing quickly. Improvements are being made in every area, from reliability to charging times and extended range. There is no reason to think that these positive trends will not continue.

Just as America needed the federal government to pave the nation's roads in the 1910s, our government today is building the infrastructure needed to accommodate the next million EVs. I play this role. We need more and faster charging stations. We need to strengthen our power grid and intensify research into better and cheaper batteries. We also need a network of repair shops and scrapyards that can process and recycle EV parts. Some of these needs are being addressed through legislation such as the Inflation Control Act, but more support is needed.

The process we experience with EVs is not fundamentally different from the process we experience with cars, televisions, computers, and mobile phones. New technologies take time to mature. Society needs time to adapt and adapt to these new technologies. And governments have a role to play in encouraging both.

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