Sleek, efficient, and quiet; in a growing energy crisis, electric cars are quickly becoming the it alternative to fossil fuel vehicles. Almost half of Americans said they would consider an electric car as their next vehicle, according to a poll by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press. Before asking what you can afford or what brand to get, ask yourself what it means to buy an
According to 2021 data from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), light-duty vehicles (cars and small trucks), account for a whopping 16.8% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Though corporations and governments are responsible for a majority of emissions reductions, our transportation choices will reduce our collective emissions.
The Real Question: Do I Need a Car?
A study by the University of Maryland for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that in 2021, 52% of all trips were fewer than five miles and only 2% were over 50 miles. That means most folks live in places where needs like work, groceries, school, and/or family are nearby. If that’s you, there are great options for transportation even better than an electric car:
Bicycles and E-bikes: For trips under five miles, consider tuning up your trusty bike or trying out an electric bike, which gives you a boost while you pedal, making longer, hillier, or heavier rides easier. If Americans replaced 50% of their short-distance car trips with e-bikes, it would save 273K metric tons of CO2 every day, which is the equivalent of 4.5 million tree seedlings growing for 10 years, according to data compiled by Bike Adviser. Many major cities have bike-sharing programs now—with e-bike rentals making it possible to try them inexpensively.
Car-sharing: The world of car-sharing is broad but can encompass “un-docked” cars you pick up on the street (like Turo, Getaround, and Free2Move) or designated locations (ZipCar). Sharing a car makes its use more energy- and cost-efficient. Neighborhood groups are popping up to share individually owned cars among a set group of people, which could work in close-knit communities. A 2023 study from Lund University in Sweden found that people who share instead of own their car can cut their transportation footprint by 40%.
Public transit: Public transit is super effective at moving the masses with much less fuel per person than a car. Not only that, but also reduces roadway congestion and is 10 times safer than getting somewhere by car, according to analysis of Department of Transportation statistics.
If you’re planning to buy an electric car to replace an older second car, we challenge you: try living with just one car, plus a bike, e-bike, public transit, and/or car-sharing options for your shorter-distance needs. If your household does need two cars, make the second electric. Not every option is accessible to everyone—we all do our own cost-benefit analyses.
Tax Incentives for Car-share or E-Bikes or EVs
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 added tax credits and benefits for climate-friendly choices, including electric vehicles. While it didn’t include electric bikes, the 2023 E-BIKE Act would establish a refundable tax credit of 30% on the purchase of a new e-bike, up to $1,500. If that sounds good, ask your representatives to support it, especially if you live in a red or purple state.
Benefits to Switching to an EV
- Electric cars account for less than half of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than do gas-powered cars, even accounting for electricity used while charging.
- EVs cost less to charge than filling gas-powered cars and trucks.
- New and used EVs and chargers qualify for substantial tax credits per The Inflation Reduction Act. Depending on income and tax filing status, EV adopters can qualify for up to $7,500 in tax credits when buying a new, qualified plug-in EV or fuel cell electric car, and up to $4,000 for used vehicles. Support for electric cars is beyond the White House. The European Union banned the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines by 2035, and California and other US states announced similar policies.
- Electric vehicles have much lower maintenance costs and frequency than most gas-powered cars.
- During a power outage, the energy from an EV can power the average home for up to three days.
- Increasing the number of electric cars on the road isn’t the last step the government needs to take to support clean transportation. Government support needs to come with regulations for auto manufacturing, increasing workers' protections, and sourcing responsibly. To make electric cars truly clean cars, they need to be made with consideration for workers and the climate.
Concerns for EV-Adoption
Manufacturing electric cars includes the mining of precious metals, colloquially “dirty metals,” where the laborers are often members of low-income and marginalized communities being paid low wages and working hazardous conditions. This isn’t just a problem for EVs; mining required for materials and fuels needed for gas-powered vehicles is also not done in a socially or environmentally responsible way. But the EV industry has the opportunity to be truly green by urgently addressing labor and environmental abuses in its supply chain.
Solution: Lead the Charge, a coalition of environmental, civic, and Indigenous rights groups working to change the sustainability and fossil fuel auto supply chain, evaluated 18 of the world’s top automakers on their efforts to eliminate emissions, environmental harms, and human rights violations in their supply chains and discovered that Mercedes-Benz and Ford led the pack, though all automakers had a long way to go. Until recently, automakers were untouched by the wave of green initiatives. As the EV market grows, producing green cars means re-imagining the auto industry with an emphasis on human rights and increasing material efficiency.
Larger EVs with larger batteries and greater range are heavy. The heavier the vehicle, the greater the local air pollution.
Solution: Only purchase an EV that is as large as you need and has the range you really need.
Range anxiety—worrying the car won’t drive to the next station—is a common fear. This is often an overstated barrier since most people drive fewer than 35 miles per day according to the United States Department of Transportation.
Solution: As of Feb. 2023, the White House announced 130,000 electric car charging stations on the road and a current map provided by the Department of Energy shows the US brimming with charging stations. While currently charging stations are branded, major automakers are transitioning to manufacture universal charging stations.
Additional solution: If yours is a two-car household without being able to reduce to one-car in the near future, make your second car electric. Your first car can be used for longer trips, and the EV for the trips around town.
The new federal tax credits only apply to new vehicles that boost US-based production.
Solution: Check out government sites to find qualifying vehicles. The list is frequently updated and clarifies that drivers can obtain tax credits for leased vehicles if not for owning the same car.
While electric cars aren’t the only alternative to gas-powered cars, the US relies heavily on car-based infrastructure. A green world is already en route. When it comes down to it, the electric car is the better alternative to gas-powered vehicles.
Advocating for Better Transportation
Advocate: Call or write to local leaders expressing your interest in electric bus fleets and electric light rail, which are the most efficient and accessible uses of electric vehicles.
Ask: During election or re-election campaigns, ask those running for public offices (such as governor, mayors, state senators) what their priorities are for public transportation and safe cycling infrastructure. When they’re elected, keep it on their radar!
Answer: When local leaders or public transit systems ask for community feedback, make sure to fill out their surveys, show up to town halls, and share invitations for those around to community groups. A loud, organized community is more likely to get what it wants—better public transit!
So, You’re Buying An EV
Whether a first-time buyer or not, trading in your old car for a different model is nerve-wracking. Some of the best things to remember when buying your electric vehicle is:
- Research what financial incentives are available to you. Does The Inflation Reduction Act apply to the car you’d like to buy?
- Know your range. Although many drivers are not clocking 35 miles per day, people use their cars for work, school, sports, groceries, and nights out. Ask the dealer what kind of factors will affect the car’s range.
- Understand the warranty and maintenance. New EVs require less maintenance than gas-powered vehicles and federal regulations require EV automakers to cover their cars for eight years or 100,000 miles. Get the specifics on your chosen brand and car.
- Check out the stats. Look up your preferred brand on Lead the Charge. If you’re disappointed by what you see on its climate and labor record, write a letter, email, or social media post tagging the company and sharing the stats. Tell it that a green supply chain is important to you.