The Unplowed Road to Electric Vehicles

By Todd Lassa

The morning of General Motors’ reveal at CES in Las Vegas of new electric vehicles—most notably the Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup truck and also the Chevy Blazer EV and Equinox EV, which will be coming in 2023 and ’24—the most-read op-ed column in The Washington Post was entitled, “Imagine Virginia’s icy traffic catastrophe – but only with electric vehicles.”

WaPo editorial writer and columnist Charles Lane relates the story of a Canadian semi driver stuck in the storm’s 40-mile backup on I-95 in Virginia earlier this week. A Tesla driver knocks on the semi’s door and tells the trucker that his kids are stranded in the car and there’s no way to recharge the EV. The truck driver, who told the story in his Twitter account @MyWorldThroughaWindshield, gave the Tesla driver water, a spare blanket and a mylar thermal blanket.

Lane points out that pure-electric vehicles lose range in cold weather and cannot be revived as easily as a petroleum-fueled vehicle. To make the Tesla driver’s prospects for recharge tougher, the power grid failed in parts of Virginia Monday night.  

As Gary Vasilash notes in his post “Still the EV Charging Question,” there is no solution in sight for how to quickly re-charge electric vehicles that run out of juice between any two charging points.

But the source of the problem is far older than the accelerating shift from internal combustion engines to EVs. The core issue is the priority the U.S. gave in the last century to designing and building infrastructure centered around the automobile.

In his column Lane references GM’s EV commercial for last year’s Super Bowl, in which Will Ferrell satirically takes on Norway for its then-actual 54% EV market share (which increased to 65% in 2021). Norway is much colder than most of the U.S., though with a much smaller population, and it’s beginning to back out of “massive” EV subsidies. Then the columnist gets to the core of the country’s advantage regarding EVs: In Norway “a mere 10% of workers in the largest city – Oslo – commute by car.”

Eureka. Transportation alternatives are a way of life in places like Norway. That makes a big difference.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia after the huge mid-Atlantic storm, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) spent 26 hours, 45 minutes driving up I-95 to Washington, D.C., for a voting rights meeting—a drive that usually takes two hours. Kaine told NPR’s All Things Considered he once took a bicycle ride from Richmond to D.C. in an event with Virginia police officers one Memorial Day weekend, “basically the same ride up Route 1,” in 13 hours.

Now, I’m not the least-bit anti-car, and I’m not advocating a wholesale shift to alternative transportation sources. But our overcrowded highways, freeways and city streets have long been an anathema to any pleasure associated with driving.

The clean, efficient way to commute in that part of the country should be an electric-powered commuter rail system, though it’s far too late for that.

The best we can hope for is to face 40-mile snow-clogged traffic jams with EVs rated 400+ miles of range (probably 325-350 miles in cold weather) and a proliferation of recharging systems along the way. That’s assuming we can afford such EVs, as even ICE-powered new vehicles average more than $46,000. Middle-class commuters can always get a deal on a three-year-old off-lease EV featuring yesterday’s state-ot-the-art range, while the working class – the people who drive the snowplows, semi-trucks and emergency vehicles – get to work in our gas- and diesel-powered trade-ins.

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