(NEW YORK) — You’ve seen them on the roads, at the local Walmart, maybe in your neighbor’s driveway.
Electric vehicles are proliferating across the nation, yet so many Americans still have questions about these battery-powered trucks and cars: Where do I charge them? What if I run out of range? Can I afford one?
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, a two-term governor of Michigan and longtime EV owner, recently sat down with ABC News to address the many concerns and anxieties surrounding EVs. She offered a clear message for Americans still deciding whether to buy or lease one: They’re better for the environment and your pocketbook. And building them in the U.S. will produce jobs and reduce the dependency on Chinese-made parts.
Still, Granholm said there’s work to be done to make charging more accessible around the country.
The interview below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: Electric vehicles are a hot topic in Washington and around the country. Range anxiety is a real concern for drivers who are new to this technology. How do we solve this problem – is it building vehicles with more than 300 miles of range or is it putting charging stations in every town and on every highway?
A: It’s both actually. So the range anxiety issue — I totally get this. I mean, who wants to buy a car if you can’t fill it up in whatever way, right? So that’s why the Biden administration has put $7.5 billion into building out these charging stations in places where the private sector is not already going. We’ve got about 170,000 charging stations across America right now. They’re adding about 900 per week. With the money that has come from the president’s agenda … we think we’re going to get to 500,000 by 2026. And more after that.
I think it’s important for people to know that if they have a garage, they have a charging station. Just plug it in at home. I think a lot of times people who are considering buying EVs aren’t aware that is an option.
Q: Skepticism over public charging availability is the primary reason consumers reject EVs, according to J.D. Power. You personally experienced charging difficulties this summer on your EV roadshow. The Department of Transportation recently said it was granting $149 million to repair or replace non-operational EV chargers. What are you doing to hold private charging companies accountable for these offline and broken chargers?
A: First of all, that funding goes to states to make sure they identify which chargers are out and put in ones that work. We do not want to see having spent all the money to install a charger … and it not be working. Now let me just say this, we are trying to fill in all of these gaps. And we know that right now there aren’t enough chargers in the United States.
And the whole goal of the president was to add 500,000 chargers just from the public money in places where we don’t already have them. And it also means replacing those chargers that don’t work. But if you are able to park along a street and pull down a charger from a lamp post and plug it in, if you don’t have other options, if you’re able to just go to a Walmart and plug in and go shopping and come out, you can imagine that the accessibility of chargers will be more abundant than if you drive a gas-powered vehicle and have to find a gas station.
If you can charge in convenient places — at a library, at a park – you will see this range anxiety issue dropped. But I understand that it’s there right now. And that’s why we’re working very fast to get these chargers out right now.
Q: What type of chargers are we talking about? Are they Level 2? Level 3?
A: Along the freeway, we want them to be high-speed chargers. We want people to know that because of the federal funding, they will be every 50 miles, not more than one mile off of the freeway or a transportation corridor. We are very focused on fast charging so that people feel comfortable.
Also, kudos to those entities in the private sector who are actually putting electric vehicle charging stations at gas stations because they see that as an opportunity, especially if they got a snack store. If you’re charging, you might spend a little bit of time in the snack store while [the vehicles] is charging to be able to get whatever Kit Kats you need.
Q: President Biden said he’d like EVs to make up at least 50% of new vehicle sales by 2030. Last year, EVs accounted for 7% of the U.S. market. How is the administration going to accomplish this goal in six years?
A: Last year, the number of sales were 1.4 million — a record — and it was 50% more than the year before. Last year, I think, the EV revolution launched across America. This year, you’re gonna see it spread all across.
I mean, honestly, it’s not about what the president says. It’s about what people who buy an EV say. The satisfaction rate of EV owners is through the roof — like 95%. People who have driven an EV won’t go back because it’s so better. It’s so much cheaper to operate. I mean, if you fill up your average gas tank today, an average car, it’s about $49. If you charge and go that same distance, it’s about $15. If you fill up every week, that is a huge savings for your average citizen.
So just on the savings of operating an EV alone, they’ve become more affordable. I think that as people decide to replace their vehicles, EVs will become something that more people will look at once they’ve heard their neighbors say, ‘You know what, this is really great.’
Q: The Inflation Reduction Act drastically reduced the number of EVs and plug-in hybrids that were eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. Moreover, the average price paid for a new EV was nearly $51,000 last year. How can middle and low-income Americans afford an EV when they’re so expensive and so few meet the revised federal tax credit requirements?
A: A couple of points on this. The reason why the types of models available was reduced was because we also want these vehicles to be made in America. There’s a great opportunity to bring back manufacturing to this country so that people can qualify for a fully American-made vehicle. And that is actually what’s happening.
We see now a build-out of these EV companies, of battery companies — it is so exciting the manufacturing revolution that has been triggered by the incentives associated with it. So right now, yes, there are fewer models. But there will be many more EV models available this year, next year.
You can get an EV tax credit for a used electric vehicle as well, which is $4,000. The dealers have all registered now to take the tax credit at the dealership, which is very, very important. You can lease an electric vehicle and you don’t need to have it all made in America. It’s a question about whether that’s a loophole or not, but the fact is, if you lease you can still qualify. So many states have tax credits on top of the federal tax credit.
If you bought a car in Maine, for example, you’d have the $7,500 tax credit and you would have another $7,500. Last year, the low-end Bolt was less than $30,000. If you have $15,000 off from state and federal tax credits, you’re now financing a $15,000 car. That is totally affordable. So there are options and many of these tax credits are all income dependent [and] geared toward middle and lower-end folks.
Q: The White House said it would provide a tax credit to help reduce the cost of home chargers. What is the White House doing to help Americans who want an EV but don’t own their home or live in urban areas?
A: This is why the funding for charging in places along the street is very important. The funding for putting charging near or at multifamily dwellings, apartments, etc, is very important. And then, of course, the funding to put charging where people normally spend a little bit of time, whether it’s at rest stops, or stores, or parks or anything like that.
We want charging to be more accessible than what it would be if you had to go fill up your tank. And let’s just say, if you have to fill up your tank, you’re not filling that up at home. And if you can ‘fill up’ your car at home, that’s a convenience that we want people to enjoy.
Q: So which pockets of the country need these chargers most? Obviously not California.
A: Well, California has got a plan. In fact, all 50 states have a plan for installing EV chargers based upon the president’s funding. But the plan is to fill up the gaps. So there are a lot of states where there isn’t a lot of EVs at all. And so those states have a plan … and they’ve gotten their funding to be able to build out these EV chargers.
You know, we’re particularly concerned about those travel corridors. And we’re particularly concerned about rural areas where there are not a lot of EVs and urban areas where people can’t afford an EV or where there just isn’t a big uptake. So those are the gaps that this funding from the National Electric Vehicle [Infrastructure] initiative is attempting to fill. And people are going to really start seeing these EV charging stations pop up in places where they have not been before.
Q: Ford and GM have both pulled back on their EV targets. Production of the Silverado EV, for example, was moved to late 2025. Ford said it was scaling back plans for an EV battery plant in Michigan and is moving workers at its F-150 Lightning plant because demand for the truck is dropping. What’s your reaction to these announcements?
A: They may have over projected where things were going to be. But this movement toward electrification, I think, is inexorable. It is happening. If you just look at the 50% increase year-over-year in EV uptake, the automaker CEOs will tell you they’re not pulling back or reversing trend in their investments. They may be slowing a little bit, but honestly, I think this is a snowball that is only going to accelerate.
Q: You’re a longtime EV owner. So when people stop you and say, ‘What’s your experience like in the Bolt or Mach-E’, what do you tell them?
A: I tell them I love it, I love it. I leased two different Chevy Bolts. Great car and it was so cheap to operate. Now, I also lease solar panels. And so I was just driving my Chevy Bolt on sunshine. But that was because I had a garage, not everyone can do it, I totally understand that. But even going to a charging station and filling up even with a fast charger is so much cheaper than operating. I love that these vehicles are so quiet. Even with a Chevy Bolt, which was, you know, not a luxury vehicle … the quietness of it makes it feel sort of like a luxury vehicle, like you’d be inside of a Cadillac or something like that, because it was so quiet.
Q: Have you experienced any of these charging anxieties that so many Americans have experienced?
A: Oh, sure, I have. We did a road trip earlier this year where we had difficulty accessing charging in the South where there wasn’t enough charging stations. That goes to the point of us really accelerating the buildout of these charging stations.
Q: Do you think electric vehicles will be a topic on the campaign trail this year?
A: It could be. All of those factories that I was talking about — building electric vehicles and electric vehicle batteries — 60% of them are going into red states. So, you know, people in red states love their EVs, too, and are working at these factories. So I think, again, I just think that over time, the political nonsense about it will die down and people’s experience will speak much more loudly.
I think it’s important, you know, for those who care about global warming, climate change, and doing their part, EVs are a solution for them. For those who care about cost, EVs are a solution for them. For those who care about power, EVs are a solution for them. I mean, people just have to get used to it and understand it.
Q: What else would you like Americans to know about electric vehicles?
A: I think people need to understand that the whole supply chain for building these electric vehicles is coming back to the United States. And there’s a lot of talk, I know, in the political space about EV batteries being made in China, etc. That’s the whole point of these tax credits — to incentivize bringing back that full supply chain in the United States. And so whereas China has had domination over batteries, and that’s true, whether it’s a gas-powered vehicle or electric vehicle, we are now bringing this back.
The Department of Energy is funding companies to fill in the gaps in the supply chain to build that full system here. And that means jobs. People are going to have jobs doing responsible extraction of minerals, they’re going to have jobs processing those critical minerals, they’re going to have jobs building the batteries — the anode, the cathode, the separator material — all of those are businesses that go into a battery. Then they’re going to have jobs assembling the battery into the vehicle.
It’s really a huge manufacturing and jobs win for the country to be able to build this ecosystem here. That, to me, is a very important benefit of the president’s agenda.
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