Gas prices are ‘a blow’ on the road for electric car drivers, expert says | Automatic functions

Ask almost anyone who drives a gas-powered vehicle and they’ll complain about exorbitant prices at the pump.

Driven in large part by global oil prices, gasoline in the United States and other countries has soared in recent months. It may be no consolation to people who pay $80 or more now to fill up, but with vehicles logging more miles than in decades past, cars are traveling farther today. today with a tank, which reduces the cost per kilometer driven. Yet the economic hardship for many people is real. And the question is likely to factor into the November election.

Daniel Sperling is director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. A professor of civil and environmental engineering and a member of the California Air Resources Board, he has studied transportation trends for decades, authoring or co-authoring more than 250 technical papers and more than 13 books on transportation and fuels.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

Q: Nationally, gasoline prices have gone up about $1.50 per gallon over the past year and about $2 per gallon in California. Why?

A: Certainly, the loss of Russian oil in the markets is one of them. This is partly due to uncertainty in the industry. There has been limited investment in new oil production internationally due to political dialogue on moving away from carbon as well. And the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, there was a significant drop in vehicle use, but it has returned.

Q: During the pandemic, oil companies cut production as demand fell. Have they accelerated it enough to keep pace now?

A: Production is now back to what it was before. Much of the price spike has as much to do with uncertainty as anything else. This is the world oil market at work.

Q: What do you think is the public’s biggest misunderstanding about gasoline prices?

A: That’s a good question. The biggest controversy is why, when oil prices go down, why don’t gas prices follow? If you look at world oil prices, they hit around $130 a barrel (early March) but then fell below $100 (in mid-March). But the price of gasoline has gone up and is slowly coming down. This is a well-known phenomenon for a long time. It has always been like this.

Q: Are there price gouging from the oil companies? Or just the delay of weeks it takes to extract oil from the ground, refine it and get it to filling stations?

A: Generally speaking, the concept of gouging is not very useful or relevant. It’s a global market. You have a cartel of countries trying to control the price. They try to keep the price low when it is high and high when it is low. They try to moderate the price. No oil company can control the market, so gouging isn’t really a relevant term.

In the scheme of things, gasoline prices are not that high today. While it’s true that high gas prices have a serious impact on low-income people who have to commute to work or who have older, less efficient cars, overall the price of gasoline, even at $5 a gallon, matches prices well over the past 50 years after adjusting for inflation. And our vehicles are now twice as efficient as before. The cost of gasoline per kilometer is at its lowest.

Q: What can people do to ease the burden?

A: It’s almost certainly a blip. Prices are already starting to drop. If Russian oil is completely cut off and other things happen, then yes, prices could go up. But the long-term trajectory of gasoline prices is down. What can you do now? The way you drive a car — if you drive more slowly, you can easily save 10% to 15% on your fuel consumption. Drive 65 instead of 75. Don’t make sudden stops and quick accelerations. You can save this way without any real cost or difficulty.

Q: What impact do gasoline prices have on electric vehicle sales?

A: It is not yet clear that they have an effect. But people are hyper aware of the price of gasoline. They see it every day in their neighborhood on gas station signs. The decision to switch to electric vehicles or to buy a smaller vehicle is certainly influenced by fuel prices. Erratic fuel prices have very little impact on people’s behavior. But research shows that if there is a sustained price increase, it clearly has an effect on people’s buying habits.

Q: The general trend in California is up. More than one million electric vehicles have been sold here, accounting for 40% of all electric vehicle sales in the United States, even though the state has only about 10% of the US population.

A: Automakers haven’t been very aggressive in getting EVs into the showroom and bringing them to market. That’s starting to change slowly, but it’s still an industry that, aside from Tesla, isn’t yet fully integrated.

Q: Why?

A: Traditional automakers make a lot of money on SUVs, and they lose money on electric vehicles.

Q: What can they do to change that?

A: They are gradually discovering how to make them more efficiently. They bring part of the manufacture of the batteries in-house. And they’re starting to do other things like over-the-air software updates so they can fix the issues instead of doing a reminder where you need to take the cars. This saves a lot of money.

Q: We saw electric car commercials during the Super Bowl. And GM announced last year that it plans to make only electric passenger vehicles after 2035.

A: People must want these vehicles. There has to be a demand. Some of these vehicles are getting markups now. Ford’s electric Mustang and their F-150 (electric pickup) — there seems to be a lot of demand for them. But GM didn’t do as well. They discontinued their plug-in hybrid (Chevy) Volt. They stop their (Chevy) Bolt. So it was a struggle.

Q: How to get there? Scientists say we need to go fully electric if we are serious about tackling climate change.

A: The three main strategies are regulations to force automakers to sell them, incentives for consumers to buy them, and building charging infrastructure for households and apartment buildings.

For people who drive a lot now, you stand out economically. The price of electricity is significantly lower than the price of gasoline and there is much less maintenance. The total cost of ownership of electric vehicles is getting closer and closer to gasoline-powered vehicles, and if you’re driving more than 15,000 miles per year, an electric vehicle is a more economical purchase today than a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Q: The cheapest electric vehicle models, like the Nissan Leaf, cost between $30,000 and $35,000 new. How do you respond when people say electric cars are too expensive?

A: The average cost of a new gas-powered vehicle is now over $40,000. Certainly, $30,000 is not insignificant. But most people pay a lot more than that. And with the exception of GM and Tesla, you get a $7,500 federal rebate. There are a lot of incentives.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle currently to the expansion of electric cars?

A: The only big hurdle right now is vehicle availability – dealerships actually have vehicles in their showrooms and models available that people want. The Ford F-150 is truly a breakthrough. This means we are now moving beyond small cars and into electric SUVs and pickup trucks. But it’s really stock availability. The other part is that people become more comfortable. We’ve done some research and found that EV purchases cluster in neighborhoods. Your friend or family member gets it, they explain it to you. They say “it’s okay, and there are a lot of good things about it.”

Q: How will driving be different in 10 or 15 years?

A: I see very little difference on the road. The only difference is that there will be a disappearance of gas pumps and an increase in charging stations. Many charging stations may be located at gas stations. And all houses are going to have chargers and all apartment buildings will too.

Q: But we’re still going to have traffic jams, aren’t we? Cars simply won’t emit smog.

A right. It’s a question of energy and pollution, nothing to do with congestion. It’s a different discussion.

Q: And there are social costs associated with gasoline, aren’t there? Smog. Medical fees. Forest fires and heat waves due to climate change?

Exactly.

Q: Do you have anything else to add regarding fuel prices?

A: The wave of interest and fury of interest in Sacramento and Washington is rooted in politics and, to a lesser extent, in concern about low-income segments of our population. But overall, rising gasoline prices are not a burden on the economy. The economy is still growing.

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