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Adapted from Archsmith, et al., 2021, "Future Paths of Electric Vehicle Adoption in the United States: Predictable Determinants, Obstacles and Opportunities"; Note: Sales from 2017-18; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New research suggests a problem for policymakers hoping to rapidly move U.S. road transport from gasoline to electricity: drivers of huge-selling pickups and SUVs may be a tough sell.

Driving the news: The working paper explores how electric vehicle adoption is correlated with different forces, such as purchase subsidies, battery range, and "intrinsic" factors like belief in climate change.

The big picture: Thus far, adoption has been higher in coastal areas where sedans are relatively more popular than interior states with higher penetration of light trucks.

  • Part of that is because electric sedans were first to market. But as automakers start delivering electric pickups, EV adoption is highly uncertain even with significant incentives, per researchers with the Universities of California and Maryland.
  • That's because the pro-adoption effect of purchase subsidies and battery improvements may run into powerful headwinds among light truck drivers.
  • They include lower belief in climate change and buyer demographics that are more "EV-friendly" on the coasts for reasons like higher population density that shortens trips.
  • Also, in rural areas, use cases more often demand larger vehicles, notes co-author David Rapson, who summarized the findings on Twitter.

Why it matters: Transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Light trucks — including pickups, SUVs and minivans — represent over half of U.S. vehicle sales.

  • The White House is asking Congress to approve major new EV purchase incentives and charging infrastructure development.

Zoom in: The paper models a wide range of EV growth scenarios and doesn't land on a most likely estimate. But all find that subsidies would need to be very significant to have a big effect on adoption.

  • That's because other forces more powerfully influence buyer decisions, such as "cultural" considerations and charging availability.
  • For instance, under a "medium" level of "intrinsic" growth, a cumulative $3.6 trillion in subsidies is needed to achieve a 50% EV share of new car sales in 2035.
  • Under their "high" intrinsic growth case, subsidies would be roughly $480 billion.

Yes, but: The paper — which is based on survey data, observed sales to date and demographic information — released via the National Bureau of Economic Research was not peer-reviewed.

  • And modeling of the future vehicle mix is stuffed with uncertainties the authors acknowledge — including a range of estimates for how demand will be linked to subsidies and price.

What we're watching: Automakers are bringing new electric pickups and SUVs to market, including an electric version of Ford's massively popular F-150 pickup.

  • But the paper notes that if environmental views continue playing a significant role in purchase decisions, "adoption might continue to lag in many parts of the country even after robust EV alternatives are created for market segments outside of sedans."

Go deeper: Ford says it will invest $30 billion in electric vehicles by 2025

Go deeper

Sep 28, 2021 - Economy & Business

Ford's big plans to turbocharge the electric car industry in the U.S.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Ford Motor Company’s new $11 billion manufacturing plan, the biggest component of which will sit just outside Memphis, is part of a much bigger effort to put the U.S. at the center of the electric vehicle revolution, executive chairman Bill Ford says.

The big picture: Ford’s plans — for enormous facilities in both Tennessee and Kentucky, employing a combined 11,000 workers — are ambitious manufacturing efforts designed to minimize their environmental impact.

Sep 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Electric vehicles front and center

Ford Motor Company is making a big bet on electric vehicles in Kentucky and Tennessee through a new assembly plant and new battery factories. This comes as debate continues over President Biden's ambitious spending plan, which could transform the transportation sector when it comes to electric cars.

  • Plus, why it took decades to convict R. Kelly.
  • And, the debt ceiling, explained.

Guests: Axios' Joann Muller and Alayna Treene; Jim DeRogatis, journalist and author of Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly; Koa Beck, journalist and author of White Feminism.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

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