Without More Affordable Options, Biden Admin’s 2030 EV Goal Is Running On Empty

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Without More Affordable Options, Biden Admin’s 2030 EV Goal Is Running On Empty
Eduardo Arcos

You probably don’t need a team of scientists to tell you that electric vehicles are expensive. A simple look at the sticker prices should do the trick: The average price of an EV in the United States in 2021 was “close to $60,000, before rebates and incentives, according to Kelley Blue Book. Compare that to just $42,380 for the average new car. And while there are several more affordable options on the road, the purchase price of electric options remains a barrier to decarbonizing the transportation sector in America… and scientists are here to study it.

In a new publication in "Frontiers in Environmental Science," researchers analyzed the current prices of EVs in the United States and tried to predict if the United States could meet its ambitious goal of 50% plug-in vehicle adoption by 2030.

In short, the team finds the goal feasible, but unlikely without drastic changes to the EV market. The main point: EVs need to get cheaper. The study cataloged 108 different plug-in electric vehicles that have been offered in the United States over the last decade and found that only 17 of them were affordable—affordable being defined as less than $45,000 before incentives and rebates. Of those 17 options, eight were no longer on sale in the country. And out of all the affordable EVs with at least four years on the market, not a single one sold more than 30,000 units.

John D. Graham, a professor of risk and policy analysis at Indiana University and the study’s first author, says that while it’s mathematically possible to hit the U.S.’s 50% goal without cracking into the affordable market, it’s wildly unrealistic: To do so you’d need to convert basically every single new luxury car sale to electric starting today.

“The notion that we're going to turn around and make all these pickup trucks and all these large SUVs electric by 2030, given lead times in the auto industry, is pretty implausible,” says Graham. “So what that tells us is that we have to accompany the penetration in the premium and luxury market with some penetration in the affordable market.”

This isn’t an impossible task. Both China and the European Union have seen significant growth in the affordable EV sector and have a larger total percentage of their vehicles running on batteries as a result. The trouble is, most of the affordable EVs in these markets fall into the compact, subcompact or micro categories, which simply do not sell in the U.S., regardless of whether they produce tailpipe emissions or not. Many of the small, affordable EVs that have failed in the United States have gone on to do well in European markets.

Graham says that short of mimicking the E.U. and raising gas prices to $8/gallon for a sustained period of time, there’s probably no way to push Americans back towards smaller cars. For better or for worse, roads in this country are mostly wide and standardized; things are further apart and density is often low in rural areas; there’s rarely a need for extreme maneuverability in tight spaces; and everyone else is already driving a tank, which means not driving one reduces your visibility and safety.

However the study also shows that affordable electric midsize crossovers and SUVs have had success in European markets. Which bodes well for EV adoption here in the U.S. Unlike the compacts, these are two of the most popular market segments in this country and could be ideal targets for affordable EV offerings. There are several such vehicles in the pipeline–particularly the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Volkswagen ID.4–that may begin to gain traction if America shares even just a few of Europe’s buying habits.

Of course, this entire saga is playing out against the backdrop of the EV purchasing rebates included in the newly-minted Inflation Reduction Act. I’ve written about this extensively about how it’s too soon to understand the full consequences of the legislation. Currently, there are too many variables, especially surrounding supply chain, lithium mining and the potential of next-generation battery tech, to make a realistic assessment. The new study agrees that things are still up in the air.

On one hand, Graham applauds setting income caps on buyers to avoid the appearance that the government is subsidizing $86,000 Porche Taycan purchases for the wealthy. But on the other hand, he says, since the act mandates that EV parts and manufacturing come from North America, it will likely reduce how many vehicles apply for the cash back and further slow adoption. Adding that if the government really wanted to make EVs more accessible to average citizens, they should have set price caps for which vehicles apply closer to $45,000 rather than the $55,000 for cars and the $80,000 cap for trucks and SUVs that the act establishes.

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California, for an estimated economic output of $15 trillion.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, Page said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. Page added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

Page said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” Page said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” Page said.

Page added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. Page said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” Page said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, Page was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” Page said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.


Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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If Angelenos Don’t Seize the Curb, They Risk Losing Sidewalk Dining

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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