Electric Cars' Turning Point May Be Happening as U.S. Sales Numbers Start Climb

American car shoppers seem to have discovered the electric car. After a decade of slow but steady sales growth, electric vehicle registrations in the U.S. shot up 60 percent in the first quarter of 2022 even as overall new car registrations dropped 18 percent. It’s the latest indication that domestic EV acceptance may have turned some important but invisible corner recently.

The sharp increase in electric-vehicle registrations at the start of this year meant that the EV share of the overall market hit a historic 4.6 percent. While places like Norway—where over 86 percent of all new vehicle sales were electric in March—may laugh at that number, EV advocates know that change happens slowly, then all at once, or something like that.

One big reason we’re seeing more EVs in people’s driveways is the explosion in exciting new models, from the Ford F-150 Lightning to the Kia EV6 to the Hyundai Ioniq 5. Experian calculated that there were 158,689 new EV registrations in the first three months of the year. The big winners were EVs from Tesla (up 59 percent to 113,882 new registrations), Kia (up more than eight-fold to 8,450) Ford (up 91 percent to 7,407) and Hyundai (up more than 300 percent, to 6,964), according to Automotive News. These plus other EV sales (the Nissan Leaf and the Volkswagen ID.4 were both in the top 10) meant the segment grew to that 4.6 percent record, which means that a total of 3.4 million new cars were registered last quarter.

More EVs on the road might seem like good news, but some people see danger ahead, particularly when it comes to public charging. Despite the fact that most EV charging happens at home, this isn’t a solution for everyone, which means public charging needs to be readily available for some to keep raising the number of EVs sold. The age-old chicken vs. egg story remains alive and well in the EV charging infrastructure world, with a story in the Los Angeles Times last month saying that DC fast-charging station operators need eight to 10 charge sessions a day to turn a "decent return," but if you also need to have enough fast-chargers available so that drivers don’t face too many waiting times. Finding the balance, especially with EV sales surging, could prove difficult.

Supply-chain problems plaguing the auto industry may have an impact on which cars are being sold, given that some automakers have to make production decisions about which models to build or not build based on the supply of semiconductor chips or other components in short supply. If you’ll allow a bit of speculation, the fact that EVs command more attention from the public and the higher starting prices for many EVs could be two potential reasons for automakers to prioritize EVs over internal combustion engine vehicles.

Automotive News notes that it and Experian used registration data to get a clearer picture of EV sales in the U.S., since, for example, Tesla does not release sales figures. Other industry analysts have slightly different figures for EV sales at the start of 2022, but they all show major increases compared to last year. Cox Automotive’s estimate of the EV market share for the first quarter of 2022, for example, was 5.2 percent compared to 2.5 percent in 2021. Whatever the exact numbers, something’s certainly happening out there.


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