With the price of a barrel of oil sinking last week to levels not seen since the 1990s, it could become much harder for dealers to sell the coming wave of electric vehicles. If a gallon of gasoline costs less than $2, how will drivers be persuaded to switch out of their affordable gasoline-powered cars and trucks and into an EV?
One word: performance.
With many battery-powered EVs now capable of going 200 to 300 miles — or even more — between charges, charging times decreasing and the number of public charging stations increasing, range shouldn't be a deterrent for most drivers.
The Census Bureau reports that 50 percent of workers' commutes are less than 10 miles; 31 percent commute between 10 and 25 miles; 10 percent drive between 25 and 50 miles to work and back; and just 10 percent commute more than 50 miles — no problem for all of the battery-powered vehicles in launch mode now.
So, if we are headed into a period of super-low fuel prices, perhaps automakers' best sales pitch for EVs is to turn the focus away from protecting the planet and how much money can be saved by not buying gasoline or diesel and turn the focus to the driving characteristics of EVs.
One reason diesel-powered vehicles took off in Europe in the 1990s and 2000s — and downsized, turbocharged gasoline engines, such as Ford's EcoBoost lineup, became popular here — is because they offer bags of low-end torque.
That feeling of strong acceleration — what drives the vehicle forward — is torque, not horsepower. And electric motors deliver nearly all of their torque the moment the driver steps on the accelerator.
Some of the power ratings for EVs — such as 1,000 hp and 11,500 pound-feet of torque for the GMC Hummer EV coming next year — underscore serious performance capabilities. Rivian's R1T electric truck, scheduled for launch this year, claims 750 hp and a 0 to 60 mph time of about 3 seconds. Tesla, of course, has already proved that EVs don't have to be nerdmobiles and can deliver a stellar driving experience.
High-performance vehicles have always cost a premium. And EVs are the next-generation high-performance vehicles.
When fuel prices increase again, as they inevitably will, and the cost of battery-powered vehicles evens out with internal-combustion cars and trucks, that will be the time to pitch EVs as vehicles that can go easier on the wallet and the environment.
Until then, focus on the fun part — you know, the driving.