As important as preference, Nunes says, the upfront cost penalties associated with EVs remain significant. The researchers wrote that EVs cost 40 percent more than comparable internal combustion counterparts and, factoring in power grid operation, account for 37 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.
Hybrids, by comparison, cost 12 percent more than their equivalent internal combustion brethren and still cut greenhouse gas emissions, by 27 percent.
"The magnitude of EV cost penalties relative to their ... emission benefits makes HEVs — we argue — a more promising near-term emissions reduction pathway," the researchers wrote in the paper.
Not everyone agrees. Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst in the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the paper takes a snapshot glance at current conditions.
It fails to account for ongoing improvements in powerplant emissions or the probability that new vehicles today will be on the road for decades, he says.
"There is no such thing as 'near-term' reductions because the vehicle fleet turns over so slowly," Cooke said. "So when you are talking about subsidizing a vehicle purchase, you are considering vehicle emissions over the lifetime of that vehicle."
The power plants that provide energy for EVs are getting cleaner. Emissions rates from power plants fell 11 percent between 2016 and 2019, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The plants' ongoing improvement in emissions reductions gives EVs an advantage: They'll continue to get cleaner over time.
But that only matters, Nunes argues, if greater numbers of drivers purchase them. In addition to high prices, he says, charger accessibility remains a significant barrier for low- and middle-income residents who do not own their own homes as well as those who live in multifamily dwellings.
That's why installing public charging equipment remains what Cooke calls "the single most important thing" in reinforcing a shift toward EVs.
It's a step addressed in the federal infrastructure legislation, which is being considered at a time when the latest EPA figures show transportation accounts for 29 percent of the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions.
"When it comes to market transition, we're seeing it shift from the wealthier early adopters to more mainstream adopters," he said. "We should be looking to continue that push, and this is a way to do that."