EVs and the odd pattern of choosing a car based on politics

I am of an age when a big Friday night in high school was driving from Antioch down to Waukegan and “scooping the loop” on Genesee Street — think “American Graffiti” Midwestern style.

Think Bob Seger’s “Makin’ Thunderbirds” — “They were long and low and sleek and fast.” Tailfins were the thing and the rumble of a V-8 engine. Hey, gas was 33 cents a gallon (that’s about $2.88 in today’s dollars, below today’s U.S. average of about $3.50).

I also remember the Arab oil embargo in 1973 when gas stations were rationing gas and setting limits of a couple of bucks worth of gas per customer. That memory has reverberated through our political system since and resulted in — among other things — our strategic petroleum reserve (1975) and vast subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

Now, however, technology has advanced and American drivers have a choice. One can purchase a gasoline powered vehicle or, increasingly, hybrid or a fully electric vehicle.

Given our politics, no one should be surprised that that choice has now become part and parcel of the ongoing culture wars between right and left. Really?

The Biden administration has released a regulation raising the fuel efficiency standards for the American fleet beginning in 2027. The expected result is that automakers will meet that standard by producing more hybrids and EVs.

Increasing the number of hybrids and EVs is a big part of the president’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat global warming. Transport is responsible for 29% of CO2 emissions in the U.S. However, EVs are still less than 1% of the U.S. light vehicle fleet.

The EPA estimates (hopefully) that by the time the new rule is fully enforced in 2032, more than 50% of new cars sold in the U.S. will be EVs or hybrids. The rule would not apply to used cars. This has set off furious attacks by Republicans.

They have claimed — falsely — that President Biden is banning gasoline-powered vehicles or forcing people to buy EVs. Former President Trump has charged — without evidence — that the rule would destroy the American auto industry. Hey, check out Tesla’s market cap.

Americans have been slow to buy EVs because of cost, range anxiety, the slow rollout of the charging infrastructure and unfamiliarity. And during this January’s super freeze, EV owners found batteries struggled against such cold. There is much work to be done.

Cars are very personal in our culture. Thus, a Pew study found that only 20% of Republican car buyers would consider an EV, while the number is 70% for Democrats. It is another log on the fire of the urban-rural divide.

Other parts of the world are buying EVs at a more rapid clip, but then gas costs $5.96 a gallon in Milan, $5.79 in London, and $5.57 in Frankfurt.

Some sneer at EVs for not having the “muscle” of gas-powered cars, but a Tesla Model S Plaid has a faster 0-to-60 speed than a Porsche 918 Spyder or a Ferrari SF90 Stradale. You don’t have the same rumble, but if you crank up “Makin’ Thunderbirds” high enough on your stereo, it does not matter.

The future could be electric. It might be hydrogen. However, if it continues to depend on fossil fuels, we do so at our peril. Over the horizon, China is producing the most EVs in the world and good ones, too. That development presents both economic and national security challenges.

In the 1950s and 1960s, American cars were the envy of the world. They should be again — not only in terms of style, but efficiency. Choosing a car based on your political preferences? Well, that just seems dumb.

• Keith Peterson, of Lake Barrington, served 29 years as a press and cultural officer for the United States Information Agency and Department of State. He was chief editorial writer of the Daily Herald 1984-86.

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