OPINION: Shocked by electric vehicle growth? Don’t be

By Ron Lamberty, chief marketing officer, American Coalition for Ethanol | March 03, 2022

If you’re a retail station owner who watched this year’s Super Bowl, somewhere between the fifth and seventh electric car commercial, you may have broken out in a cold sweat, wondering why you haven’t noticed all these cars and trucks and how you’re going to pay for the equipment you’ll need to “refuel” the vehicles of the future – since they appear to be rapidly becoming the vehicles of the present.

If you went to do a little research thinking you didn’t understand the ads correctly, you might have wound up on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, where you could find chart 1, showing sales of all the different types of electric vehicles (EVs) from 1999 to 2020. Your search would also turn up plenty of articles touting 2021 as the best year ever for plug-in electric vehicle sales, increasing 80 percent over 2020!

The top red line on chart 1, which represents total new vehicle sales, may have been enough to send you over the edge. Good Lord, look how tall all those blue, green, and yellow bars are! They’re practically touching the red line. How did you not see all these electric vehicles out on the road?

Come to think of it, why haven’t you seen them? Where the hell are they…? The pandemic made it tough to determine what volume is “normal” anymore, but if that many people were buying that many EVs, at least a few of your customers would have stopped by to ask when you’re putting in a charging station, wouldn’t they?

You haven’t missed anything. A closer look at chart 1 reveals the bars and red line are being weighed on very different scales. EVs are measured in the 1000’s, and that total sales red line goes by millions. Putting them on the same scale looks like chart 2: The blue, green, and yellow bars are still there, you just might have to tap your screen a couple times to make them big enough to see.

That’s not to say EVs aren’t going to be THE cars of the future. But there’s clearly an effort to make everyone believe that future is now. But the 80 percent increase in all-electric cars and light trucks last year was 435,000 vehicles — in a 15.5 million vehicle market. The EV category also includes hybrids and plug-in hybrids, which make up over 85 percent of the total EV fleet, and importantly, still use gas (although we’d like to see them use E85).

The good news is you have time to decide how you and your station are going to address the low carbon fuel future, and the better news is you already have most of the equipment you need to offer lower carbon fuel like E15, and with some relatively inexpensive upgrades, you could offer E85, which provides as low or lower total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than nearly every all-electric vehicle on the road today.

Maybe the best news is the U.S. Department of Agriculture will soon have another $100 million in matching grants retailers can apply for if they want to upgrade fueling equipment to sell ethanol blends above 10 percent. Keep your eye on flexfuelforward.com, and we will have the information on how to apply as soon as it is available.