Electric cars pick up speed during gas slowdown

Credit: Terry White

Credit: Terry White

Davida Selby’s phone has been blowing up all week.

Friends who had scoffed at her decision last year to switch from a gas-powered car to an electric vehicle were now calling her asking where they could get one.

This week’s cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline — which choked gas supplies across the Southeast, causing shortages, long lines and high prices — could have some people ready to reconsider their fueling options.

The more glitches that pop up, like the cyberattack, the more people are going to learn they can’t depend on what we typically take for granted — like having gas, Selby said. And the low number of electric vehicle drivers could rise by the next time Georgia faces a gas shortage.

“This might catapult it to the next level,” she said.

Not that electric cars come without risks of running out of juice. Power outages from storms can cut off electricity, sometimes for days in Atlanta, “the city in a forest.” But for the moment, Selby and other electric vehicle owners who have made the switch find themselves in the proverbial driver’s seat of a vanguard predicted to grow by bounds in the coming decade.

Credit: Davida Selby

Credit: Davida Selby

“I didn’t even know this was happening. I don’t even know how much gas costs,” said Chris Campbell, an electrical engineer who has been driving electric cars since 2010 when he became the first person in Georgia to own a Chevy Volt. “Those of us who have electric cars have checked out of the gas economy. It is just something that I have chosen to not be involved in.”

Meanwhile, even as the fuel pipeline opened, drivers in Metro Atlanta still woke up to the fact that more than half of the gas stations in the area were without gas and prices were up about 70 cents in a week’s time.

Credit: Chris Campbell

Credit: Chris Campbell

Selby, who lives in Southwest Atlanta, owned a Mercedes until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. She wasn’t driving much, felt she didn’t need an expensive luxury car and was starting to feel uneasy about crime in the city — particularly carjackings and a string of thefts where robbers “slide” into cars while owners pump gas. So she sold it.

“I didn’t realize we would be going through a gas shortage, but it has been the best decision for me,” Selby said. “I feel thankful that there is one less thing to worry about.”

According to the International Energy Agency, only 3% of all vehicles worldwide are powered by electricity. In America, it is fewer than 1%.

However, the agency estimates that by 2030, the number of electric vehicles will climb from 8.5 million to 116 million, accounting for about 60% of all passenger vehicle miles traveled worldwide.

President Joe Biden, who said that he wants America to be the world leader in electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, has proposed to invest about $174 billion into the sector as part of his proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan. He has also pushed to incentivize consumer purchases of electric cars made in the United States and has set a goal of building 500,000 new public chargers by 2030. The still-growing system of public charging stations has also hampered public buy-in.

On Thursday, South Korean car makers Kia, which has a massive auto plant in West Point, Georgia, and its parent company Hyundai announced they would invest $7.4 billion over the next four years in building electric cars and advanced technology investments in the United States.

Kia has not committed to a site, but the Georgia plant, at 2,200 acres, has plenty of room to expand.

And in 2022, the $2.6 billion dollar SK Innovation electric vehicle battery factory is set to begin production near Commerce.

“Electric is the future,” said Anne Blair director of the energy efficient transportation program at the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, an Atlanta nonprofit that promotes energy efficiency. “This shows that there are increasing opportunities for diversifying our fueling options.”

Blair, who is also the president of the EV Club of the South, said change could be hastened because companies are beginning to pay attention to their carbon footprints, burning fuel affects public health, and because the storms that cut electricity leave EV owners no worse off than gas-powered car owners.

Electrical blackouts also take down service station pumps. Meanwhile electrical grids are regionally reliable.

“But this one pipeline went down and we are on our knees,” said Campbell.

Blair said: “I think that it will open some folk’s minds to what the opportunities are for going electric. But I still think we have a long way to go.”

Across metro Atlanta, there are more than 1,000 public charging stations and an additional 100 fast-charging stations.

“We have all of these public stations to give a peace of mind, but the truth of the matter is you don’t use it that much,” said Campbell, who drives an Audi e-tron SUV. “For the most part, we charge at home.”

But that can be more difficult for people who rely on street parking or who live in large apartment complexes not wired with chargers.

Apps tell EV drivers where charging stations are when traveling long distances.

In light of what is going on this week with gas, the few Georgians who already own electric vehicles believe they are already ahead of the curve.

Terry White, who promotes products for a major software company and blogs about technology, traded in his Mercedes C Class in 2017 for a Tesla. He hasn’t looked in the rearview mirror once from either of the two Teslas in his garage.

Credit: Terry White

Credit: Terry White

“I see the chaos and I feel for my brothers or sisters who have to worry about not having gas to get to work or school,” White said. “This is just a reminder that we need to move quicker to get more sustainable modes of transportation. But as I tell my friends now, if you need a ride, let me know.”