If you're looking for the perfect state for electric cars, you're probably asking the wrong question.
It's easy to think electric cars are for other people who live in other places. Many EVs aren't even sold in every state and buying one can position you on a political and cultural spectrum that conventional cars are less emblematic of. My inbox is filled with surveys that purport to reveal the "best places to own an EV," but S&P Global Mobility predicts that the four states with the most plug-in cars in use today will still be so in 2030: California, Florida, Texas and New York, thanks in part to their large populations.
What makes the "best place" question interesting is that the next and much bigger wave of EV-curious shoppers will take a hard-nosed look at living with these cars: If they reside in a place where it's harder to buy, afford, charge or service and repair an electric car, they'll likely cross the showroom to an efficient gas engine car. The strategic total-cost-of-ownership advantage of an EV will mean little to the shopper who foresees daily hassles using the thing.
EV friendliness starts with perception of charging locations, especially among EV intenders who do not own a home they can equip with charging equipment. "Charging stations aren't installed in the US, they aren't even installed in New Mexico or Colorado; they're installed at Main St. & 7th," says Mark Boyadjis, global technology lead of the Automotive Advisory Team at S&P Global Mobility, underlining the very local nature of EV friendliness.
Beyond public charge locations, a stew of regional home charger incentives, utility rate schemes, local penetration of residential solar and state EV purchase incentives create a stew of EV appetites that is more nuanced than a simple tally of charge locations can reveal.
The current lopsided collection of states where plug-in cars are most common highlights the clumsiness of that view. In Texas, where several automakers stake a big part of their annual success on the sale of traditional full-sized gas and diesel trucks, any Austinite can tell you their metro is lousy with Teslas. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro is predicted to be the country's fastest growing in terms of plug-in adoption. Teslas swarm like locusts in California's Silicon Valley, but might need to be towed to a charge in vast swaths of the state's north.
"Our consumer research says that a large majority of people still feel there is an insufficient charging infrastructure where they live," says Boyadjis, though in many areas where respondents say charging is scarce "what's on the ground already is sufficient for the number of vehicles that are there. But it may not be where they want to be."
Unlike gas fueling, electric car charging can require significant time spent at a charging location. The history of gas-engine cars might have played out very differently if fueling them required spending 30 minutes idly walking the aisles of a mini mart. Owning a home that can be equipped with Level 2 charging gear is a major break point in perception, but in long-legged parts of the West where many things are an hour or two drive away, even that breaks down.
EV friendliness is clearly lumpy in these early days, as seen in US Environmental Protection Agency data that indicate the number of charge ports or connections is growing much faster than the number of locations that host them. That suggests that places that already have charge locations are seeing demand for more "slots" and that many EV owners are installing their own charge equipment at home, but seems less about robust growth into areas that don't have charge locations at all.
It's been a long time since car buyers have had to think very hard about whether they lived in a place that supported owning a car: Fueling has long been ubiquitous, as has service and repair for all but a few exotics. And every state has a dealer network that's had decades to harmonize locations and inventory with demand for makes or models. EVs will get to that point, but in the next decade we'll watch auto adoption history unfold for just the second time in a long time.