Demand for electric vehicles rocketing as gas prices climb

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(NewsNation) — The rising price of gasoline brought on by the war in Ukraine is contributing to an already growing demand for electric vehicles.

Electric car sales in the U.S. more than doubled in 2021, surpassing half a million, according to the International Energy Agency. Gas prices aren’t single-handedly responsible for the growing interest in electric vehicles, but they are a contributing factor. With technological and design improvements, that demand is likely to keep growing, said Erin Baker, a professor of engineering and the director of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“I think the combination of prices increasing and then just being aware of some bad players who direct a lot of fossil fuels, just makes it more clear that electric vehicles are a very interesting way to go,” Baker said.

The growing interest in electric vehicles is in step with President Joe Biden’s directive to strengthen the country’s clean energy economy. The president announced the directive Thursday as part of his goal to divorce the U.S. from the Russian oil supply and to move away from fossil fuel reliance. Electric vehicles are a step in the right direction, particularly because they appeal to even non-environmentally conscious consumers, Baker said. Most major manufacturers now offer electric options.

“I think the Ford F-150 is kind of a game-changer. It’s making electric vehicles very sexy, as Tesla did, but I think that it’s a different group of people who are interested in it,” Baker said. “We may see a rapid change if people start getting excited about these things.”

As demand for electric vehicles grows, their manufacturers haven’t been immune to the auto supply shortage brought on by the pandemic and the Eastern European conflict.

The price of steel doubled in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency. Aluminum prices additionally rose by about 70%, and copper by more than 33%. The cost of materials needed to manufacture batteries is an added challenge for electric car manufacturers, according to the IEA.

“I think some backlogs are sometimes kind of useful, right? … It gets people excited — the fact that these are hard to get,” Baker said. “But I think we don’t want to get too far back. We want to try to get them out on the road.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Transportation is attempting to temper the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels by requiring new vehicles to average 49 miles per gallon by 2026. The standard was announced Friday and would make Americans less vulnerable to global shifts in the price of oil.

As of March 22, the average price of gas across all grades and formulations was $4.32, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.

“The bottom line is this: Between ramping up production in the short term and driving down demand in the long term, we can free ourselves from our dependence on imported oil from across the world,” Biden said during a briefing Thursday.

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