Until now, electric vehicles (EVs) were more of a curiosity in this region. They were not practical for everyday use. Ford Motor Co.’s decision last week with the F-150 Lightning could change that.
The EV version of the best-selling vehicle in the United States will go on sale for the 2022 model year at competitive prices compared to gasoline and diesel models. It will have a range of up to 300 miles. Ford is taking reservations for the first deliveries.
Seen through the prism of green energy or climate change, the F-150 Lightning is an obvious event of historic proportions. Looking at some of the practical side effects for people living in rural areas like this one, switching to EVs requires rethinking and reinvesting.
Personal Travel: At a maximum range of 500 miles between charges, an electric vehicle provides a round trip from Huntington to Beckley or a trip to Lexington, Ky. Both are approximately 225 to 250 miles. Further away than these two cities, drivers take risks. Columbus is doable, but running to Cincinnati and coming back to see a baseball game is just beyond the Lightning’s reach. Morgantown is out of the question. Until range improves or until electric vehicles can be recharged as quickly as a conventional vehicle can be refueled, electric vehicles will only be used for short trips.
Road taxes: Ford is forcing state legislatures to decide how they will tax electric vehicles so that their users pay their fair share of road maintenance. The beauty of gasoline and diesel taxes is that people who drive more will pay for road maintenance, and they tend to pay in the states where they drive. There are several possibilities for taxing electric vehicles. Lawmakers will need to strike a balance between these methods and privacy concerns when it comes to tracking vehicle use. If the F-150 Lightning and similar vehicles prove to be popular among corporate fleets and rental car companies, legislatures will need to address this as soon as possible.
Collateral economic damage: will electric vehicles do to the refining and transportation industries what the Model T did to blacksmiths? Probably not. Petroleum-based fuels will always be required for aircraft and other modes of transportation requiring large amounts of energy. Propane and compressed natural gas haven’t replaced diesel fuel in most large truck fleets, but electric vehicles might be a different issue for shorter-haul use. If electric motors do not need the same level of maintenance as internal combustion engines, the demand for mechanics could decrease.
These are just three of the many questions that need to be answered as the shift to EVs grows. Some will need to be addressed by politicians and others in public policy positions. Others will be determined by market forces.
It’s too early to say how the shift to electric vehicles will affect the country, the Appalachians, and, in particular, West Virginia. As with any other change of this nature, there will be winners and there will be losers. West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky need to act on these changes so their people don’t fall as far behind the nation in the EV economy as they did in the era of broadband.