EVs Face Regional Divide — But For How Long?


It’s always been in the background of the nation’s ongoing transition to electric transportation, but now a significant reality has been brought to the forefront by some data-crunching journalists: There’s a strong regional divide in our willingness to adopt EVs.

Not surprisingly, electric vehicles are much more popular on the coasts than in Flyover Country, as Bloomberg recently quantified. Add this contrast to the regional polarization that defines many other things in America these days – some economic, others cultural and social, an increasing number political.

It's a difference that isn't likely to be bridged soon no matter how many TV commercials for EVs run during the Super Bowl on Sunday, which promises to be dominated by such ads for General Motors, BMW, EV startup Polestar and others.

But in the heartland, where we as consumers so far don’t share the coastal fascination with Teslas and Rivians and Lucids, a highly complicating factor has arisen in our relationship with the electrification of transportation. And this one might just make us warmer toward putting EVs in our garages, too.

It comes in how companies are suddenly planning to dot our states with new mega-factories for making electric vehicles, the batteries that power them, and even the chargers that keep them running.

The unprecedented capital investments and thousands of jobs they plan to create could help transform the industrial bases of several states. Throw in the expected footprint of the Intel microchip factory in Ohio, and you’ve got the potential for nothing less than a technological revolution in the nature of our regional economy.

How EV Sales Break Down

The Bloomberg analysis of the varying geographic embrace of EVs came as the Biden administration is pushing adoption of electric vehicles, with the goal of making them account for half of new-car sales in the U.S. by 2030. This push also comes with funding from the infrastructure bill for a network of EV-charging stations across the country. On both counts, Flyover Country is a key part of the government’s strategy.

The problem is, more than 76% of EV sales last year were in states that Joe Biden carried in the 2020 presidential election, according to Bloomberg. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has focused on the rural-urban divide that is certainly part of this equation, tweeting that “the Americans who stand to benefit most from EVs are those who drive the most, often rural drivers.”

But Bloomberg’s data also underscores a sharp regional divide in EV sales between the heartland and the coasts — not just a difference between rural areas and cities. Bloomberg’s map of where EVs are popular and where they aren’t shows a vast swath of red and pink between blue bands alongside the Atlantic and Pacific, indicating for the most part that Biden’s states in 2020 love EVs, and Trump’s states, not so much.

Another way of seeing the map, of course, is that Flyover Country hasn’t warmed up to EVs, while seaboard buyers are lapping them up.

In any event, this finding troubles some observers. “I fear that America’s political tribalism risks poisoning the traditional domestic auto industry’s efforts to catch up with Tesla and the rest of the world and get real about reducing carbon emissions that are cooking our planet,” wrote Jamie Butters, executive editor of Automotive News.

Why We’ve Shunned EVs

But the regional fracture on EVs is understandable, for a number of reasons.

First, consider the historically conservative nature of Flyover culture toward nearly everything, including automotive stuff.

Our wariness of EVs on one level is little different than what I recollect from the early 1980s, when Ford was introducing the sleekly designed new Thunderbird sedan. Ford executives watched a map indicating an embrace of the new Thunderbird begin on the coasts and only slowly close in on the middle of country until, in the end, there was about a 100-mile strip on either side of the Mississippi River of consumers holding out against the radical new rendering of the venerable nameplate.

Second, consider the well-justified heartland enmity toward those on the coasts — such as California-based climate warriors and environmentally obsessed policymakers in Washington, D.C. — who already have tried to obliterate our fossil-fuel industries at every turn. They have made decades-long efforts to put coal miners in Kentucky and Ohio and West Virginia out of work and more recently have plotted to decimate the oil- and natural-gas fracking business from North Dakota down to Texas.

When this same posse comes along and tries to impose EV mandates on one of the most important and personal purchases that we make, our automobiles, the resistance is going to be natural. In Flyover Country, there’s just something we don’t appreciate about coastal finger-waggers. Besides, the most eager buyers of the Toyota Prius hybrid always have seemed to be college professors from Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine.

Climate change is one thing, but attacking an economic way of life based on hydrocarbon extraction is another.

A third reason heartland denizens tend to be skeptical of EVs is that, on a practical basis, they’ve seen little so far to make the new mode attractive. Most EV models (think Tesla and the new Mercedes-Benz ESQ, for instance) have been aimed at the sports-car set, or at the other end marketed toward urban commuters in the form of feeble nameplates such as the Nissan Leaf.

To a half-nation full of consumers who tend to favor SUVs and pickups to accommodate their work, families or lifestyle, vehicles which so far depend almost entirely on internal-combustion engines, EVs just haven’t yet risen to the level of a serious competitor.

Read the rest of this piece at Flyover Coalition.

Dale Buss is founder and executive director of The Flyover Coalition, a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping revitalize and promote the economy, companies and people of the region between the Appalachians and Rockies, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes. He is a long-time author, journalist, and magazine and newspaper editor, and contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and many other publications. Buss is a Wisconsin native who lives in Michigan and has also lived in Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Chart: courtesy Flyover Coalition