Tesla Buyer’s Remorse Is Real and an Existential Threat

Written By Adam English

Posted December 30, 2021

It is one thing to get people to do something. It is another to have them keep doing it.

Call it recidivism. Call it buyer’s remorse. From weight loss to crime, from convenience to addiction. It all looks the same.

Sign people on, watch them realize it isn’t for them.

Tell that to the electric vehicle — especially the purely battery-powered EV — crowd.

To be honest, we deal with this all the time around here. People subscribe and unsubscribe to our free and paid newsletters all the time. We don’t really like it, sure, but we’d have it no other way — it is purely up to you how much or how little you want to do with us.

But there is no such thing as an endless march to 100% market saturation in a free market.

No “told you so” or any haughty schadenfreude here, it’s just the gap between expectation, be it from conviction or persuasion, and reality.

It’s just as hard, or harder, to keep people excited about ANYTHING once it has to transition to being a “ho hum” part of their lives, however small or large that may be.

Tell that to Tesla and the other companies betting on a purely battery-powered transportation future.

There is certainly no doubt that whatever car or vehicle you use for personal or business reasons has an outsized presence in your day-to-day.

They’re expensive, they absolutely need to be reliable, and the normal gas-driven variety could not be more convenient.

Engines are cheap and durable. Fuel has been relatively cheap since the Great Recession and the last big oil price shock, and the last thing people need when the timer is ticking to get somewhere is a lengthy delay and cascading series of schedule changes and “sorry I’m tardy” calls.

Look to California to see how that is working out for recent EV adopters.

A report published in Nature, a scientific journal that should need little to no introduction, looks at just that topic.

In the aptly named “Understanding discontinuance among California’s electric vehicle owners” article, it is clear that even the early adopters, presumably those most enthusiastic or at least in areas where barriers to EV adoption are considerably lower, are hitting a wall of what they find tolerable.

To boil it down, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies researchers surveyed 1,727 Californians who bought plug-in EVs between 2015 and 2019 and found that roughly 1 in 5 have already replaced their EV vehicles with gas-powered vehicles.

This casts serious doubt on the public’s appetite to accept and continue using plug-in EVs, even as California and the Biden administration try to force 100% adoption of radically different personal transportation.

One of the biggest reasons — big surprise — is charging. Those without a faster, newer-generation “Level 2” charger at home were twice as likely to switch back to gas from hybrid or pure plug-in powered vehicles. 

Some of that is going to be cost. Some of that is going to be personal use. But regardless of the source, it is clear that policy makers, EV hypers, and theoretical adoption rates based off of initial rates are wildly divorced from reality.

Sure, some of this will change with some new tech, and some more infrastructure. But until people get several-thousand-dollar free battery packs and wiring upgrades at home, there is little hope for the enthusiasm, and rate of adoption, that we’ve seen so far for EVs to persist.

What is needed is something in between plug-in EVs and gas engines. People cannot and/or will not refinance their homes to install the proper charging stations at home.

They cannot find them out and about in the public. They are not being built nearly fast enough to meet EV growth targets set by companies or governments. They cannot or will not wait hours somewhere to get a decent charge.

Already the concept of rewiring entire cities — don’t forget the cost of property to fit a bunch of cars on a lot for hours at a time — is prohibitively expensive. “Fast charging” only adds multiples to that cost now, and isn’t going to magically eclipse the older, slower style by 2030 or 2050, wherever you want to set the goal post.

What people need is a clean source of energy that mirrors gas infrastructure. One that works with existing businesses and infrastructure.

At a certain point, the hype needs to settle down and the day-to-day issues need to take over. That is already starting to happen, and we need to accept that compromises — from consumer tolerance, to logistics, to top-down policy — need to be realistic.

Thankfully, there is already an option on the board, and its growth is incredible.