What do we need to have happen first in order to reach President Obama's goal of 500,000 EVs on the road by 2015? Have more people buy electric vehicles, or provide charging stations for EV drivers to plug into? Two researchers believe the government could stimulate the electric-car market by building more chargers. It might be even more worthwhile than offering tax credits.

Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids saw a healthy 28 percent boost in sales last year to about 100,000 vehicles sold. But the nation is nowhere near its goal of having a million EVs on the road by 2015, with only an estimated 250,000 of them out there since 2010, according to early results published by the National Science Foundation. Two researchers say the problem comes down to a chicken and egg question about what will make the efficient models more popular: More drivers, or more charging stations?

Research from Cornell University professors Lang Tong and Shanjun Li said the lack of a significant vehicle-charging infrastructure in the US has had an effect on EV sales. Consumer reluctance to buy electrified models is affecting investors' decisions to put money into places that power them up, they argue. Rather than offering tax credits to electric-car buyers, the government should consider spending that money on charging stations.

The researchers examined quarterly EV sales in 353 metro areas in 2011-2013, and discovered that a 10 percent increase in charging stations per million people resulted in a 10.8 percent jump in EV market share in a given city.

The current government incentive gives buyers a $7,500 tax credit to buy electric cars. The researchers said that policy significantly boosted EV sales, by 48.5 percent in fact, from 2011 to 2013. But they argued that that money, which amounted to about $1.05 billion, could have been better spent on 60,000 charging stations. That investment would have led to five times more EV sales, the authors estimate.


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