The introduction of new models, the proliferation of government rebates and soaring gasoline prices have made going electric more attractive and affordable than ever. But a global shortage of computer chips has ravaged the auto supply chain, leaving dealers with few cars to put in buyers’ hands while sending interested drivers scrambling.
“I have 15 deposits on cars that don’t exist yet,” said Guy Bedau, sales manager specializing in electric vehicles at Milford Nissan.
According to auto-shopping website CarGurus, searches for electric vehicles in Massachusetts and across the country have skyrocketed, especially after gas prices hit $5 a gallon, Kevin Roberts said. director of industry analysis for CarGurus.
“I would say it’s just kind of an unfortunate time for the industry,” he said. “Supply is really going to be the limiting factor here.”
Long gone are the days of going to a dealership, testing a vehicle, and then closing a deal. Across the state, people describe a hunt for electric vehicles akin to buying a home: Buyers are maxing out waiting lists for models not yet on the market or ordering vehicles that won’t even be built for five or six months. Some settle for a color they would otherwise reject or a design that doesn’t quite match what they wanted.
When Jane Winn’s 2003 Toyota Camry finally passed away earlier this year, she was hoping to upgrade to a Hyundai Kona, the cheapest electric vehicle on the market that she says could plow the mountain roads of the Berkshires, where she works.
“I couldn’t find a new Hyundai Kona anywhere,” Winn said. Then a dealership an hour away – one of five she was on the waiting list for – announced that he had just received one. “I dropped everything and went to try it out – and bought it immediately.”
Others weren’t so lucky.
Take one of the customers Bedau works with at his Nissan dealership. When the man approached in April hoping to buy two blue Nissan LEAFs for his business by the fall, Bedau said to himself, “I have to be able to do this,” he said. -he says.
But then Nissan halted all LEAF production for the next month. Now his dealer only gets a few each month, and Bedau has no control over the colors. The fall no longer looks so beautiful.
So what happens to the customer who expects two blue LEAFs? “Fundamentally, I just don’t know,” Bedau said.
Ironically, while customers seem hungry for this model, Nissan plans to phase it out by mid-decade, replacing it with another electric vehicle, according to a report by Automotive News.
Buying a used vehicle is not much easier.
Alex Wheaton, sales manager at Acton Toyota of Littleton, said his dealership only had a fraction of its normal supply of used hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars to resell “because everyone is keeping them, now that gasoline prices are so high.” But if a hybrid or plug-in comes along, it’s pretty much sold out within a week.
Despite supply issues in Massachusetts and elsewhere, increased demand for electric vehicles is enough to have caused seismic change in the automotive market. According Cox Automotivean industry consultancy, electric vehicles accounted for 5.6% of the total market in the second quarter of this year, down from 5.3% last quarter and 2.7% a year ago.
Automakers are investing billions in the shift to electric vehicles, retooling factories that make gas-powered cars to electric vehicles, and committing to converting most or all of their production to electric over the next decade .
Geneviève Cullen, president of the trade group Electric Drive Transportation Association, attributed the increase in sales to the proliferation of new models – 33 models of electric vehicles are available this quarter, compared to 19 just a year ago – and an influx of more moderately priced electric vehicles. Vehicles can also travel further on a single charge compared to previous models.
But the making does not meet the moment. Tesla and Rivian have both announced layoffs and restructuring in the face of an uncertain economy, including soaring prices for raw materials needed for batteries. And now, the lack of supply is putting a damper on the height of electric vehicle sales.
The electric vehicle shortage is hitting Massachusetts just as the state is ramping up efforts to get more people off gas-powered cars.
Transportation is the state’s second largest source of carbon pollution after buildings. To meet the legally mandated goal of reducing emissions by 50% below 1990s levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, Massachusetts aims to have 200,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and 900,000 by 2030.
But it is far from achieving this goal. In March, there were only 51,431 electric passenger vehicles on the road. The governor and legislature are working on proposals to increase rebates and the availability of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
But on the ground, Bedau and several other auto dealers say the most acute the problem is the supply. It all comes down to the lack of semiconductor chips, they say, which are the cornerstone of electronics.
When the pandemic began, public health restrictions sharply reduced production in the semiconductor industry, forcing automakers to temporarily close factories and suspend production. Then, in a double whammy for the auto industry, the work-from-home phenomenon forced consumers to buy far more electronics, from computer monitors to video game consoles, so much so that chipmakers modified their offer to meet this demand.
By the time automakers restarted operations, the chips they had previously relied on were suddenly in place. surprisingly rare offer.
“Now add electric vehicles to the mix, which tend to be smarter and need additional semiconductors,” said Cullen, the president of the professional association of electric vehicles.
The good news, experts say, is that the chip shortage should ease over the next six to 18 months. But in the meantime, buyers are in deep trouble.
Dharna Noor of Globe staff contributed to this report.