Why There Will Never be an Affordable EV

There will never be affordable EVs? If you already know why there aren’t any affordable vehicles, you already know the answer.

It isn’t legal to sell them.Here, that is.

All new vehicles offered for sale in the United States must comply with a whole book (literally) of federal regulations that cannot be complied with inexpensively – and that is why the vehicles that are available are so expensive. Many of these regulations have to do with what the government styles “safety,” but that’s disingenuous as well as something else.

A 1969 VW Beetle was not an unsafe car. The assertion is ridiculous. Millions of people owned and drove Beetles and most of them never got hurt driving them. The cars were not prone to wheels coming off while being driven or their steering columns shearing off due to weak welds; such things – if they did happen – would indeed have been safety issues.

Beetles had no such issues.

But those old Beetles didn’t have air bags or tire pressure monitoring systems or back-up cameras or “advanced driver assistance technologies.”

Did that make them “unsafe?”

According to the federal government, yes. The “safety” regulations require all new vehicles to have those things, as well as body structures capable of absorbing much greater impact forces in a crash than an old Beetle’s body could absorb. If they don’t, they are considered “unsafe” and can’t (legally) be sold in this country.

It does not mean the Beetle – and other inexpensive cars like it – was “unsafe.”

It means they were non-compliant. And they couldn’t be made compliant.

The Beetle – and this is just one example – was designed back in the 1930s. It could not be made compliant with the regulatory requirements of the late 1970s without being totally redesigned. That is to say, it had to be replaced with a new design that was compliant. Enter the Rabbit, for those who remember. It became the Golf and it is today the least expensive vehicle that VW sells.

Oops. Was.

VW stopped selling the Golf last year. It is no longer compliant – or soon wouldn’t be. It will be replaced by an EV that is compliant. One that will cost a great deal more than the Jetta, which isn’t an EV and remains – for now – the least expensive model VW still sells. The base price of a 2024 Jetta is $21,435.

The base price of a 1969 Beetle was $1,799.

Adjusted for what they style “inflation” – as if the devaluation of the buying power of money were something that just sort of naturally happened over time as opposed to something deliberately done by the people who control the money supply – that just under $1,800 base price back then comes to just over $15k today.

That’s a roughly $6k difference and more than that, actually, since what you pay for a car affects what you pay for insurance and taxes. Not to mention maintenance. The new Jetta is not a car that can be maintained by the person who buys it, unless that person happens to be a VW mechanic with access to all of the specialized equipment necessary to perform the maintenance.

The ’69 Beetle could be maintained by a Compliant Idiot – some will remember the eponymous service manual that could be understood and used by practically anyone to service an old Beetle, using basic tools anyone could afford to buy or just borrow.

Of course, the Beetle did not not come with AC and the other amenities that come standard in a car like the Jetta – and that’s great, if you can afford the Jetta. Plus the insurance and the taxes. Increasingly, average people can’t. It’s why the typical loan on a new car like the Jetta is six years long, or twice as long as it took to pay off a ’69 Beetle.

That’s another way to measure the cost of compliance.

Getting back to EVs. These could be made Beetle-like or even more so in terms of their affordability precisely because it is possible to make a very basic, very simple EV. The Beetle was a body draped over an engine that was as simple as a car engine gets. It didn’t even have a radiator (being air-cooled). Its engine could be removed from the car in about 30 minutes by anyone with a floor jack and crescent wrenches.

An EV could be similarly simple. A body draped over a skate. The skate consisting of an electric motor and a battery pack, both of which could be . . . simple. Also, light. Assuming the rest of the EV was, so as to not need to be powerful, in order to move a lot of weight. But that is next-to-impossible because of the need to be . . . compliant.

EVs must be able to absorb the impact forces decreed by the government, just like other vehicles. They are required to have multiple air bags – and these can’t be just bolted to the dashboard. They must be integrated into the dashboard and steering wheel. This requires designing the car around the “safety” systems – and that’s not inexpensive.

And that’s why there will never be an inexpensive EV, even if the “breakthrough” in battery technology that never seems to break through ever does. Because the vehicle, itself, will remain expensive to manufacture – whether it’s powered by a battery or by something else.

Oh. And about that something else.

When will people begin to question the legitimacy of the federal government decreeing how “safe” – according to its standards – new cars must be? Is that any more the government’s legitimate business than decreeing whether we’re allowed to go for a walk in the cold since we might catch cold?