The Apartment Dilemma for Electric Cars

BoltI just finished reading a fascinating article on Wired about the new Chevy Bolt, a car they laud as an electric car for the masses. It’s no Tesla, but that’s kind of the point: At $30k, it’s affordable, and it gets 200 miles on a single charge. Pretty cool.

Every now and then I read an article about an electric car, and I get a little excited about potentially buying one when my 2003 Camry decides it doesn’t want to be a car anymore. But then I remember: I live in a condo in an apartment building. I can’t charge the dang thing!

To me, this seems like the biggest oversight in the race to have an electric car. I get the appeal of plugging a car into a socket and never buying gas again. Not only is it convenient, but it’s extremely cost effective. The cost to fill up a tank for 200 miles is about $5 total. That’s incredible.

But that’s for people who live in houses. Everyone else needs a consistent, reliable way to recharge their car, and condo owners like me and apartment renters don’t have that luxury.

How many people is that, really? It’s my perception that a lot of people live in apartments and condos, but that’s just because a lot of my friends do. So I hunted down some numbers from 2014 for the US (I know, there are other countries too, but I couldn’t find those numbers), and here’s what they say:

  • There are about 117 million households in the US.
  • Nearly 99 million of them are houses.
  • The other 18 million are apartments.

Those numbers are surprising to me, and they mean that us apartment-dwellers are a lot less relevant to the electric car market than I thought. In fact, according to these numbers, about 8 million cars are sold to customers in the US each year. Proportionally, that amounts to about 1 million cars sold to people who live in apartments (I’m rounding down because I think most apartments are in metropolitan areas, where people are more likely to use public transportation or bikes). That’s still a lot of cars, but enough for electric-vehicle producers to care? Probably not.

So while the Chevy Bolt may not work for people like me, it still has a pretty large potential audience. I guess I’ll keep waiting for cold fusion technology.