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Electric Vehicles

The Family-Sized Hole in the Electric Car Market

Who will make the suburb-dominating, soccer-practice EV of the future?

A family and an EV.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Hyundai

The exemplar of the American “family car” is an ever-changing thing. Mid-century land yachts gave way to wood-paneled Griswold family station wagons. The SUV craze of the 1990s established vehicles like the forest green Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer I grew up in as the de facto kid-haulers, especially for parents who wouldn’t be caught dead in a minivan. Today’s suburb-dominating soccer-practice crossovers are their spiritual descendants.

Now, though, the question of which car is right for a family has a new wrinkle: Should we get an electric vehicle? Unfortunately, the answer for most people who survey the auto landscape appears to be, “not yet,” a fact that has contributed to the current feeling of EV limbo.


The right family car depends upon your family. My Tesla Model 3 happily accommodates a newborn, a dog, and a stroller that lives in the trunk. For most Americans, though, the family car has come to mean something much larger than my ride: a tall, spacious, affordable, safe, and reliable crossover with lots of room for endless kid gear and clutter. Three rows are a must for those with a flock of kids.

Therein lies the trouble with today’s EV fleet. Check online conversations between parents about the available options and it becomes clear that perhaps no available electric fits the bill perfectly. The top-selling Tesla Model Y is a crossover, but not a huge one, and the available choices like it, the Volkswagen ID.4, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E are going to cost you more than $40,000, not counting EV tax breaks. Truly spacious EVs like the Rivian R1S and Tesla Model X have prices that soar to $70,000 or more. Well-regarded electrics such as the Hyundai Ioniq5 and 6 can’t match the cargo space of your neighbors’ combustion crossover. (Ioniq5 has 27 cubic ft. in the back and the Model Y about 30, versus 37.5 for the typical Toyota RAV4 and nearly 40 for the Honda CR-V.) The parental consensus in many of those Reddit threads? The best electric family ride is the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan, which delivers 32 electric miles before it reverts to gas.

A new slate of EVs is just starting to fill in this obvious hole. The forthcoming Chevy Equinox EV, in addition to carrying the name of a top-selling familiar, safe family car, is supposed to start at a more reasonable $35,000. Kia used a Super Bowl ad to show off the EV9, one of the first giant three-row family crossovers to go full EV, and Hyundai’s Ioniq7 will soon follow. The ID.Buzz, an update to the classic VW bus, brings an all-electric minivan to the market. When it comes down to a car-buying decision, though, the dealer lots of America are still wanting for a simple mom-and-dad-mobile to compete with the $30,000 starting price of the Honda CR-V.

This gap helps to explain some of the gloom around electric vehicle sales in 2024. Nearly all the car companies have some kind of true EV on the market by now, but most of those entrants require buyers to navigate the confusing, fluid EV tax breaks in order for them to be competitive with gasoline counterparts. For EVs to make the leap from the early adoption to the mass adoption state, we need a truly cheap car like what Tesla and Ford are reportedly developing for entry-level carbuyers, yes (though, to Detroit’s chagrin, it just might come from China.) But we also need family-sized EVs that compete on price with the well-known suburban warriors.


Here’s the bright side. The EV space may be in a “gap year,” but electric vehicles will soon become big and cheap enough to take their place as the family car. They will be great at it, and families will get to experience the ways that electric driving is better.

Now that EVs come with battery ranges around 300 miles, a person can drive down the highway for several hours without stopping to charge. In other words, the kid’s need for a bathroom, not the need to charge, will be the primary motivator behind pit stops.

An EV’s ability to use its battery power for applications other than driving is tailor-made for the family. While picking up a kid — and waiting for them to come get in the car already — one can run the air conditioner indefinitely and watch Netflix on the big center screen without running a gasoline engine and polluting the neighborhood. Child can’t sleep in the tent on their first camping trip? Sleep in the car all night with Camp Mode on.

Any errand avoided is a gift from the gods, which is why so many parents now rely on online shopping for durable goods and apps like Instacart to deliver the groceries. For those who can charge at home or at work, EV ownership negates the extra stop at the gas station on the way home, the one where the little ones ask, over and over, whether they can get some junk food from the convenience store. The absence of oil changes is pretty great, too. And the first time you use the car’s battery to keep the house lights on during a blackout, you’ll feel like you really earned that World’s Greatest Dad (or Mom) coffee mug.

Don’t believe the doom, then. Unless you’re buying a vehicle right now, your next family car probably is going to be an EV.

Green

Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read More

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