Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

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.

Andrew Moseman profile image

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.


Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

Sodium-ion batteries.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

Keep reading...Show less
Electric Vehicles

AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

On Musk’s latest move, Arctic shipping, and China’s natural disasters

Tesla Is Delaying the Robotaxi Reveal
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.


1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

Keep reading...Show less

What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

Donald Trump holding the IRA.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

Keep reading...Show less