Dickson: Why are we building electrified roads?

The real endgame is not roads that charge cars. Those are meant to draw car-buyers in

If you build it, they will come.

This is the logic that results in baseball diamonds in Iowa cornfields, and electrified roads in Detroit. But be careful with attention getters.

When a patch of electrified road was installed in Detroit last November, it was hailed as a big deal. The town that put the world on wheels, and paved its first mile of road, was now a pioneer in Auto Industry 2.0, the electric vehicle — so the narrative went.

But the electrified road is more of an optical illusion than a realistic way to drive. It stretches only a quarter of a mile and generates more headlines than it charges vehicles.

Electric car buyers are led to believe that if they buy an EV, the road will take care of the rest, including charging.

But the entire electric vehicle ecosystem is theater. You won’t be asked to scan your laptop or take off your shoes. Just to hand over your wallet so the federal government can create buying patterns anew.

If you build it, they will try.

Months before the electrified road was installed, CNBC previewed the project.

“Lack of charging infrastructure is a common hurdle but electric road projects, like Detroit’s upcoming initiative led by Electreon, offer wireless charging while driving, promising versatile solutions for various vehicles,” the story read.

Its headline: “How electric roads could help solve EV range anxiety.”

But the feds themselves admit that the end game of the EV revolution is not more miles of electrified road. It’s not even charging resources nearby highways or in public places.

If America buys into the electric vehicle, most buyers will want home chargers. The feds know this, today, even as they sell attention getters like the electric road.

A U.S. Department of Energy estimate on the 2030 National Charging Network offers a look at reality in a world that has adopted the EV. In that brave new world, America needs the infrastructure for 30 million to 42 million EVs by 2030. Six years from now.

Assuming a mid-adoption scenario of 33 million EVs, America would need 28 million chargers, the report says.

Out of 28 million charging ports, one million would be in public places, like gas stations or Meijer parking lots, the feds estimate. Another 182,000 would be installed near highways.

But the vast majority, 26.8 million, would be home chargers of some sort, whether at a single-family home or a condo or apartment.

So why are we electrifying roads again? To build demand for electric vehicles that does not now exist. Just under 1.2 million EVs were sold in America last year, and that was a record. It would take six more record-breaking years to even approach low end estimates for 2030.

Do you remember your reaction to the electrified road? Did you mention the story to your spouse? Did you decide it was finally time to take a test drive of that Tesla? Did stories about a quarter-mile of road relieve you of range anxiety?

If so, you were the target audience.

If you build it, will they buy?

Try as the feds might to create and inflate demands for EVs, that’s a question only we can answer as consumers.

But if our answer is yes, $30 billion in subsidies for the EV under Biden’s infrastructure law is just the beginning.

In round two, your taxes will pay for your neighbor’s home charger.

James David Dickson is a Detroit News columnist and managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at This column ran first in The Detroit News on Feb. 7.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.