Connecticut’s EV Goals Are Too Lofty, Experts Warn

To reach the greenhouse gas emissions goals outlined by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, electric vehicle sales would need to surge in the next decade. Industry experts say it will be a hard sell.

by Muther Turmelle, New Haven Register / October 28, 2019
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(TNS) — The executive director of the Connecticut trade group representing car dealers and a leading regional automotive writer both contend state officials’ goal to have 500,000 electric vehicles registered and on the road by 2030 is unattainable.

Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, and Clifford Atiyeh, vice president of New England Motor Press Association and a Milford-based freelance automotive journalist, said a variety of factors make it highly unlikely the goal set forth by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will be achieved. Fleming said there were 1,800 electric vehicles sold in Connecticut in 2018, which accounted for 1.09 percent of the state’s total car and truck sales.

“It’s going to be really hard (to achieve DEEP’s goal), even under the best of circumstances,” Fleming said. “Sales are dropping off for all kinds of cars right now because people are worried about a recession.”

The goal to increase electric vehicle usage in the state was set forth in a document released recently by DEEP. The Electric Vehicle Roadmap, a 71-page draft report, said in order for the state to meet its goals for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, Connecticut residents need to purchase more electric vehicles.

“In Connecticut, the transportation sector is responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of smog,” said Kristina Rozek, director of communications for DEEP. “The state needs to significantly reduce pollution from this sector and speeding up adoption of electric vehicles works hand-in-hand with other transit strategies to improve the air we breathe and meet long-term environmental goals. The Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut projects we’ll need 500,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 to meet our goals, and while ambitious, it’s not unrealistic.”

By the numbers

But survey results released last week by Costa Mesa, Calif.-based J.D. Powers suggest otherwise. Just 4 percent of respondents nationally have owned an EV, while nearly 70 percent of those surveyed had never been in one.

Electric vehicles accounted for just 2.6 percent of all new U.S. car sales in September 2019, the Edison Electric Institute reported.

Nationally, the number of electric vehicles on the road passed the one million mark in October 2018, according to the Edison Electric Institute. And as of July 1 of this year, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles reported there were only 10,797 electric vehicles registered in the state.

What’s an EV?

There are three categories of electric vehicles:

Hyrbrid electric vehicles, which run both gasoline and electricity. The electric energy is supplied by the car’s own braking system to recharge the battery, a process know as regenerative braking.

Plug-in hybrids, which are powered by both regenerative braking and plugging in to an external source of electrical power to recharge the vehicle’s batteries.

Battery-powered electric vehicles, which have no gasoline engine and instead run solely on rechargeable, high-capacity battery packs onboard the car.

There are 16 models of battery-powered electric cards in currently on sale in the U.S., according to Atiyeh.

Roadblocks

Given that the current era of mass-market electric vehicles began in 2008, Atiyeh said, “there’s no way we’ll get to 500,000 EVs in 10 years.” Despite the best efforts of automakers producing electric vehicles, he said, “the cars are just not where they should be.”

“I’ve driven these cars and the driving experince is full of compromises,” he said. “They are not up to speed, not even close, to what the mass-market consumer expects in a car. People don’t want to compromise their mobility.”

Atiyeh said electric vehicles also don’t produce optimum performance outside of moderate climates.

“A third of the battery range goes away in the winter from the cold temperatures and having to use the heater,” he said.

Some Connecticut motorists interviewed by Hearst Connecticut Media said their experiences with electric vehicles has been nothing but positive.

Julie Egan of Durham said her family recently purchased a Chevrolet Volt, a hyrbrid electric vehicle that General Motors is phasing out.

“We love it,” Egan said “We are able to at least have my daily work commute and most local driving done utilizing the electric mode only.”

Egan said she has been so pleased with the Volt that she and her family now are researching buying a battery-powered electric vehicle.

“We are confident enough now that we’d love to go totally electric,” Egan said.

Lon Seidman, who has a small technology-based business in Essex, said he has been driving an electric vehicle “for almost 10 years now and will never go back.”

Seidman said he thinks some consumers suffer from what is known as “range anxiety”: Fear that they will not be able to find a charging station before their vehicle runs out of power.

Peter Welch, president and chief executive officer of the National Automobile Dealers Association, addressed that issue in a blog post on the group’s website in February,

“There are 168,000 filling stations across America — many with 10 or more pumps — that dispense 40 million fill-ups every single day, so you can quickly and easily extend your vehicle’s range, over and over again, without ever thinking about it,” Welch wrote in part. “But battery technology and infrastructure are simply not widely ready for fast charging.”

Even the most high-powered commercial electric vehicle charges take 20 to 30 minutes to reach a full charge, depending on how depleted the battery is.

Jason Zandri is a business program manager for Microsoft and also serves on the Wallingford Town Council. Zandri said he been driving a Chevrolet Bolt for a year and has put 15,000 miles on it.

“My car was $40,000, but with rebates, I got it for $33,000 in reality,” he said. “But over the years with (virtually) zero maintenance and lower energy costs over fuel cost, I am going to come out ahead.”

Zandri said the only items the owners manual for the Bolt recommends for the first 100,000 miles is rotating the vehicles tires.

“There’s almost no maintenance and that translates into savings on oil changes, radiator flushes,” he said. “Batteries, you theoretically have to change beyond 100,000 miles, but I’m hearing there is less than a 10 percent drop off (in the ability to hold a charge) after that. It’s better than a cellphone (in terms of the need for maintenance). There’s not a lot of lubricants or things that have to be adjusted in the car.”

Even the most ardent supporters of EVs acknowledge that even with federal and state tax credits, the price of purchasing a new electric vehicle is a major hurdle for some consumers.

“The entry price is just to high for middle income people at this point,” Zandri said.

It ultimately drove North Haven resident Matt McCullough out of the market for electric vehicles, even though he’d driven some form of them since 2004.

“I drove hybrid cars from 2004 to 2018,” McCullough said. “I didn’t even know how much gas was, I was getting it so rarely.”

He drove a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid from 2004 to 2014 and then switched to a Kia Optima hybrid. The Civic initially got 55 mpg , but as it got older, McCullough said the mileage decreased.

“The Optima Hybrid was reliably 39 mpg, which is great, but not 55 mpg great,” he said.

With three children, McCullough needed a larger car, but he said hybrid sport-utility vehicles are too expensive.

“It would have been my preference to stay hybrid,” McCullough said. “For purely electric vehicles, which I’d also love to have, it’s just too complicated to worry about being out and about and needing a charge. At least with a hybrid, you can stop for gas.”

Atiyeh said the Nissan Leaf probably is the lowest-priced electric vehicle, starting at about $30,000 before factoring in tax credits. And on the other end of the spectrum, the price of Tesla’s line of battery powered electric vehicles range from a low of $35,000 for a 2019 Model 3 which standard driving range to the Model X, which has a starting price of $86,190.

But if $30,000 is still a little rich for one’s family budget, he said a market is starting to develop for used electric vehicles, either being returned by consumers at the end of a lease or being traded in for new cars.

“A used Nissan (Leaf), you can get it for under $25,000 or $20,000,” Atiyeh said.

As more people purchase electric vehicles, “the scale of manufacturing will increase and the prices will come down,” he said.

Fleming said Connecticut has been quite progressive in its suport of the electric vehicle market, especially with its CHEAPR program.

CHEAPR — the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate — offers incentives of up to $5,000 for residents who purchase or lease a new eligible battery electric, fuel cell electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

“The state is putting its money where its mouth is to push these vehicles,” Fleming said.

Another factor that would spur on the Connecticut electric vehicle market further would be the presence of manufacturer incentives, he said. Such incentives give new-car dealers more flexibility in terms of negotiating a sale price, according to Fleming.

One reason for a lack of manufacturer incentives might be how much it costs automakers to build electric vehicles.

“Almost no car company is turning a profit on EVs,” Atiyeh said.

Welch, the NADA executive, didn’t address the issue of manufacturer incentives in his blog post on electric vehicles, choosing instead to address criticisms that dealers aren’t doing enough to promote the sale of the cars.

“That’s not how it works,” he wrote. “According to a recent survey by Cox Automotive, 74 percent of today’s vehicle buyers purchased the vehicle they selected online prior to visiting a dealership. Local dealers are merchants; they stock, sell and service what their customers want to buy, own and drive and they always will.”

An NADA spokeswoman contacted last week declined further comment on the subject of manufacturer incentives.

While the price of electric vehicles may drive away some consumers, another type of cost factor actually drives consumers to consider buying them, according to an executive at Fairfield County car dealership.

“The Leaf does very well and a lot of what drives the sales depends upon the price of gas,” said Thomas D’Addario, president of D’Addario Nissan of Shelton.

The bottom line, Atiyeh said, is that there are just to many questions and variables at this point for electric vehicles to sell at pace over the next decade that would be need in order to achieve the goal set by DEEP.

“If we only have 11,000 EVs (including plug-in hybrids) registered in the state right now, there’s no way we’ll get to 500,000 EVs in 10 years if nationally we’re at less than 700,000 after a decade,” he said. “The math doesn’t add up. And it's not because people are dumb or are not paying attention to the electric vehicle market. It’s just we’re a long way away from where we need to be in terms of the product.”

©2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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