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Electric Vehicles Charge Ahead in Arkansas

3 min read

The electric vehicle industry has found a spot in Arkansas.

Two EV companies with offices in California, Envirotech Vehicles of Corona and Canoo of Torrance, announced they would make significant investments in production facilities and relocate here.

Envirotech said in February it would open a factory in Osceola to employ about 800, and Canoo announced in November it would move to Bentonville and employ more than 500.

“They want to locate in Arkansas because we have so many world-class transportation companies to purchase their vehicles,” said Doug Voss, a professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and a member of the Arkansas Trucking Association’s board of directors. “There is also the world-class transportation college we have here, too. There are a lot of advantages to Arkansas.”

And Arkansas wants the business. Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility to make the state more competitive in the electric vehicle market, among other things.

“The Advisory Council will be charged with identifying state laws and regulations that create a barrier to the development and enhancement of electrification, autonomous vehicles, drone delivery, and advanced air mobility in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said in his Feb. 14 State of the State address. “It will examine workforce training, accessing federal funding, and will make recommendations before the next general session of the Legislature. In the future, you will have choices to make. …

“I encourage you to build on the private sector success we have in Arkansas and allow innovation and new technologies to bolster our future,” he said. “The businesses that drive these innovations in mobility will be leaders in the future economy. I want these companies to find a home in Arkansas and for our state to be a leader in future mobility.”

Among the business executives Hutchinson named to the 17-person council is Craig Harper, the chief sustainability officer of transportation titan J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, a long-time believer in alternative-fuel vehicles. J.B. Hunt has used electric tractors in its final mile division for years and has a partnership with autonomous driving company Waymo.

USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren has also dipped its tires into the electric vehicle market this year by buying 10 tractors.

There is a general consensus that alternative-fuel technology needs to be developed, but it can be a hard sell to trucking companies that have a bottom line to consider. Despite the advances in technology, electric vehicles can’t travel as far as traditional tractors and take much longer to refuel.

Still, you can’t reach the finish line without starting the race. Arkansas clearly has. “There are a lot of transportation companies that are getting some pressure from shippers to be more green,” Voss said. “Trucking companies see this as a way to get a competitive advantage. There is plenty of freight right now, but that won’t always be the case. Plus fuel is a major expense for these firms; if you can try to reduce that expense you are better off.

“In the short term, that is where you are going to see it: in the short haul.”

Last Tuesday, President Joe Biden mentioned the need to upgrade the electric vehicle infrastructure nationally during his State of the Union address. Biden said he wants to see 500,000 charging stations built.

“The part I follow is rife with skepticism as far as how quickly the nation is going to be able to get our EV infrastructure up to speed in order to support a large EV fleet,” Voss said. “We have a lot of hurdles to fully reach the potential. I think that we will.

“There is a lot of hype about it right now. We have started down that road and we’re going to continue down that road. We have to.”

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