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EV Future Hits Gas-Pump Present

4 min read

Two weeks ago, Jennah Denney of Today’s Power Inc. described a “tipping point” for mainstream adoption of electric vehicles in a panel discussion in Little Rock. Days later, MSNBC applied the same phrase to Tesla’s trillion-dollar valuation after a deal to sell 100,000 battery-powered cars to rental giant Hertz.

The Tesla headline, combined with recent EV goals for government fleets, Volkswagen’s choice to make only electric cars for Europe by 2035 and Ford’s introduction of the electric F-150, gives the coming EV age an air of inevitability.

That view dominated the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association’s annual meeting and policy conference Oct. 14, where Denney moderated the panel.

Patti Springs of the state Department of Energy & Environment discussed state adoption of EV tech, Evolve Auto founder Collin Riggin described big lifetime savings for EV owners, and Rock Region Metro CEO Charles Frazier talked up the electric buses the transit agency is getting through a $5 million federal grant.

Still, bumps dot the road to sustainability in today’s transit crisis. With fuel costs soaring and concerns growing about heat this winter, the nation’s supply chain is crippled and dependent on diesel power. More than 98% of American cars use gasoline, now at $3 a gallon, and fossil-fuel realities challenge President Joe Biden’s progressive energy agenda.

A small protest taped to a gas pump in Gravel Ridge showed a picture of the president pointing to the price: “I did that,” the caption said.

Oil is at a 7-year high, $80 per barrel.

All this, of course, supports the need to go gas-free, and Riggin makes a strong case. His North Little Rock dealership sells pre-owned EVs, including Teslas.

“Long-range EVs, those with 300 miles of range or more, are going to last for close to 300,000 miles,” Riggin said. “The typical average for internal combustion vehicles is 150,000 to 200,000 miles, so you’re looking at 70% to 100% longer life for the vehicle.”

A driver accustomed to getting 15 miles to a gallon of gas will save $15,000 per 100,000 miles driven by getting an electric car, Riggin said, and they can expect to drive an EV 100,000 or more extra miles. “So the savings are incredible, and these cars are lasting far longer,” Riggin said. “At some point the question won’t be whether it’s a good idea, but whether you’re crazy not to.”

Nevertheless, it will be years before electric vehicles rule the road.

At the end of last year, just 1.3 million vehicles operating in the U.S. were battery powered, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Data Explorer. That’s compared to perhaps 250 million vehicles on American roads altogether. EVs represented just 2% of total U.S. car sales in 2020, although sales rebounded this year, with second-quarter electric and plug-in hybrid sales up 33% over the same period last year.

Fleet conversions by corporations, governments, rental businesses and transit agencies are expected to drive sales far beyond the individual market. A survey published this month by the sustainability nonprofit Ceres found that 28 major corporations, including Amazon and T-Mobile, plan to buy nearly 400,000 zero-emission vehicles over the next five years. Electrification is also surging among bigger rigs and buses, with China projected as a major market.

Frazier said Rock Region Metro, which runs 50 large city buses, 30 paratransit buses and assorted smaller vehicles, won the $5 million EV grant “because we did our research, we found our funding partners, and we came up with a 10% match. And we told our story about how we wanted to be a leader in alternative energy there. And they gave us one of the largest awards in the country.”

The money will go to buy up to five 40-foot electric buses and related battery-charging infrastructure. School districts in Jacksonville and elsewhere are looking into electrifying school buses, Springs told the AAEA crowd.

So the future is coming, but can political pressures wait for it? The Biden administration has been forced to reach out to fossil fuel companies in response to inflation that’s taking a toll on the president’s population and the economic comeback from COVID. The administration asked a reluctant OPEC to increase oil production, but Biden appears to have little leverage. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm floated the idea of releasing oil from the government strategic reserve.

But as Riggin said in his pitch for Evolve’s used EVs, oil could be a thing of the past for a lot of drivers. “When you have an EV,” he said, “you’ll never even need an oil change.”

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