While there’s promise for electric vehicles touted last week by Gov. Phil Scott and representatives from the automobile and electric utilities industries, experts say numerous hurdles must be overcome if the cars are to challenge the combustion engine’s dominance.
The first hurdle is the high cost. Without any financial aid, the tiny Nissan Leaf is currently valued at $30,000. It takes hefty economic incentives to make it affordable.
“Between state and GMP (Green Mountain Power) incentives, you can buy a Nissan Leaf for about $13,000, which takes cost out of the factors,” Glenn McRae, associate director of the University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center said.
The state incentive is a $7,500 federal tax credit. This credit phases out once the manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles. Another big incentive is a $10,000 rebate for the 2017 Leaf model, part of a partnership deal with Vermont electric utilities.
Kristin Carlson, GMP’s vice president of Strategic and External Affairs, says electric utility customers are not paying for the rebates. The rebates are entirely “100 percent” by Nissan.
GMP, Burlington Electric and the Vermont Electric Co-op also offer an extra $1,200 rebate to employees.
Freedom Nissan of South Burlington owner Robert Miller said the 2017 Leafs are currently sold out. He said the promotion on the 2017 model was a corporate decision that helps clear out old inventory as 2018 models come to dealerships.
“We’re getting ready to order 2018 Leafs and they are going to be slightly less expensive than a 2017 (model), but there will be very little discounts on them,” he said.
Miller also said the dealership sold 151 Leafs over three months due to the incentives, a significant spike above the average two or three sold without incentives.
Dave Roberts, of the Vermont Energy Investment Corp Drive Electric Program, said the long-term goal behind these incentives is to bring costs down for early adopters while production increases and technology advances.
“We’re seeing some evidence of that as batteries (improve),” Roberts said. “The Chevrolet Bolt has basically double the battery range of the Leaf, but it’s not nearly double the price.”
Existing Nissan Leaf models can drive about 100 miles on a full battery, while the 2018 model can reach 150 miles. High-end models such as a Tesla’s Model 3, listed at $35,000, can travel up to 220 miles on a single charge.
“It’s a barrier that’s been identified,” Roberts said.
“It’s not as critical for plug-in hybrids because they have the gasoline to fall back and on. That’s currently about three-quarters of the plug-in vehicles in Vermont. But for the all-electric (model) it’s an issue.”
The length of time for a full battery charge is another obstacle. According to Roberts, Vermont has about 150 chargers, and only 25 are the new fast chargers. Conventional charges can take up to 4 hours to fully recharge, and the improved fast-charge models can charge to over 80 percent in about 30 minutes.
Scott and industry leaders tout the environmental benefits of electric vehicles, but according to a report by Forbes.com, the cars are not as “green” as advertised.
“For one, battery electric vehicles need to be charged and charged frequently at charging stations that rely on the electrical grid, which is almost exclusively powered by fossil fuel energy,” the report states.
Another concern is the environmental costs of the batteries, which are made from rare-earth minerals.
“Those rare metals come from somewhere — often, from environmentally destructive mines,” a Wired.com report states. “It’s not just Tesla, of course. All electric vehicles rely on parts with similar environmental issues.”
Roberts said that there have been some recent advancements in battery technology to mitigate those impacts.
“I know for example when Chevrolet redesigned their Volt plug-in hybrid for the 2015 model year, they reduced some of the raw material requirements for the electric motor … to reduce some of the natural resource materials required,” he said.
The Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement is going to bring about $18 million to the state, and about $3 million of that could aid in EV development, Roberts said. This money could help with public chargers and electric buses for Green Mountain Transit.
Vermot’s Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for 10 percent of vehicles to use renewable power by 2025. This is part of the broader goal of 90 percent renewable energy for all energy consumption in the state (electric, transportation, heating etc.) by the year 2050.
And there are more incentives for EVs yet to come.
“Vermont is one of the states that requires automakers to meet the California vehicle emissions requirements, often called the zero-emission vehicle or ZEV Program,” Roberts said. “Those regulations require automakers to have a certain number of credits associated with the sale of plug-in vehicles, and those requirements are increasing over time.
“(Automakers) are motivated potentially by their customers who are interested in this technology, but also by regulations that are pushing them towards cleaner vehicles.”