DANBURY — The obstacles keeping the masses from purchasing electric vehicles persist and the dream of putting 3.3 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025 is looking like just that — a dream.
Advanced technology, new “game-changing” models and continued state and federal incentives, however, may create a surge in sales of EVs, according to local auto dealers. That would be music to the ears of the Drive Electric organization, which is wrapping up National Drive Electric Week this weekend.
“The Bolt will be a game-changer for electric cars,” Todd Ingersoll, president of Ingersoll Auto, said of the Chevrolet Bolt coming out later this year. “It’s priced under $30,000 and goes 238 miles on a single charge. It’s already less expensive and has a higher range than the new Tesla and that’s not coming out until next year.”
Ingersoll Auto of Danbury on Federal Road is part of the Ingersoll Auto group.
The Bolt, Chevy’s first all-electric vehicle, attempts to address the two main concerns consumers have with EVs: price and driving range. Even with rebates and incentives, EVs are priced higher than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Most current EV models travel 80 to 120 miles on a charge.
“We’re still seeing people who are interested in electric cars, but for many people I think they are anticipating what’s next,” Todd Bennett, owner of Bruce Bennett Nissan in Wilton, said. “There’s so much exciting stuff happening, people want to know what’s next.”
Nissan produces the all-electric Leaf. It is one of the most popular EVs, although Bennett said sales of the Leaf have dropped in recent years as other manufacturers introduced their own EV models.
In 2014, Connecticut joined seven other states and revealed plans to put a combined 3.3 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025. The vehicles include EVs as well as fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen. The other states are California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island and Oregon.
Among other steps, the plan calls for increased marketing efforts and improved infrastructure, including increasing the number of charging stations, to support the zero-emissions vehicles. Connecticut currently has about 250 electric car charging stations.
In 2011, President Barack Obama declared a similar goal of putting one million EVs on the road by 2015. Only about one-third of that goal was reached. In fact, it wasn’t until September 2015 that the millionth EV was sold globally.
According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, as last month there were just under 500,000 plug-in vehicles sold in the U.S., including plug-in hybrids that switch to an internal combustion engine when the range of the battery is reached.
In Connecticut, there are about 2,700 plug-in hybrids and 1,800 battery electric vehicles on the road as of June, according to the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Sales of EVs continue to lag despite the many state and federal incentives offered. Federal tax credits of up to $7,500 are available, depending on the size of the car’s battery and how much the buyer owes in federal taxes.
The state, through the CHEAPR program, offers further rebates and incentives. Most EVs and plug-in hybrids bought in Connecticut are eligible for a $3,000 rebate in addition to other incentives such as a reduced registration fee. Emission tests are also not necessary with a fully electric vehicle.
“That’s been a huge driving factor in sales,” Trevor Cornelis of Ridgefield BMW said. “It helps out big time.”
Ridgefield BMW is one of the top-selling EV dealerships in the state. Cornelis said the BMW i3 will go 70 to 110 miles on a single charge. The 2017 model will increase the range significantly, he said.
“Sales are increasing more and more. Our customers are educated and informed about electric vehicles. A lot of people just don’t know about EVs and are basing their decisions on misinformation,” Cornelis said. “We expect electric vehicles to become more and more popular. It’s here for good, and the longer it’s here the more comfortable people will become with them.”
The effect of cheap gas
Other automakers are taking note as well and nearly every major brand has at least one EV. The Bolt will be Chevrolet’s first fully electric vehicle, but its plug-in hybrid Volt has done well for years. The Volt goes 53 miles on a charge before the internal combustion engine kicks in.
“We sell every Volt we can get our hands on,” Ingersoll said. “The Bolt will be completely sold out, too.”
Also later this year Toyota will start selling its first fully electric vehicle, Prius Prime. Max Tananbaum of Greentree Toyota in Danbury said the tax incentives should drive some customers toward the new model.
Connecticut’s refusal to allow Tesla to sell directly to consumers is another factor hurting EV sales in the state. Connecticut residents wanting a Tesla must buy one in another state.
“We consider Connecticut to be a huge market, so we would like to see this changed,” Will Nicholas, Tesla’s government relations manager, said. “We hope there is a solution out there and will seek legislative resolution.”
Some auto dealers think low gas and oil prices have also stunted sales of EVs as consumers reverted to purchasing larger trucks and SUVs.
“For some, cheap gas is a deterrent to buying an electric vehicle,” Ingersoll said. “For others, it’s a social statement to purchase one.”
Bennett agrees: “I don’t think the person buying a Leaf is buying it based on fuel prices. They are buying it based on environmental reasons and to have a maintenance-free car.”
Ingersoll and Bennett both see EVs as a step toward the next big evolution of the automobile. Ingersoll feels that hydrogen-powered fuel cell automobiles, whose emissions are only pure water, may be the direction the industry is headed.
“Once the supply is in place, you’ll see more of those vehicles,” he said.
Bennett said clean-powered vehicles will become commonplace in the near future, much the same way ABS brakes, traction control and air bags are now industry standard. He is also excited about the future of autonomous driving vehicles.
“Changes are coming in a big way and they’re coming fast,” Bennett said. “We’re living in a cool time in terms of technology. We’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg.”