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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: All charged up for an electric car? Getting an affordable one is still a challenge. | COMMENTARY

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, there are now 1,241 charging stations for electric vehicles across the state.

If you own an electric car or truck, or drive a hybrid plug-in, congratulations: You’ve made it to the 1%. At the end of July, there were 52,966 EVs or hybrid plug-ins registered in Maryland. That’s just 1% of all motor vehicles across the state.

It has been 25 years since the first generation of the Toyota Prius — albeit a hybrid, not a hybrid plug-in with a larger battery — came off the assembly line. Since then, there’s been immense progress in battery technology, along with greater political and cultural acceptance of the environmental need to move away from gas-powered automobiles.

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So, given all that, you’d think Maryland, one of the wealthiest, highest educated, eco-conscious and bluest states in the country, would be further along in the purchase of emissions-free vehicles.

“One percent doesn’t sound like much,” says R. Earl Lewis Jr., a deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation. “But it is, when you look at the growth rates. We had 52,966 [EVs] at the end of July. We had 600 in 2012.”

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That suggests significant public buy-in of a still developing technology. If not for the pandemic, the state might have reached its goal of 60,000 EVs by 2020.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that more people are enticed into the cool idea of owning battery-powered cars with only 20 moving parts and no gas tank.

Current sales are robust. Just between the end of May and the end of July, another 4,575 EVs were registered in Maryland.

People have noticed important developments. Battery capacity is increasing along with battery production. The driving range of EVs has improved significantly. (Both the Chevy Bolt EV and the Hyundai Kona EV can get close to 260 miles on a single charge.) The price of gasoline, rigged on the global market, has people thinking about making the transition.

And the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the Senate and House — with all Republicans opposed, of course — renews tax credits of up to $7,500 for EVs that are assembled in North America and powered by batteries made with “critical minerals’' that come from the U.S. or countries with which we have free trade agreements. So there’s some fine print involved in the incentives — because of their high price tags, some models won’t be eligible for them — and all of that makes the buyer’s calculations more challenging.

Still, the incentives will last a decade and should give sales in the U.S. market a significant boost, particularly among middle-class consumers. That’s the hope anyway.

Biggest issue: The price point for EVs is intimidating right now. The average electric car price in the U.S. hit $66,000 in July, according to Electrek, the EV news website. Demand has dealers marking up prices. When I recently inquired about the cost of one of the more affordable EVs, a Baltimore-area dealer added $5,000 on top of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price “due to the global microchip shortage as well as the supply chain crisis.” That pushed the sale price to just short of $40,000.

On the other hand, another dealer offered a manufacturer’s rebate on a comparable, four-door EV, lowering the cost to about $37,000.

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Timing is everything — in love, comedy and buying an EV.

The federal incentives are significant, but it might be wise for the Maryland General Assembly to again offer a tax credit for the purchase of a new or used EV, aimed at Marylanders of modest means who think EVs are priced out of their reach.

While the sales and marketing gets sorted, the infrastructure to support the EV future expands.

“I think there’s a bright future for EVs,” says Lewis.

As a deputy secretary of transportation, he serves as chairman of — stand by for the long title — the Maryland Zero Emission Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council. That’s the group planning for the EV future, building out the electrical infrastructure to increase citizen confidence in making the transition. Having enough charging stations on or near highways is critical.

A friend of mine, ecstatic about owning one of the first Chevy Bolts, sold the car after a couple of years because he could not find enough fast-charge stations between his home in Harford County and his hunting grounds in Maine. Another friend loves his Bolt but only recently felt confident that he could locate a charging station, if needed, between Baltimore and Deep Creek Lake, in the Western part of the state.

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The current Bolts, the EUV and EV, have, respectively, ranges of 247 and 258 miles on one charge, and while that sounds great for daily commutes, it’s longer trips that give some people pause about going electric.

So expanding the number of charging stations is a huge piece of the EV future. According to the Department of Transportation, there are now 1,241 stations with 3,373 charging outlets in Maryland.

And there’s more to come, says Lewis, with some $60 million in federal funds slated over the next five years for Maryland’s EV corridors. The plan is for a charging station every 50 miles, and within one mile of a highway.

So, if all that holds, if the price points come down, if the incentives work, then Lewis is correct about a bright future for EVs in Maryland. Just think: Baltimore to Ocean City on a little more than half a charge and no gas.


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