The goal, simple and straightforward, is to require automakers to supply dealerships with low-emission vehicles, hybrids, plug-in electric hybrids, and fully electric vehicles. Nobody’s “required” to buy one of these vehicles, but states with clean-car standards receive preferential treatment by manufacturers in the delivery of these vehicles: Thus, there are wider selections and greater numbers of these vehicles at these states’ dealerships.
A 2019 Consumer Reports survey found that 66% of prospective buyers want more electric-vehicle options. My family has owned and loved a plug-in hybrid sedan since 2017. So, last July, I ordered a new plug-in hybrid SUV. I was told that for this model year, Minnesota might receive one or two of these vehicles, because most deliveries are destined to states with clean-car standards. Minnesota’s proposed rule would level the field and give buyers here more vehicle options and increased availability.
Some who object to the new rule point at the higher purchase cost. In time, the economies of scale will rectify that, as increased electric-vehicle production would result in a lower per-unit price.
Today, nearly all major foreign and domestic manufacturers have announced plans to someday transition their lineups to being free of fossil fuels. In the last week of January, GM announced its lineup would be carbon-free by 2035. Ford previously announced an F-150 pickup that would be an electric vehicle.
Manufacturers recognize the obvious advantages of electric-vehicle technology and clearly see their role in addressing climate change. As a result, consumers eventually can expect to see increased selections and greater competition, which historically has resulted in lower prices. It’s likely to happen in the next three to five years.
Focusing solely on electric vehicles’ slightly higher purchase price distorts the cost of vehicle ownership, particularly with fully electric vehicles. Depending on the many variables — including models, energy types, and fuel costs — we can estimate lifetime fuel costs. That’s where electric vehicles shine. As an example, today, electricity costs 0.07 cents to 0.13 cents per kilowatt, and gasoline is $2.30 per gallon. A fossil-fuel vehicle is going to be two to three times costlier per mile than an equivalent electric vehicle.
Over an eight-year ownership, the driver of an electric vehicle can anticipate savings of $5,500 to $7,500 in fuel alone. Those cost savings, plus intangible environmental benefits due to a lack of tailpipe emissions, both multiply if you own or subscribe to clean, renewable solar or wind power. The vehicle is then powered entirely without the use of fossil fuels, meaning zero greenhouse-gas emissions and no other pollutants from tailpipe exhaust.
This results in measurable, significant human health benefits by reducing or eliminating harmful emissions, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, benzene, mercury, and other harmful particulates.
Utilizing locally produced renewable energy also means there’s no need to import fossil fuels from other states or countries. Our dollars stay home and circulate locally, putting more Minnesotans to work, stimulating our local economies.
Electric vehicles are also far cheaper to maintain because there’s a fraction of the parts compared to an internal combustion engine and drivetrain. Reduced maintenance costs add to the customer’s lifetime of savings. There are no oil changes, no new mufflers, and no need to replace parts. Using today’s technology, the batteries in electric vehicles will eventually have to be replaced. But these batteries last 150,000 miles or more, with a replacement cost of about $1,000. An electric-vehicle customer still comes out way ahead.
There are folks, including some elected officials, who see this rule as a threat to our way of life and very existence. Their misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric panders to the old and rejects the very future of electric-vehicle technology. It was likely this way when the automobile replaced the horse and buggy.
Change is inevitable. It’s up to us to select how we will meet the ever-growing challenges of climate change. Time has long passed when a gradual but steady transition was possible. We have denied, deflected, and procrastinated to the point where only a rapid and abrupt leap to new technologies can fend off the worst impacts that climate change threatens to deliver.
The power sector has largely done its job to buy into clean, renewable energy. It’s time for the transportation sector to do the same. The clean-car standard is a must for Minnesota.
Craig Sterle of Barnum is the past president of the Minnesota division of the Izaak Walton League and a member of the league’s local W.J. McCabe chapter. He wrote this for the News Tribune.