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Colorado is a top electric vehicle state without a mandate. So why can’t locals buy most of the EVs for sale?

As Colorado considers adopting a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, some electric SUVs, crossovers and pickups are coming soon

The all-electric Rivian R1T pickup from startup Rivian promises up to 400 miles range and 0-60 acceleration in 3 seconds. Prices start at $69,000 with production starting in 2020. The company plans to make it available in Colorado. (Provided by Rivian)
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On any given day in Colorado last year — excluding Sundays, of course — 14.6 electric vehicles were sold. That included 1.4 Chevy Bolts, 2.9 Nissan Leafs and 6.6 Tesla Model 3s, according to data provided by Cox Automotive’s Kelley Blue Book.

But what wasn’t selling at local dealerships were the Hyundai Ionic, Fiat 500e or Honda Clarity Electric. That’s because those electric cars and numerous others just aren’t available in Colorado. Some say it’s because Colorado doesn’t yet have a zero-emissions vehicle mandate and automakers skip states without such quotas. Others say it’s because Coloradans prefer pickups and not sedans, let alone versions that run on electricity, and dealers don’t want unwanted cars sitting on their lots.

“It’s difficult to get the fine-grained data to really prove to what extent things are demand-limited versus supply-limited,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, whose own purchase of a Prius Prime Plug-in Hybrid took months — and he had to get it shipped in from another state. “…But if you can’t find them at the dealer, you’re much less likely to buy it.”

Still, Colorado ranked fifth nationwide for EV sales rates thanks to generous rebates plus back-to-back governors pledging cleaner air by pushing lower vehicle emissions. And new electric SUVs and pickups are on their way just as Colorado is seriously toying with a mandate that could force automakers to make more electric models available here.

Available in March 2019 with a 239-mile range on a full charge, the 2019 Kia Niro EV is not coming to Colorado soon. Car & Driver reports Kia won’t even let you order a Niro EV outside of mostly ZEV states. (Provided by Kia)

Kelley Blue Book counted 12 EV models that were sold last year in Colorado, compared to the 48 zero-emission passenger vehicles in California. There were no trucks and only one SUV, which make up about 70 percent of the new vehicles bought in Colorado, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.  

“Honestly, Colorado is a truck-heavy state. You can name how many electric truck or SUVs there are and it’s virtually nothing,” said Ivan Drury, senior manager of industry analysis for auto researcher Edmunds.com, who lives in the Denver area. “How many of these EVs offer all-wheel drive, something that’s so prevalent in Colorado? … Look at EVs on the road. They’re just not meant for the weather here. But if you’re looking at pure electric SUVs, that would hit demand perfectly.”

Good news for Coloradans who drive SUVs

Automakers have already been shifting to more crossovers since it’s not just Coloradans who are interested in them, said Devin Lindsay, principal analyst with market researcher IHS.

“Many automakers are moving away from passenger cars and moving to crossovers and SUVs where demand is,” Lindsay said. “Now, the challenge is how do you offer those cars in electric? Ford has talked about an electric pickup truck, and there’s (EV pickup) Rivian. What makes it more possible now than in the past is that batteries have improved.”

Better batteries will lengthen the distance a vehicle travels on a single charge, cutting down on “range anxiety.” Those ranges are now getting into the several hundreds of miles, just like a full tank of gas. Prices for the technology are coming down, too, he added, so “we’re now in the position of placing battery packs into larger vehicles and can have considerably longer range.”

MORE: More electric vehicles will likely be available in Colorado after a new executive order from Gov. Polis

Nationwide, Tesla was the nation’s top seller of electric vehicles last year. It was also Colorado’s top brand, with locals snapping up the first electric SUV, the Tesla Model X. Colorado was Tesla’s sixth biggest buyer of that SUV, according to Kelley Blue Book.

At Detroit-based Rivian, the startup backed by such investors as Amazon, engineers are working on an all-electric pickup truck and SUV with the first deliveries expected by the end of 2020. Rivian is aiming for its trucks to have a 400-mile range on a full charge. The message to Coloradans: “Rivian intends to sell vehicles in every state in the U.S.,” spokesman Michael McHale said.

Meanwhile, Audi is prepping for its upcoming crossover, the e-tron, which will definitely be available in Colorado, product manager Matt Mostafaei said.

Audi’s first electric vehicle, the e-tron, is a crossover with a “50-state strategy,” said product manager Matt Mostafaei. That means the e-tron will be offered in Colorado no matter where the state lands on an zero-emissions vehicle mandate. The e-tron is expected to have a 280-mile range on a full charge. (Provided by Audi)

“Audi’s strategy is a 50-state strategy, and we plan to deliver it in all 50 states,” Mostafaei said. “Frankly, we think this vehicle is the perfect vehicle for Colorado.”

He said the all-wheel e-tron has Colorado-friendly amenities like a roof rack and trailer hitch for up to 4,000 pounds, and it has more storage capacity than Audi’s non-electric Q5. It’s been tested on five continents in a variety of climates, has a 280-mile range on a full charge and touts a battery that goes from 0 to 80 percent charged in 30 minutes.

But starting at $74,800, it’s also above the average price Coloradans pay for a new vehicle. But demand is hot for the vehicle coming out later this year. A special “Edition One” sold out of its 999 units 24 hours after reservations opened, he said. In February, the company said 20,000 have been reserved.

“It’s what you’d expect from a normal SUV, but it’s electric,” Mostafaei said. “Mandate or no mandate, we want to be in Colorado to sell our product.”

To be ZEV or not to be ZEV

Speaking of a mandate, Colorado is working on it. The state took the first step last year when it joined California’s low-emission vehicle standard in November after then-Gov. John Hickenlooper feared the state’s clean air goals would be altered after the federal government proposed freezing U.S. emission standards at 2021 levels.  

In January, Gov. Jared Polis then ordered the state to go one step further and become a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) state, making Colorado a more attractive place for automakers to sell their EVs since they would now be required to have a growing portion of their sales be electric vehicles.

The state’s Air Quality Control Commission is expected to review rules for a ZEV program in May with possible adoption by October.

The hope is that with ZEV adoption, Coloradans will get more choice, said Sophia Mayott-Guerrero, Conservation Colorado’s energy and transportation advocate.

“Becoming a ZEV state doesn’t actually mandate what Coloradans buy,” Mayott-Guerrero said. “… More or less, nine to 10 percent of (an automaker’s) fleet mix would be EVs by 2022. That’s not even a close majority of our cars. Coloradans would still absolutely be able to buy trucks and SUVs or buy EVs. It’s not about limiting, but giving Coloradans more choice.”

And by going ZEV, Colorado could attract the Kia Niro EV crossover, which is hitting dealers in only 12 states this month or next, according to the company.

Currently, nine states follow California’s zero emissions vehicle goals. The others are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

But adopting ZEV is also no guarantee automakers would shift more of their electric vehicles to Colorado, said Eric Ibara, director of residual values for Kelley Blue Book, which helps consumers research and value cars.

“It seems fairly obvious that this isn’t the driving factor as states that have adopted (California’s) standards, including Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, have EV percentages at or below 1 percent,” Ibara said.

Both Honda and Fiat said they sell their EVs only in California and Oregon based on the higher demand. Hyundai reportedly limits its EV sales to California.

Sorry Colorado, Fiat’s adorable 500e electric car is only sold in California and Oregon “where there is the most demand,” Jordan Wasylyk, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US’s Product PR Manager responded when asked why not Colorado. (Provided by Fiat)

“And while California percentages look admirable, remember that California offers rebates on EV purchases as well as access to HOV lanes. If you’ve ever tried to drive through LA or San Francisco traffic at rush hour, I think you will appreciate how much incentive an HOV sticker could offer to a potential EV buyer,” Ibara added. “That may be something that Colorado cannot match.”

(Colorado since 2008 has let hybrid vehicles drive in HOT and HOV lanes for free, but limits the number of available permits to 2,000. There is a waiting list.)

The reality, said Ivan Drury with Edmunds, is that if new electric vehicles aren’t priced right or fit the customer’s needs, it’s a tough sell.

“It doesn’t matter matter what’s under the hood as long as it fits your criteria. And that’s the god-honest truth,” Drury said. “People who buy a car, you’re buying a downsized engine that’s been turbocharged. Do they care? No. It gets good fuel economy, does what they want it to do and is priced right for them. If EVs were the right price and body style, nobody would care.”

EV crossovers, SUVs and pickups announced

  • Kia Niro EV — Available in March 2019 with a 239-mile range on a full charge, the 2019 Kia Niro EV is  “styled to look like a crossover SUV but is really more of a hatchback,” says auto site Edmunds. It’s not coming to Colorado soon. Car & Driver reports Kia won’t even let you order a Niro EV outside of mostly ZEV states.
  • Audi e-tron — Expected in 2020, Audi’s first electric vehicle is a crossover with a “50-state strategy.” That means the e-tron, which starts at $74,800, will be offered in Colorado no matter where the state lands on an EV mandate. Reservations are being accepted online.
  • Volkswagen I.D. CROZZ — The company’s first EV SUV will have a range of 300 miles on a full charge and be available in the U.S. sometime in 2020. Car & Driver reports that VW plans to produce its electric vehicles in Tennessee starting in 2022.
  • Mercedes-Benz EQC SUV — Expected in early 2020, Mercedes’ first electric SUV went from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds in a test drive by Wired magazine. Expected range is about 279 miles, according to Mercedes.
  • Rivian R1T pickup — A fully electric pickup from startup Rivian promises up to 400 miles range and 0-60 acceleration in 3 seconds. Prices start at $69,000 with production starting in 2020. The company plans to make it available in Colorado.
  • Rivian R1S All-Electric SUV — Similar specs as the Rivian pickup, the SUV has a starting price of $72,500. Rivian plans to make it available in Colorado.
  • Ford electric F-150 — Ford announced plans in January to build a fully-electric F-Series pickup. Further details not available.
  • Byton M-Byte SUV — This Chinese startup is aiming for an all-electric SUV with a range of 251 to 323 miles, depending on battery size. But M-Byte is still in concept mode with potential availability in 2021, according to Edmunds.
Volkswagen’s first EV SUV, the I.D. CROZZ, will have a range of 300 miles on a full charge and be available in the U.S. sometime in 2020. Car & Driver reports that VW plans to produce its electric vehicles in Tennessee starting in 2022. (Provided by Volkswagen)
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