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Lyft is introducing a fleet of 200 electric Kias in Colorado, a car model that motorists here can’t even buy

A change to Colorado’s electric-vehicle tax credit law this year prompted the ride-sharing company to choose the state to launch its first EV fleet in the U.S.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at an event where Lyft rolled out its plan on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, to introduce a fleet of 200 electric Kias in the state that its drivers can rent. The Kia Niro, pictured right, aren't available for sale in Colorado right now and cost about $40,000. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Coloradans will be able to catch a ride in a sleek, new $40,000 electric Kia Niro as soon as December even though the vehicles aren’t available for sale in the state.

That’s because Lyft is making a fleet of 200 of the long-range electric crossovers available for lease to its Colorado drivers.  

The ride-sharing company on Thursday rolled out the plan — its first attempt in the U.S. to make an electric-vehicle fleet available to its drivers — thanks to a law change earlier this year.

Legislators opened up Colorado’s electric-vehicle tax credit program to rental companies and businesses with fleets in an attempt to attract a company like Lyft to put a mass of EVs on the roads. Lyft, which lobbied for the change, hopes laws will change in other states, too. 

“The real key is that Colorado enabled an EV tax credit to be used for our industry and for our rentals, which doesn’t exist in every state,” said Gabe Cohen, Lyft’s regional director for the Rockies region based in Denver. “That allowed the cost of the purchase to come down to the point where we could feel the economics worked out to launch this here. The policy was incredibly important.”

Lyft also said it hopes to expand its Colorado fleet beyond the 200 cars announced on Thursday as part of the company’s broader effort to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

The new initiative was touted by Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who joined Lyft at the company’s announcement outside the state Capitol. Hancock and Polis arrived at the event in one of the new Kias. 

Electric vehicles are a key element of Polis’ plans to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and he hopes that about half of the state’s new vehicle purchases in the next few years will be electric. Similarly, Hancock said the city is looking to replace its gas-powered vehicles with electric alternatives.

“We know we need to get creative,” Polis said of reducing emissions to tackle climate change. “… Whenever we can replace a gas-powered car with an electric car, there’s a net-positive, with impact on air quality and emissions, and a ripple effect because the move exposes thousands of more drivers to electric vehicles.”

Both Polis and Lyft said they hope that people who ride in one of the new electric Kias will be inspired to buy their own EV.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at an event where Lyft rolled out its plan on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, to introduce a fleet of 200 electric Kias in the state that its drivers can rent. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Beginning in December, Lyft drivers can lease the Kia Niros from the company’s facility in Aurora starting at $230 a week and increasing in tiers based on the mileage they drive. Ride-share drivers can also pay a weekly fee that will give them all-you-can-charge access to electricity from several different providers.

The hope is that the electric vehicles will dramatically drive down drivers’ costs by removing their fuel expenses — one of the top impediments to their ability to make a profit. Daniel Swannigen, who lives in the Denver metro area and has been driving for Lyft for about five years, says he spends more than $800 a month on gas. 

“Now, this is potentially a way to zero out those costs,” said Swannigen, who has given almost 18,000 rides since he started driving for Lyft and completes more than 100 rides per week.

Right now Swannigen is using his personal vehicle when he drives for Lyft, but he said the electric Kia option makes renting a car from Lyft more attractive. 

Leasing one of the Kias might be especially attractive to Lyft drivers since they can’t actually buy the car in Colorado right now. 

One of Lyfts new Kia Niros that will hit Colorado roads in December. (Handout)

The 200 Kia Niro EVs were purchased from Kia’s fleet service in Irvine, California, said Neil Dunlop, Kia’s product and technology communications manager. 

Kia won’t be able to apply the sales to meet Colorado’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate because the state’s ZEV law doesn’t go into effect until 2023. That’s when automakers would be required to make electric vehicles 4.9% of all of their cars sold in Colorado. That percent grows to 6.1% by 2030.

MORE: Colorado commission votes 8-1 to adopt zero-emissions vehicle mandate after three-day hearing

An intermediate proposal, approved at the same time as the ZEV mandate by the state’s Air Quality Control Commission in August, allows manufacturers to begin earning some credits in January toward the future electric vehicle sales requirements.

As for when the Niro might be sold in Colorado? “We’re working hard on it,” said Dunlop, who attended the Denver event. “We want to sell those vehicles here as soon as possible.

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