The Consumer Reports survey says it all: While 70% of U.S. drivers said last year they would consider buying an electric vehicle next, only 30% of drivers said they knew much about them.
To close that yawning 40% knowledge gap, there’s a lot of work ahead — for automakers, conservation groups promoting electrification, utilities and Colorado leaders trying to cut greenhouse gases and air pollution. Colorado’s official dream is 940,000 electric cars on the road by 2030, but state vehicle registrations show only about 50,000 tooling around right now.
You’ve seen the pharmaceutical commercials, so we’ll borrow their phrasing: Ask The Colorado Sun if an EV is right for you. To get started, let’s tackle some of the most common questions Coloradans have when thinking about an EV. Drive Electric Colorado is another good place to get more information, as they help kick off National Drive Electric Week with events all over Colorado.
In compiling these answers, we drew on conversations with Drive Electric Colorado, the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, CoPIRG, Xcel Energy and more.
Q: What brand names in EVs are likely to be available — actually available — if I shop in Colorado this fall?
A: You sound a bit irritated already, but that’s understandable. We’ve heard about cool pickups like Rivian hitting the showroom anysecondnow, only to find out they’re not done yet and there’s a huge waiting list anyway. Big manufacturers are learning how to make electric vehicles from scratch, and small startups are scrambling to build assembly lines while also begging for private equity money to stay alive until sales start.
The Colorado Auto Dealers Association expects the following models to be available in state showrooms this fall, though they can’t vouch for when your ordered car will be delivered. The car supply chain is even more disrupted than other goods, from chip manufacturing to parts drivers.
Jaguar I-Pace; Kia Niro; Kia Soul; Ford Mustang Mach E; Nissan Leaf; Chevy Bolt; Volkswagen ID4; Audi e-tron and e-tron GT; Volvo XC40 Recharge; Polestar 2; Hyundai Kona; Porsche Taycan. We will add Tesla to their list — Tesla has its own dealerships and does not go through CADA.
Q: What are the main considerations I should think about while shopping for a new EV?
A: Price. Range. Where you plan to plug it in at home. Where you plan to plug it in at the most frequent places you visit.
Price: Some of the cars on the list above turn into screaming deals near the end of their model year, either by purchase or lease, including established, relatively dull EVs like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Bolt (speaking as a happy Bolt owner.) Even in the boring cars, EV acceleration is a rocket. You might end up, after rebates and tax credits, with a great car for $20,000 to $30,000. At the same time, Audi, Porsche and others list theirs at up to $100,000. Great cars? Probably. Expensive cars? Definitely.
Range: Range anxiety is a real thing. It’s disconcerting to start up the hill to the Eisenhower Tunnel with a 200-mile charge, and see 100 miles of charge disappear over only 20 miles of road. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool to start at the Eisenhower Tunnel and head downhill to Denver, and find that your regenerating battery added 20 miles to your “tank” by the time you hit Golden. Some cars do advertise up to a 300 mile range these days. Smaller, cheaper cars realistically fall into the 150 to 250 mile range, and as they say, your experience may vary. Think about where you most often drive, and whether it will bother you to have to check apps or do other research to find your next charger.
Plugging in: You’ll want to think about where your car usually sits overnight, and whether leaving it plugged in 8 to 12 hours for a slow charge works with your demands. If you are in multi-family housing, start talking to your landlord or your HOA about developing a common charging station. There is help available for them. See more information below.
Q: Is an EV just a city car? This is Colorado, after all.
A: In Colorado, right after range anxiety comes snow panic. Can that tiny Chevy Bolt even make it up a snow-covered dirt driveway in Eagle County? Steep hills and cold weather do impact EV battery performance (which is why some people think hydrogen fuel is a good Colorado solution, but that’s another story.) The low clearance of the initial wave of EV sedans and hatchbacks also make for less than ideal deep snow mountain driving.
Car makers will respond to some of the anxiety with a new round of four-wheel-drive and high-clearance EVs, including the electric version of the always-popular Ford F-150 pickup, or those elusive Rivian and Lordstown models. Current all-wheel-drive models short of a pickup include Tesla, the Mach E, the Volvo XC Recharge and a few others, though they aren’t sky-high clearance. And the popular version of the Volvo, for one, starts at nearly $60,000.
Q: Will I get a big subsidy for buying one?
A: In Colorado, you will get a subsidy. How much takes some research. Drive Electric Colorado and Xcel Energy are two places to go for some initial rebate and tax credit research.
The current tax credit for EVs from the Colorado state government is $2,500 for all models. The federal government offers an additional tax credit for models from car companies that have not yet passed 200,000 in sales of EVs. So the Chevy Bolt and Teslas don’t get the federal subsidy, and Nissan Leaf is headed there. But make sure to ask about the federal subsidy on other models. And remember this tax credit is not refundable, meaning if you don’t make enough income to use the full tax credit, you don’t get it back in cash or carry it over to next year’s taxes. Most dealers are eager to use other peoples’ money to cut the price of your EV any way they can, and will help you research the credits and rebates.
Xcel Energy has a new round of subsidies and rebates based on income, including the first Colorado subsidies for buyers of used EVs. Xcel is sending ambassadors out to educate car dealers on their subsidies, so check with the dealer or Xcel to see if you qualify.
The current infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills before Congress offer more chances to boost federal subsidies or give each state more money to decide subsidies on their own. But the variations in the proposals are so wide, and the agreements so fleeting, federal reporters have nearly given up keeping track until something gets passed.
Q: Where can I charge my EV? What should I do if I’m running out of charge far from home?
A: The first and best option for most buyers is a simple, normal-speed plug-in at home that works on your existing wiring. Your car comes with a cord that fits into a three-prong 110-volt standard outlet. That gives your battery just a few miles of charge in an hour. For many drivers using an EV for a short commute or quick trips around town to the grocery store or kid errands, this is fine.
Xcel Energy will now help you pay for and install a Level 2 charger, which needs an outlet safely rewired to handle 220 volts. This level of charger can fill your battery in 10 to 12 hours of charging. The cost of Level 2 chargers is in the hundreds of dollars, but they are getting cheaper. The wiring can be more than $1,000.
When you are away from home, you’ll want to download the ChargePoint and PlugShare apps onto your smartphone. Google Maps also works as a quick locator of public chargers near you. You can set the apps to only show you the fastest chargers. ChargePoint is building out an extensive network across the country, and you register with a credit card for an initial discount and ease of pay. Some chargers are free, especially those sponsored by a town, a university or another public-minded agency with access to subsidies.
Most public chargers now are Level 2, but a growing number are Level 3, especially from the fast-expanding Electrify America multi-plug stands. Electrify America is getting real estate at convenient places like the Walmart parking lot in Frisco, and the King Soopers parking lot at South Leetsdale Drive and South Cherry Street in Glendale. Level 3 is a big boon — you can get 80 to 100 miles of charge while you spend a half-hour ordering a sandwich in Frisco. It will also cost you a little — that half-hour might be $6 on your card.
Q: Are they building more fast chargers, fast?
A: The state and the power utilities it regulates have ambitious plans to build thousands of new chargers across Colorado in the next couple of years. Colorado is using various funds to boost construction, including rescue and stimulus money from Congress, and all states could benefit from faster electrification if the infrastructure bill finally passes.
Private companies are also jumping in. Tesla has its own dedicated charging network across the country, and their plugs don’t work in non-Tesla cars. There’s pressure on Elon Musk’s company to open up to more vehicles. Rivian is teaming with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to install chargers at all state parks that will work for all makes of vehicle.
Where all the publicly-sponsored chargers get placed will be a point of study and contention. Colorado has passed laws demanding economic and social equity in new environmental planning, from pollution to road building to electrification. The state will be under pressure to spread out chargers and make them affordable, but may also take flak for equitably spreading chargers to rural areas where they are infrequently used.
Q: Do EV fans love to talk about this stuff, and if so, where can I find them?
A. They absolutely do. Be careful what you ask for. A friend described his EV charging conversations like his fantasy football discussions: There are endless permutations of statistics, geography, personal experience, hunches, wishful thinking and whining. There are also clubs in Colorado for nearly every brand of EV, with members eager to tell you how to get the most out of yours and where to charge.
Skeptical? Let us introduce you to Matt Frommer, an electrification expert with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, who also happened to keep a spreadsheet dedicated to a year in the life of his Nissan Leaf.
Frommer sent us what he calls his “nerd sheet,” and summed EVs up this way: “Fueling an EV is more like charging an iPhone than a gas car, in that over 80% of charging is done at home while you’re sleeping.” That can be tougher for apartment dwellers of course, Frommer said, but “driving an EV also reveals the fact that we don’t need a full tank every morning because most people only drive about 30 miles per day, or 210 miles per week.”
We will end by letting Frommer totally geek out with his favorite highlights from the 2020 spreadsheet:
- Spent $508 to travel 11,000 miles, about 5 cents per mile.
- 85% home charging (I live in a single-family home with a carport), 15% public.
- The price to charge at home is equivalent to paying 80 cents per gallon of gas. (Could be even lower under Xcel’s time-of-use rate, with low off-peak electricity overnight.)
- Saved $1,075 in fuel costs compared to an average gas car that gets about 25 mpg at $3.57 per gallon.
- Full-year maintenance costs: $35. No oil changes, spark plugs or brake replacements, just had to rotate the tires.
- Used 10 different EV fast-chargers in Boulder, Denver, Salida, Frisco, Fraser, Fairplay, Pueblo, Trinidad, Superior, and most recently in Crested Butte.
Warning to readers: Frommer has pictures of each of these chargers. He will show them to you.