With gas prices at record highs, Minnesotans are looking to ditch gas guzzling vehicles in favor of more affordable models. Yet, while electric vehicles may be seen as the wave of the future, their time doesn’t appear to have come yet in Greater Minnesota.
Electric vehicle sales increased 60% in the United States over the first quarter of 2022, with Tesla remaining the dominant brand. According to 2021 car registration data from Experian, 70% of all EVs on U.S. roads were manufactured by enigmatic business titan Elon Musk’s company.
In Minnesota, less than 0.4% of registered vehicles are electric as of 2021, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The state’s data shows those vehicles are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Twin Cities metro, as well as Rochester and Duluth.
Keith Kramer, General Manager at Harry Brown’s Family Automotive, said that, at this point, supply shortages have hampered the dealership’s ability to meet potential customer demand for electric vehicles.
Harry Brown’s has invested significantly in electric vehicle infrastructure, installing fast charging stations for customer use. For now, Kramer said demand for electric vehicles remains fairly limited, but customers are asking more and more questions about them.
While the newest Electric Vehicles offer much greater range than their predecessors, the limited number of public charging stations across Greater Minnesota is still seen as a significant barrier to the viability of EV growth.
Faribault has been working with Carbon Solutions Group to install chargers at seven city-owned properties. The chargers would be available for public use with a fee. Currently, the city’s only publicly available charger fully in operation is at Goodwill.
City Planner Dave Wanberg noted that the chargers would come at no cost to the city, with all installation and maintenance costs to be paid by Carbon Solutions Group. In fact, the city would be in line to make some revenue off of them.
As Faribault and Owatonna lie along the I-35 corridor, both cities could be eligible for funding to build even more EV infrastructure. The city of Owatonna already has fast chargers available for public use, including some specialized to Tesla vehicles.
Waseca also has its own Electric Vehicle Charging station, between the Senior/Junior High School and Burger King. Utilities & Public Works Director Carl Sonnenberg said that the station has been used about eight to 10 times per month as of late, compared to five to seven times per month as last year.
Jared Hendricks, of Owatonna Public Utilities, said that, while his city’s chargers have seen an increase in use over the last few months as well, it may be more attributable to increased awareness of the chargers, rather than the increase in electric vehicles on the road.
“The ones across from our street seem to be used frequently, potentially daily,” he said. “But I can’t say that they’ve really been used more since gas prices went up.”
Increasing electric vehicle use is seen as a priority for business leaders and policymakers for environmental reasons, as well as economics. Since the Minnesota Legislature passed the bipartisan Next Generation Energy Act in 2007, the state has seen a significant decline in the share of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.
Despite that shift, the emissions reduction targets in the bill were not met, in large part because emissions in the transportation sector remained stubbornly high. As Minnesota’s energy grid comes from cleaner sources, a shift to electric vehicles could have a massive impact.
In hopes of hastening that transition, Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has moved forward with plans to adopt the stricter tailpipe emissions standards set by the California Air Resources Board, instead of more lax federal standards.
Under “clean car” standards, about 6% to 7% of new vehicles sold in the state would need to be zero-emission vehicles, with the amount increasing each year. It would go into effect for 2025 model year vehicles sold in 2024.
The regulatory framework is highly controversial and has attracted vociferous opposition from auto dealers and Republicans in the Legislature. While insisting they support a transition to EVs, the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association says the standards would push consumers into buying cars they don’t want and for which there is only limited demand.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency strongly contests the latter claim, saying that more Minnesotans would be interested in buying an EV if they were more available.
Electric vehicles have thus far failed to gain significant traction in Minnesota for a variety of reasons — first and foremost the lack of availability of electric cars in comparison to other states, as well as the limited EV charging network, particularly in Greater Minnesota.
While Tesla has several stores in the Twin Cities, most new car dealerships in Greater Minnesota remain affiliated to one of the big three Detroit automakers — Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. Even foreign brands, like Volkswagen and Toyota, have a far more limited presence.
Tesla’s success has made Elon Musk the world’s richest man, and the traditional automakers are rushing to catch up. Chrysler plans to reposition itself as an all-electric brand by 2028, while Ford Motor Company plans to invest $50 billion in electric vehicles through 2026.
While Chrysler doesn’t plan to release its first EV until 2025, Ford is already making a splash in the market with its Ford F-150 Lightning. Last December, the automaker had to close pre-reservations for the new all-electric truck after receiving more than 200,000 requests.
With the extended range package, the EPA says a F-150 Lightning can go for 320 miles on a single charge. It brings 580 horsepower and can tow up to 10,000 pounds, providing the practicality and capability that truck customers need.
The F-150 Lightning finally debuted in May, providing a greener version of the ubiquitous truck that has been America’s best-selling vehicle for more than 40 years. Not to be out-done, GM has promised to build an electric version of its Chevrolet Silverado for the 2024 model year.
Controlling a 7% market share as of Experian’s 2021 data, GM still has far more EVs on the road than Ford, and all other automakers other than Tesla and Nissan. However, its EV program lost momentum following a sweeping recall of all Chevrolet Bolt EVs last year due to the fire risk presented by their battery packs.
Bolt production restarted in April, as the company scrambles to reach CEO Mary Barra’s target of 400,000 Bolts delivered across North America by the end of 2023. Barra has pledged that her company will fully transition to electric vehicles by 2035.