PROGRESS 2024: Local car dealership owners address pros, cons of electric vehicles – Daily Citizen

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Between 2022 and 2023, electric vehicle (EV) sales were up 46% nationally, according to the Kelley Blue Book, with many analysts expecting the EV market to continue to progress throughout 2024, albeit at a largely slower pace.

Greg Epps, the general manager and co-owner of North Georgia Toyota at 1510 E. Walnut Ave., said similar trends have been apparent locally.

“The total electric vehicle demand is still relatively weak compared to some other areas of the country,” Epps said. “We still see a large demand for internal-combustion engine vehicles, with hybrid and plug-in hybrid models continuing to gain momentum.”

Epps said a hybrid vehicle combines two power sources.

“Most typically a gas-powered engine with a battery source,” he said. “You get the range, convenience and benefits of the gas engine plus the fuel saving and environmental benefits associated with EVs. Plug-in hybrids offer the benefits of the regular hybrid plus additional range where the vehicle can be operated for a longer period on battery power.”

Despite the weaker demand in North Georgia, Epps believes EVs are the “future of the automotive industry.”

“The question is what form this electrification will take,” he said. “Full electric, hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cells are all on the board and some combination of these is going to be the future. In some segments, the internal-combustion engine will still be a player. Fuel economy and environmental concerns are the driving forces, but as with any issue there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.”

As with many products, many solutions have pros and cons associated with them, Epps said.

“As far as pure electric cars, they do offer fuel savings, though at a higher upfront cost, and can contribute to an improvement in environmental impacts,” he said. “The main cons are lack of range, lack of charging infrastructure and determination of true environmental impacts of EVs versus the other alternatives.”

Epps said the move to electrification must be a “coordinated effort” between manufacturers, consumers and the government.

“Any one strategy can not be force fed by any party,” he said. “The market will drive the implementation of electrification. In the end I think that we will land on an appropriate mix of alternatives.”

‘Range anxiety’

Terry Kidd, owner of Chatsworth Ford at 2790 Highway 76, said the lack of range for EV drivers, known as “range anxiety,” seems to be an ongoing issue.

“They do have limitations,” Kidd said. “We try to educate buyers because the myth is that you have to put a charger in your house. For all EVs, the charger is built in the vehicle. All you’re doing at your house or at these charging stations is transferring the electricity to the charger to charge the battery. Depending on how much electricity can be transferred at any given time, that is what the difference is between how long it takes to charge one.”

Kidd said he and his wife both own EVs such as the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Mach-E.

“With ours, we just plug in every night and it takes hardly no time at all to charge,” he said. “We can pretty much go to about a 120-mile radius and make it back with no problem, and that doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside.”

For many potential EV owners in Northwest Georgia, Kidd said the largest factor is the fear of the unknown.

“But I would say probably 90% of the people who use an electric vehicle as a commuter vehicle, meaning those who might drive from Chatsworth to Dalton or to Chattanooga or to Calhoun, it can easily be done. That wouldn’t be an issue whatsoever.”

Kidd said he believes, with time, there will be more acceptance of EVs in the area.

“Now will it be everything? No, I don’t think so,” he said. “But I think there is probably a 20% to 25% room in the market for it as time goes. We haven’t had any problem with battery life, and time will tell with that because that is an unknown. But as far as the functionality and the way they drive, when you pull a trailer with one, it absolutely chews into the battery really quick. However, you could pull it up Fort Mountain and it would be wonderful because the amount of torque in an electric motor is unmatched.”

Jason Denson, the dealer principal for Ford of Dalton at 925 Shugart Road, said he believes EVs will continue to be a small percentage of the market in the foreseeable future.

“That is until the charging infrastructure for the country gets more stable,” Denson said. “From what I’ve seen, the consumers have been a little frustrated. When they want to take a road trip and they pull up to a charger, it takes 20 to 40 minutes to charge a vehicle, whereas it takes five to seven minutes to fill a vehicle up with gas. In this fast-paced environment that we’re all living in, most people don’t want to spend that extra time sitting, they want to get to their destination. So, I personally feel like it’s going to continue to be less than 5% of our business until the charging infrastructure and the range changes.”

Key pieces

Denson said if the range and charging infrastructure continues to improve, then they will both be key pieces in the future of the EV market.

“I just feel like with consumers wanting charging times at a rapid pace, that technology is going to have to continue to advance with the vehicles,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of interest in EVs from local consumers, but I think they will need to do their homework with range and how long it takes them to charge. If they’ve got a child that plays sports near Atlanta and they’re going down there on a weekend, they have to think different because there is such a thing as that range anxiety.”

He said compared to gas pumps, EV charging stations are less abundant in the area.

“If your fuel light comes on, you can pull off and get gas within an exit or two,” Denson said. “It’s not that way with chargers. And until that infrastructure gets built, people are just going to have it as a second or third vehicle.”

Denson said to help with the lack of charging stations in Dalton, Ford of Dalton will soon offer six chargers on property.

“We have three Level 3 chargers and three Level 2 chargers,” he said.

“The Level 3 is a DC fast charger, which goes all the way up to 180 kilowatts. They’re supposed to be live any day now.”

Denson said the new chargers will be accessible through a mobile app known as EVgo.

“There’s a fee involved, depending on which charger they use and how long they want to use it for,” he said. “But they can log in, check the availability of the charger from the app and when they get here, everything’s billed through the app. Billing is similar to the way you would do with a gas pump, but with electricity instead.”

While the EV market is making a slow but visible climb, Denson, like Epps, said hybrid vehicles are “the way to go” in the meantime.

“You’ve got a battery and you’ve also got the traditional gas engine,” he said. “I think Ford is putting a lot of focus on our hybrid powertrain models because until we get that charging infrastructure in place, it gives you a mix of both.”

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