The dominance of gas-guzzling cars will gradually get zapped by growing demand for electric vehicles, many observers of the auto and energy industries say.
Automakers see it coming. So do some consumers. It’s a matter of time before electric vehicles — EVs in industry parlance — take over, although how much time isn’t clear.
A Public Service Company of New Mexico manager estimated that in his company’s service area, ownership of electric vehicles rose to about 3 percent this year, up from about 1 percent three years ago. There are close to 4,000 electric cars in PNM’s service range now, he said, and that should rise to 7,800 by the end of 2023.
Alaric Babej, PNM’s manager of customer programs, called it “a super-exciting time” to be involved in electric vehicles.
Babej cringed at predicting for the long term but said he wouldn’t be surprised if half of the new cars sold by the end of the decade are powered by electricity. He called electric cars “disruptive technology” that will infiltrate the country in a similar manner to air conditioning and cellphones.
Over the past couple of months, the state’s three investor-owned electric companies — PNM, El Paso Electric and Xcel Energy’s Southwestern Public Service — have filed plans with the state Public Regulation Commission to help increase adoption of electric cars. A state law passed in 2019 required them to file plans with the commission.
The plans can include outreach and education, low rates for customers who charge their cars at night so the system isn’t overburdened, rebates to businesses and organizations to install charging stations and other items.
PNM expects to spend $11.4 million for incentives, rebates, discounts for low-income customers, education and administrative costs over the next couple years. The costs will be recovered by a rider — a line-item addition to everyone’s bills — because all customers may benefit through incentives and educational material, Babej said.
EV drivers will pay for their additional electricity usage at the applicable billing rate, Babej said.
“We want to make this as accessible to as many New Mexicans as possible,” he added.
Realtor Francesco Crisafulli of Santa Fe already is a believer in the technology.
“I’ve owned three electric vehicles,” Crisafulli said.
He currently has a Tesla Model 3 sedan. He said his electric fueling costs are far lower than gas (equivalent to roughly 100 miles to the gallon); there are fewer parts to service in the battery-run cars; and about the only things he has to worry about replacing are tires, wiper blades and the air filter.
Tesla drivers can use with adaptive devices the charging stations that are available to other cars, and Tesla has its own network of charging stations, strictly for the brand.
“You could literally drive from here to Mexico City on the network,” he said. “Or Canada, for that matter.”
Online used car retailer Carvana advertises used Teslas for about $45,000 and well beyond that. Purchasing electric vehicles of all makes tends to cost somewhat more than buying their gas-driven counterparts.
Charging can be done through a home wall outlet, although that charges a car slowly. There are faster charging systems available for installation in the home and for businesses, and much faster charging places called DC Fast Charging Stations, where drivers can fully charge their cars while getting lunch.
“Range anxiety” is the term used for the fear of running out of electricity on the road. “In rural states like New Mexico, that’s a special challenge,” Babej said. “There are places in New Mexico that are very hard to reach with electric vehicles.”
Governments encourage the purchase of electric vehicles through tax credits and promote the construction of more charging stations through grants. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure initiative includes $7.5 billion for charging units and EV technology.
Cities are getting involved as well. Neal Denton, sustainability officer for the city of Santa Fe, said the city has received state grants (in one case through a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen) to increase electric cars in its fleet and to build more charging units for public use.
The city currently has a charging station at Genoveva Chavez Community Center and more are on their way, including at the airport, Southside Branch library, the Railyard area, the convention center and the Sandoval parking garage downtown.
Denton said the city intends to lead by example toward carbon neutrality and show the public how easy it will be to switch to a less polluting driving alternative.
“It’s really exciting seeing most major auto companies signal a transition to an all-electric future,” Denton said.
Michigan State University supply chain faculty member Jason Miller said he has no doubt electricity will drive the vehicles of the future.
“The automakers are making massive domestic investments to build batteries and assemble EVs,” Miller wrote in an email. “High gas prices will encourage consumers to switch towards EVs. The infrastructure package just signed into law contains substantial sums for charging stations, which to me is the most critical element that needs addressed for there to be wider spread EV adoption.”
Not everyone sees an electric vehicle takeover, at least not in the near future. Buddy Espinosa, general manager of Toyota of Santa Fe and Enchanted Mazda, said he sells Toyota hybrids. Toyota just announced it will release an all-electric car in mid-2022.
“We’re not on the list yet,” Espinosa said of the Toyota electric car. “I think it’s because of us being such a rural area.”
As Espinosa sees it, the conversion to an electric car society is “a long ways away.”
But Noah Barnes, a spokesman for California-based Plug In America, said battery technology is rapidly improving. The range of electric cars doubled between the Nissan Leaf and the Leaf Plus from 2017 to 2019, he said.
Statistics point to a dramatic uptick in the purchase of EVs. Veloz, a nonprofit promoting EVs, said 170,954 electric vehicles were sold in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2021, up from about 85,000 at the same time last year and 30,000 in the third quarter of 2015.
Barnes said there was an effort to sell electric vehicles in the late 1990s, but the phenomenon began to take off with the Tesla Roadster in 2008.
Even the nation’s best-selling pickup, the Ford F series, will start selling an all-electric F-150 next year. Ford says it’s “charging into the future” with the electric-run truck, called the Lightning.
Janie Chermak , chairwoman of the University of New Mexico economics department, said for a long time EVs were a niche and novelty market. But states and countries now demand that less carbon emission be spewed, Chermak noted, and manufacturers are “learning by the day” how to make the cars better and cheaper.
Public Regulation Commission Stephen Fischmann said he needs no more information. “Certainly my next car is going to be all electric,” he said.
Fischmann said some people have the notion that EVs are “itsy-bitsy, rinky-dink, lower power” vehicles, when in fact today’s accelerate and corner well. Depending on the car, ranges have increased to 200 to 400 miles, he said, and over their life, electric cars save their owners several thousand dollars.
And, he said, there is nothing rinky-dink about that.