Last week in Salt Lake City, Gov. Butch Otter and the governors of Utah, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming signed a memorandum of understanding to create a regional electric vehicle plan.
Otter stated: “This is the latest example of states like Idaho being on the forefront of energy advancement. In the west we pride ourselves on what we can accomplish by working together. This initiative will ensure that locals and visitors to Idaho and our neighboring states have the freedom to explore the west in the way they prefer.”
Why the focus on automobiles powered by electricity?
Hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius, use a combination of electrical power from a battery and a gasoline engine that charges that battery. Because of the gasoline engine, these vehicles have long range. If you drive anywhere in Idaho you will see hybrids all over.
But, cars, SUVs and trucks driven purely by electricity have had far more limited popularity here in Idaho and many of the Rocky Mountain States. The reason is so-called “range anxiety”. A purely electric vehicle has lots of get-up-and-go but stops going at all when the battery runs out.
Many of these vehicles have ranges of less than 100 miles on a single charge and then need to be recharged. That range limit is rapidly fading. Tesla’s high-end Model S and Model X (which can easily run $100,000) have a range far in excess of 200 miles. They are THE status car today for many wealthy people. Tesla is now ramping up production of its new Model 3 that gets 220 miles and starts at just $35,000. Nissan has a 2018 Leaf with range over nearly 150 miles on a charge. Chevrolet’s Bolt has Tesla-like range at a very competitive price.
But, that is just the beginning.
General Motors recently announced it will release at least 20 all-electric vehicles by 2023. Ford will roll out 13 electrified models (both plug-in and hybrid) over the next five years. Volkswagen plans to sell 80 models over the same period and is investing $24 billion in zero-emission vehicles. Other manufacturers are moving the same direction with a heavy, heavy emphasis on vehicles powered by some form of electricity, either by plugging into a charger or generated by the vehicle.
The trend is clear. Electric vehicles, either hybrid or plug-in, will constitute a significant and ever growing portion of the U.S. automotive offerings over the next few years. That makes this new regional memorandum timely.
The basic idea outlined in Salt Lake is for these Rocky Mountain States to jointly focus on certain interstate highways to create a network of charging stations for electricity-powered cars and expand the usage in the region. In Idaho the focus will be on I-15 in eastern Idaho and I-84 across southern Idaho and I-90 in the north.
The memorandum calls for creating a regional coordinating group to establish best practices and procedures to develop optimal charging networks. Other elements are to develop voluntary minimum standards for charging stations and to encourage vehicle manufacturers to stock such vehicles regionally.
In Idaho we have lots of hybrids on the roads. The local penetration of fully electric cars has been limited. In Idaho Falls our local Nissan dealer doesn’t stock the nationally popular Nissan Leaf even though the dealership has a charger station. Presumably the reason for that decision is lack of local demand.
Why? I suspect the big reason is range anxiety. According to national data, most Americans drive under 40 miles a day. That is well within the range of most totally electric cars. But, Idaho is the land of wide-open spaces. How many Idahoans today choose not to buy an electric car because of the fear that they --- some day – might need to drive beyond the range of a single charge?
A network of charging stations on our major highways might resolve the issue and spread the acceptance of such vehicles here in the Gem State.