As of last count, there were about 9,500 electric vehicles on New Jersey roads. That includes full battery-powered cars like Teslas, and plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt that can run on pure battery power, but which also have a gas engine for when the juice runs out.
But all that is about to change, according to Mark Warner, energy consultant. Warner is one of several panelists who will speak at the “EVs: How to Choose, Charge, and Change a Habit” on Thursday, November 17, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Library.
“The time is right for people to start thinking about EVs,” Warner says. “The reason for this event and a lot of others like it is there’s a new generation of electric vehicles becoming available. Right now there is the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, (a plug-in hybrid), or the really expensive Tesla vehicles. But within the next year we’re going to have very practical choices for people. The really big change is that now you will be able to get an EV that has about 200 miles of range for about $35,000 or less.”
The Chevy Bolt, which began production this month, retails at about $36,000, but comes with a $7,500 federal tax credit, so it is effectively under $30,000. The four-door hatchback can go 238 miles without charging, making it a viable daily driver for many people especially considering the tiny cost of electricity compared to gasoline. It comes with an eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty for its most expensive component, the battery.
Tesla is about to begin production on its Model 3, a sedan that starts at about $35,000, with a range of about 215 miles and the same rebate available as the Bolt. The car also will come with self-driving capability, and upgrade options include four-wheel drive and better batteries.
Cars with similar price and capabilities planned for 2017 or 2018 include the Nissan Leaf 2.0, the new generation of the Volkswagen e-Golf, and a Hyundai electric SUV with a 200-mile range.
“There’s a huge change happening in the production and what choices people have about these cars,” Warner says. “They are becoming much more practical in terms of range and much more affordable compared to what has gone before.”
Warner himself does not have an electric car. Models currently available on the market either have a relatively short range, or have a price tag that puts them out of reach to most buyers. Teslas with 200 mile range can cost around $100,000. “Only a relatively small segment of a population could seriously consider owning a car like that,” Warner says. “I’m interested in what it’s going to take for millions of people to own these vehicles. Going from a $100,000 vehicle to a $35,000 vehicle is a really big change that allows more people to take advantage of this.”
Warner, who is currently vice president of the lobbying firm Gable Associates, says he previously worked to get the state’s solar energy market off the ground as the CEO of a solar power company and later as director of energy at the Sustainable Institute at the College of New Jersey and Sustainable Jersey. He also chaired the Sustainable Jersey Energy Task Force, where he developed best practice standards for the industry. Warner spent the first 15 years of his career in the telecom field and the last 20 developing energy policy.
He has an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, but declined to discuss his background in detail.
“We developed programs and policies that enabled the solar market,” he says. “I’m now trying to do for electric vehicles what we did for solar 15 years ago.”
There is a connection between solar power and electric vehicles. The two technologies, successfully combined, would mean a major reduction in greenhouse gasses both from burning gas to drive, and of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. New Jersey’s energy grid is made up mostly of nuclear power and natural gas.
Warner has launched a group called ChargEVC to push electric vehicles in New Jersey. The coalition, a nonprofit trade association, has the goal of promoting policies that both favor electric cars and improve the electric grid to use more renewable energy and reduce pollution. The goal is to get the state to use less petroleum both for transportation and power generation. Members of the group include electric utilities, environmentalists, social activists, and technology companies, which all have interest in promoting electric vehicles. Currently, it is researching and writing a paper proposing electric vehicle policies.
Businesses have a role in the upcoming transition to electric cars. First, Warner says, they can encourage their employees to commute in EVs by providing charging stations. PSEG has a program to provide these stations at reduced cost. Second, companies can buy electric vehicles for their own fleets. Currently, about 15 percent of all EVs are in fleets, but Warner believes that proportion could increase as the economics of EV ownership change.
Another major factor tilting the balance away from gas powered cars is the new 23-cent gas tax. “The research is clear that this is an economic proposition for many people,” Warner says. “A lot of people are not just doing this for environmental reasons, but because EVs cost less to operate and gas is getting more and more expensive.”