Only about one in 500 cars sold in Minnesota runs on electricity instead of gas.
But the Twin Cities Auto Show, underway this week at the Minneapolis Convention Center, is one of the first in the country to feature an all-Electric Room.
“A lot of the shows are highlighting hybrid technology, but we wanted to keep the show cutting-edge,” said Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
The auto show has featured the Green Room with hybrid vehicles since 2010, but “it was time to push onto the next big thing,” he said.
The Electric room contains nearly a dozen electric vehicles, including a Nissan Leaf, Cadillac ELR, BMW i3 and i8, Ford Fusion Energi, Volvo XC90 T8 SUV, Volkswagen e-Golf, Porsche Cayenne SE and 918 Spyder and Polaris GEM car and Polaris Victory motorcycle.
Recent auto shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit did not have all- electric rooms, said David Ranallo, a marketer at Great River Energy, which is a sponsor of the room. “Utilities are wondering if they should get into the electric vehicle game after they’re mainstream or before,” he said. “We’ve taken the leap.”
Tom Thies of Eden Prairie, a Chevy Volt owner since 2014, volunteered to talk to consumers at the show about what it’s like to own an electric car. When Thies bought his Volt, a gallon of gas cost $3.25. “I figured if it stayed at $3 a gallon for five years, I’d save $9,000,” Thies said.
Even with gas plummeting to $2 a gallon, Thies said he is saving money because the car needs no oil changes, fuel filters or air filters. He likes his car so much that he doesn’t plan to buy another gas-powered vehicle. “The engine is so much quieter and there aren’t any maintenance costs yet,” he said.
Ninety percent of electric car owners said they have shifted for good, according to a Ford survey of 10,000 drivers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. But the all-electric category remains a niche, accounting for less than 1 percent of U.S. auto sales last year. For consumers who worry about range, battery life, and higher initial cost, such cars are out of the question.
Some electric cars also use gas once the electricity-only range has been exhausted.
At the auto show on Saturday, Greg TeBrake of Plymouth said that the Electric Room was not a priority. “Mileage is not a factor for us. We like a bigger vehicle with extra space and a taller sitting position,” he said.
Nancy Bordson of Orono, who was also at the show on Saturday, said she’s waiting for electric vehicle technology to become more advanced before she starts to check them out. “My Mazda 3 gets 52 miles per gallon. That’s as good as a Prius,” she said.
Lambert said that even if the vast majority of consumers aren’t smitten by electrics yet, they can expect dealers to start pushing them. By 2025, U.S. automakers are required to have an average fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon for new cars and trucks. Dealers are counting on hybrids and electric vehicles to help them meet such standards.
New e-vehicles qualify for federal tax incentives that range from $2,500 to $7,500. California and Colorado offer more tax breaks, but Minnesota doesn’t. And many dealerships don’t have electric vehicles on the lot for curiosity seekers.
Kline Nissan in Maplewood stocks a good supply of Leafs. “We carry the product for what it stands for — environmental friendliness,” said owner Rick Kline.
The dealership is participating in a special offer that cuts the $35,000 suggested retail price of a Leaf SV by almost 40 percent. The promotion, which ends on March 31, led to 16 sales or leases so far, salesman Adam Bazille said. “With the number of people interested, we’re really just scratching the surface,” he said. “We’re hoping to have 30 electric vehicles on the lot by the end of the month.”
Most plug-ins and hybrid vehicles haven’t seen big discounts from list price. “The discounts haven’t been that big because the inventories aren’t that big,” said Jeff Bartlett, cars deputy editor for Consumer Reports. “Selling an electric car requires more training on a salesman’s part. People have a million questions on electric vehicles, so sticking with gas may be the path of least resistance.”
Jukka Kukkonen, founder of EV consulting firm PlugInConnect and an EV program manager at Fresh Energy, said that people interested in electric cars have had trouble finding the cars on showroom floors and a salesperson who knows about them. “PlugIn has a site, Evsalessavvy.com, with owners giving recommendations of salespeople who have been helpful,” he said. The site currently lists seven salespeople from Twin Cities’ Nissan, Chevy, BMW and Tesla dealers.
Within the next five years, experts expect interest in electric vehicles to expand dramatically. Some expect that interest to spike even sooner. Late this year and early 2017, Tesla and Chevrolet plan to release new all-electric cars that are projected to cost less than $40,000 and with a range of 200 miles per charge.
Currently, newer all-electric vehicles get 80 to 110 miles. Kukkonen believes that the 200-mile range will ignite the industry. As for gas prices, which recently broke above $2 a gallon, they’re expected to climb another 30 to 50 cents by Memorial Day.