Three years ago, Pavel Ihnatovich decided he needed a change after selling used cars for almost a decade.
Driven by his own “green philosophy,” Ihnatovich retooled his Hopkins-based business, GS Motors. It’s now the only used-car dealership in Minnesota dedicated solely to selling electric vehicles.
Traditional car dealerships also sell some used electric vehicles locally, and the Twin Cities’ two Tesla outlets market the company’s signature cars. But Minnesota is poised to become a bigger player in the electric vehicle market as the state considers tougher environmental regulations to combat greenhouse gases. The result could mean more electric vehicles — both new and used — taking to the state’s highways in coming years.
“Most of my buyers are people worried about the environment,” Ihnatovich said. “They want to make an impact.”
As of early December, 11,123 electric vehicles were registered statewide, and nearly two-thirds of them were models from 2018 or earlier, according to the Department of Public Safety.
This fall, Gov. Tim Walz directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to implement clean car standards similar to those enacted in California and several other states in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Such a change would mean more new electric vehicles would be shipped to Minnesota by auto manufacturers. Proponents say the new rules could boost interest in used electric vehicles, as well.
But not everyone is a fan.
“People are not quite there yet,” said Al Lentsch, CEO of the Northland Independent Automobile Dealers Association, a Burnsville-based trade group. He said would-be buyers are worried about the reliability of the charging network for electric vehicles across the state, a phenomenon known as “range anxiety.”
That network of about 380 charging stations across the state may soon expand. MPCA officials have been gathering public input on how to spend $23.5 million from a national legal settlement related to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, $3.5 million of which is slated for electric vehicle charging stations.
Ihnatovich said the most common fear expressed by customers is whether the car will run out of juice at an inopportune time or place. Most electric vehicle owners charge their car at night while it sits in their garage. Motorists can locate chargers on a smartphone app if they’re taking a longer trip.
A native of Belarus, Ihnatovich had his interest in the environment piqued watching Jacques Cousteau television programs growing up, and he was keenly aware of the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy in neighboring Ukraine.
GS Motors, which is open by appointment only, focuses mostly on electric vehicles selling for $30,000 or less, and best sellers are the Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen eGolf, Chevy Bolt and BMW i3. Ihnatovich doesn’t stock Teslas, which are the top-selling electric vehicles globally, nor does he offer hybrids.
Ihnatovich usually buys vehicles that are coming off short-term leases, scanning the internet for available models nationwide. Because some of the vehicles are a bit older, their range may be around 80 miles before they need a charge — and the reach diminishes in cold weather. Newer models can have a 300-mile range, he said.
Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle evaluation for the auto website Edmunds, said prospective electric vehicle drivers may be overemphasizing mileage.
“People are thinking about how it works with gasoline; they don’t want to go to the gas station every day,” he said. “But if you’re buying an [electric vehicle], and you’re charging it at home, it’s more a question of how many miles you plan to drive a day.”
While buyers of new electric vehicles may qualify for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, there aren’t any similar deals to buy used electric cars in Minnesota. However, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is testing a pilot program that gives a $250 MnPass credit to eligible electric vehicle drivers.
Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, said “the question is if these models work for Minnesota because we buy a lot of trucks.” Eighty-two percent of all vehicles purchased in Minnesota are trucks, compared with a national average of 69%, Lambert said. He also points out that batteries on electric vehicles eventually wear out.
But others are still willing to give them a try. Allen Benusa of Hutchinson settled on a Fiat 500e electric car after much research.
“If you go to normal dealers, like Chrysler, Ford, GM, they drop you like a hot potato,” he said. “Even if they have a few [electric vehicles] on the lot, they don’t know anything about them.”
Benusa contacted Ihnatovich, who located the model and features he wanted at an auction in California.
“I bop all over town in it,” Benusa said. “It’s so nimble.”
Like many electric vehicle owners, Benusa also owns traditional gas-powered vehicles — he’s a bit fearful he may not be able to find a charger on a road trip. “If I’m going a long ways,” he said, “I’ll take a standard car.”