Missouri in 2019: The road ahead for electric vehicles

Lately, I’ve spotted what seems like more and more Teslas rolling quietly through the streets of Columbia, and I’ve seen headlines from local outlets that bode well for the future of EVs here in Missouri.

But is that just anecdotal, or is the pace of EV adoption actually accelerating in the Show-Me State?

A ‘banner year’

“They’re picking up steam (in Missouri), I think,” said Larry Kinder, CEO of LilyPad, an EV charging station company responsible for installing 1,000 new EV chargers in Kansas City Power and Light’s service area.

According to statistics from the Auto Alliance, 5,481 plug-in and full-electric vehicles have been sold in Missouri since 2010, with more than a fifth of those sales occurring in 2018. Numbers from the first three quarters of 2018 seem to indicate a continuation of this trend.

Missouri in 2019 looks at issues important to Missouri business for the year ahead.

Still, compared to coastal states, these numbers are paltry: Missouri accounted for just 0.13 percent of all EV sales nationwide in 2018.

One expert suggested this is a byproduct of regulation: in a state like California that has stricter emissions requirements, more EVs are being delivered to dealerships, so more customers are able to try and, in many cases, buy the vehicles.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, senior energy and environment policy counsel for Consumer Reports. “If dealerships don’t have EVs, people can’t experience them.”

Even so, EV sales nationwide had what Baker-Branstetter called a “banner year” in 2018, jumping significantly over 2017, which had also been a record year, she said. In Missouri, too, electric vehicles sales saw a jump, nearly doubling from 0.42 to 0.83 percent of all light vehicles sold, according to one compilation of Auto Alliance numbers.

Infrastructure expanding

Kinder said one of the biggest reasons for that sales growth is the proliferation of charging infrastructure “all across the state,” led, in part, by his company.

“In my view, 2018 has been when EVs really started taking off,” Kinder said. “We started in 2009, when no one even knew what an EV was, or what a charging station was. Now, everyone’s familiar. Prices are going down; infrastructure is going up.”

Missouri’s charging infrastructure will be a key component of how widely EVs are adopted in the state in coming years.

Adequate infrastructure addresses one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption: “range anxiety,” or the fear that a battery’s driving range will be insufficient to make it from one plug to the next. This isn’t an issue for traditional combustion engine cars, as gas stations are typically never more than a freeway exit or two away.

This summer, Missouri Business Alert reported that Missouri had one of the lowest ratios of electric vehicles to charging stations in the nation, with about 12 EVs for every station in the state. So, with relatively few electric vehicles, why so many charging stations?

James Owen, executive director of the Columbia-based renewable energy advocacy group Renew Missouri, said that these two things are tied to one another.

“The focus of Renew Missouri is whether or not EVs are going to lead to more charging stations, or more charging stations are going to lead to more EVs,” Owen said. “From our perspective, (expanding charging infrastructure) is positive encouragement.”

A presentation from a November meeting of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Workgroup shows that the state remains interested in building more chargers. A collaboration between utility companies and municipal entities aims to flesh out the state’s highway charging network, especially in rural areas where options are lacking.

Consumers remain king

However, since the majority of drivers will likely be able to do much of their charging overnight at home, other factors will have an effect on the rate of EV adoption in Missouri, Baker-Branstatter said.

One of those is model preference. Until now, EVs have been almost exclusively passenger cars. In states like Missouri, where trucks and SUVs are popular, this can pose a barrier— but an increasing number of EV models in the coming years could help address this problem.

Another issue facing the market in the near future is the expiration of federal tax breaks for manufacturers of electric vehicles. As automakers see their tax breaks expire, they may pass costs onto the consumer.

“It’ll be up to states to step up and help people on the margins of being able to afford an EV,” Baker-Branstetter said.

Andrew Withers is a reporter covering sustainability for Missouri Business Alert.

You can reach him by email or find him on Twitter at @andrew_withers_.

Missouri Business Alert’s sustainability coverage is funded in part by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District.

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