Polis electric vehicles

Gov. Jared Polis arrives in an electric vehicle to sign bills to boost their use in Colorado on May 31, 2019. 

The Colorado Energy Office moved on its plans for the future of transportation when it released the Colorado Electric Vehicle Education and Awareness Roadmap earlier this week.

With the help of E Source, a Boulder-based research and advisory firm for the energy industry, the roadmap includes a review of the nationwide electric vehicle market, studies on consumer awareness and barriers to electric transportation, along with over 20 interviews with electric vehicle leaders and a survey of 2,000 Coloradans to gauge their knowledge.  

The goal of the roadmap was to educate Coloradans on the benefits of owning an electric vehicle and includes a plan to create a website with tools to help Coloradans in buying an EV. It identified the types of information consumers would need before buying an electric vehicle to get 940,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030, a “foundational element” of the state’s Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020.

“This research really helped us to conduct some market segmentation and understand what messages are going to work best for consumers to accelerate that adoption curve and meet that goal,” said Zachary Owens, senior program manager for Transportation Fuels and Technology at the Colorado Energy Office and lead on the research project. “Getting the right message to consumers is really critical.”

Nationwide, there are over 1.18 million electric vehicles in use as of April 2019, according to a study done by the Edison Electric Institute. The same study showed that between 2017 and 2018, electric vehicle sales rose by 81%. EV Hub reports that as of Aug. 1, there are nearly 30,000 registered electronic vehicles in Colorado. 

“We anticipate Colorado will continue to be one of the places where EV adoption will grow rapidly,” said Will Toor, executive director of the energy office. “We are very well poised for that EV growth to continue if people understand what is actually out there.”

Much of this registration, however, consists in the central counties of Colorado, particularly in Denver and Boulder counties which make up nearly 10,000 of those electric vehicles registered. 

More rural counties in the western, eastern and southern counties of Colorado, on the other hand, are seeing fewer EVs and potential buyers.

"While some may want to purchase low- and zero-emitting vehicles, the existing technology and vehicle mix does not currently make that kind of choice feasible for rural vehicle buyers," Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, told Colorado Politics in September of 2019. 

According to EV hub, 47 of Colorado’s counties currently have fewer than 100 EVs registered on the road, and 27 of those don’t have more than 10 registered. 

A survey conducted by the Colorado Auto Dealers Association in January and February found that 14% of Denver drivers owned an electric vehicle, but only 6% of the statewide respondents did. 

“(Lower EV purchase counties) are not even tracking at the 2-3% penetration rate of the state average,” said Tim Jackson, CEO and president of the CADA. “They are tracking at two-tenths of 1% of buyer choice for an EV.” 

Despite this, Colorado has already begun to make steps toward creating the framework necessary for this kind of transportation shift.

In December 2019, Gov. Jared Polis announced that he had joined the governors of seven other western states in signing a memorandum of understanding to voluntarily enhance electric vehicle infrastructure.

“In the absence of federal leadership, states like Colorado are leading the way,” Polis said at the time. “Our goal in Colorado is to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Increasing consumer choice and supporting an electric vehicle infrastructure will help save people money and protect our planet.”

Steve McCannon, the deputy director for the Regional Air Quality Council, said that in their 2018 electric vehicle plan, they ran the emissions benefit number for those 940,000 vehicles, finding that it would have a significant effect on the output of car emissions and greenhouse gases. 

“When you look out to 2030 it is hard to see what that is going to look like,” McCannon said. “The emissions benefits that we have in the 2018 plan, I believe, are conservative compared to what the benefits are going to be on those out years in 2030. You clean the grid up, these vehicles (become) much cleaner over time.”

Jackson said the 940,000 electric vehicle goal is overly optimistic, adding while he would like for it to happen and noting that it would be beneficial overall, we are “not even close.”

In a good year, Jackson said, dealers sell around 200,000 vehicles. To reach the nearly one million electric vehicles on the road within 10 years, 50% of yearly sales would have to go to electric vehicles. Right now they are seeing around 2% to 3%. 

“I am not negative towards EVs, I am negative towards this overly optimistic timeframe,” Jackson said. “We have never had that type of a buying shift to make (it) happen.”

Jackson said that while he loves and supports the success of electric vehicles there needs to be changes in the industry and the cars themselves to make them more attractive to buyers. This includes prices coming down, ranges going up and increased charging stations, so users don’t have to go far to find one.

“While EV enthusiasts may be willing to sit at a charger and go to a Starbucks or go buy a breakfast, lunch or dinner, not everybody can do that,” Jackson said. “Not everybody has the time to do it and from a productivity standpoint, it is a delay.” 

The survey  indicated that a majority of Coloradans said they were open to purchasing an electric vehicle this decade, with 29% saying they plan a purchase in the next three years and 34% saying they plan to purchase within four to 10 years. 

“It speaks to how far EV have come, that more and more people are understanding that EV are not just a vehicle of the future, they are the vehicle of today,” Toor said. 

While the future is not certain yet, Toor and Owens agree that right now, with the plan that has been created and the path forward, the goal of nearly a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 is not impossible. 

“940,000 is a pretty aggressive goal, but this market segmentation approach helps us target specific consumers with key messaging. This research was fundamental to helping us understand how we accelerate and make sure we are remaining on track to meet it,” Owens said.

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