North Carolina has accelerated past the 50,000 mark for electric vehicle registrations, but EV saturation in the Triad continues to lag behind the state as a whole.

Through October, 51,500 plug-in vehicles were registered in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation. Ten Triad region counties accounted for nearly 10% of that total but 16.5% of all North Carolina vehicles.

The latest figures showed there were 59 EVs for every 10,000 registered vehicles statewide compared to 36 per 10,000 in the Triad. Guilford (54), Forsyth (45) and Alamance (37) counties had the region’s highest EV-per-10,000 vehicle rates.

Wake and Mecklenburg counties, which claim nearly 20% of the state’s total vehicles, were at 127 EVs per 10,000 EVs.

North Carolina added 15,555 plug-in vehicles during the latest year of available data. That growth rate would put the state on pace to meet Gov. Roy Cooper’s goal of at least 80,000 “zero-emission” registrations by 2025 but not his target, established in a 2019 executive order, of 1.25 million EVs on the road in North Carolina by the end of this decade.

However, a new report offers hope that North Carolinians could put a charge in the electric vehicle market.

More than half of North Carolina drivers would consider plugging in when it comes time to buy their next car or truck, but price continues to be the biggest barrier for potential EV drivers, according to findings in “North Carolina Drives Electric 2022,” released this month by Generation180, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based clean-energy advocacy organization.

The survey of adult residents also found that about two-thirds of North Carolinians have a “positive view” of electric vehicles, with a slightly higher percentage saying they support transitioning away from fossil fuels toward clean-energy sources.

The statewide sampling by Dyanta, a national market research firm based in Shelton, Connecticut, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, according to the report.

“North Carolinians stand to benefit from further embracing electric vehicles,” said Stuart Gardner, director of Generation180’s Electrify Your Ride Program. “Not only will they save money on fueling costs and reduce the state’s dependence on imported gas, but they will help address the state’s largest contributor to carbon emissions.”

Driving emissions

The transportation sector is responsible for about 36% of North Carolina’s carbon dioxide pollution, the world’s leading cause of human-related climate change. That’s why a shift to electric vehicles is critical to the state’s efforts to slash emissions of carbon dioxide – the leading human cause of climate change – 70% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, and to reach “carbon-neutral” status by the middle of the century.

Carbon neutrality means taking as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as what is being released into it.

Cooper’s 2019 executive order also calls for at least half of new vehicle sales to be electric vehicles by 2030. In the survey, 58% said they supported or strongly supported the state adopting a policy legally requiring “auto manufacturers to provide a minimum number of new electric vehicles for sale in North Carolina, and to gradually increase the number each year.”

Cooper signed another executive order in January calling on the N.C. Department of Transportation to develop a plan within 15 months aimed at reducing vehicle emissions and meeting the state’s EV registration targets.

Economic generator

North Carolina’s economy is not waiting for its residents to embrace electric vehicles, noted the report, published a year after Toyota Motor Corp. announced what now has grown to a $3.8 billion planned investment in a new EV battery plant in Randolph County expected to employ 2,100.

Vietnamese manufacturer Vinfast also is planning a $2 billion electric vehicle factory in Chatham County, and Thomas Built Buses added a third production shift and 280 new employees at its High Point facility this year to work exclusively on the company’s electric models.

Those manufacturers and supplier companies they attract will add to the state’s existing 8,000 electric transportation jobs, the report noted.

“North Carolina has an opportunity to build on its economic momentum,” said Wendy Philleo, Generation180’s executive director. “We hope state leaders step further into a future where North Carolina residents can enjoy the economic prosperity and other benefits of clean energy.”

Cost factor

In the Generation180 study, 45% of respondents said that the higher upfront purchase cost makes them much less or somewhat less likely to go electric, while 73% suggested that access to discounts or incentives would make them somewhat more or much more likely to invest in an EV.

With an average price of about $66,000, electric vehicles remain out of reach for most Americans on the lower end of the pay scale.

While prices are dropping, even the cheapest new EVs have starting sticker prices approaching $30,000, so going with the most basic of models — like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf — is no bargain for North Carolinians already struggling to pay rent and keep up with bills.

Nearly 70% of survey respondents said they support or strongly support state incentives for electric vehicle buyers.

The report calls on North Carolina leaders to adopt “innovative financing programs or rebates” to make zero-emission vehicles more affordable.

The federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit on the purchase of qualifying new EVs.

Limited choices

Along with cost, availability of EVs also will have an outsized impact on North Carolina’s transportation transition, the study noted.

Tesla’s only two North Carolina sales centers in the Raleigh and Charlotte area help drive higher EV sales in those areas, as well as wide varieties of traditional dealerships offering electric vehicles along with gas-powered cars and trucks.

A search on vehicle sales website for available 2022 and 2023 EVs within 50 miles of Raleigh ZIP code 27608 turned up nearly three dozen choices ranging in price from a Chevrolet Volt at about $27,000 to a $116,000 GMC Hummer.

The same search criteria within 50 miles of Winston-Salem ZIP code 27101 revealed just nine options, with a $47,000 Hyundai IONIQ 5 at the low end of the scale and topping out with a $74,000 Ford Mustang Mach-E.

While a significant gap remains between the purchase price of EVs and comparable traditional models, research shows that electric vehicles are as much as six times cheaper to drive because electricity is far less expensive than fuel and EVs require considerably less maintenance, the study noted.

That would be a plus with three-quarters of the survey’s respondents who said “savings on gasoline costs” would make them somewhat or much more likely to make an EV purchase, while the ability to charge an EV at home (71%) and access to public charging stations (68%) made respondents somewhat or very likely to buy an electric vehicle.

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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