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Mary Rice: EV's: A long-term charge for North Carolina

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The push to create electric vehicles is stronger than ever, particularly in North Carolina. Major car manufacturers, start-up companies and battery suppliers are all looking to our state to not only grow their business but accelerate toward cleaner energy.

In December 2021, North Carolina celebrated Toyota’s announcement to invest $1.3 billion to build an electric battery plant at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. Just last month, Vietnamese carmaker VinFast selected Chatham County for its new electric car production facility.

Those economic wins, combined with Gov. Roy Cooper’s declaration in January to move the state toward clean energy and electric vehicles, have quickened the pace of electric vehicle adoption. There is no question this is exciting technology. To a Toyota dealer who has been selling hybrid electric vehicles since the late 1990s, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing public interest in electrified vehicles at an all-time high.

The transition to electric vehicles has been in the works for decades, primarily through the development and sale of hybrids that combine gas and electric power. In 2021, about 5% of vehicles sold in the U.S. were electric or hybrids, with that number expected to climb to 30% by 2030. For Toyota Motors, about 25% of vehicles currently sold are EV\hybrid, with an aggressive goal to reach 70% of sales by the end of this decade. How can we ensure the entire auto industry succeeds in reaching those targets?

First, electric battery technology must continue to improve. EV cars are currently not an option for people with long commutes or limited access to charging stations. There is an entire infrastructure that must support EV adoption. As more established and emerging players enter the EV space with billion-dollar budgets allocated to battery efficiency, research and development, the pace of technology advancements will quicken.

Second, improvements in battery technology and charging stations availability will make owning an EV more accessible but right now EV automobiles are too expensive for many consumers. There are also too few used car options to meet all budgets. A mass and immediate shift to EV adoption has the potential to alienate and leave behind many in our communities.

Third, local car dealers must be an integral part of the process. People are enamored with an “order online, have it delivered to my home” sales model, but the distribution, financing and DMV registration of millions of vehicles annually is not something vehicle manufacturers are equipped to handle without boots on the ground to facilitate the process.

Local dealers provide maintenance and repair of EV autos. The skill level to safely repair and maintain EV vehicles requires knowledge of the calibrations and hundreds of computers in the vehicle. But North Carolina consumers who buy online will find themselves dozens, if not hundreds, of miles away from experts who can service these vehicles. Dealerships provide a local, direct line to the manufacturer and cut down on a car owner’s time without their vehicle.

Just as importantly, auto dealerships are an integral part of local communities. They sponsor little league teams and charity causes. They create employment and invest in important initiatives. They even support public safety. For example, our Rice Toyota dealership works with first responders to provide training on responding to fires and accidents involving electric vehicles, which are very different from traditional vehicle fires.

There is a long-term charge ahead for North Carolina. It’s not going to happen overnight, but if we focus on improving technology, lowering costs and supporting local auto dealers, we can be assured of a brighter, cleaner future.

Mary Rice is general manager for Rice Toyota in Greensboro.

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