Goodbye gas? Electric cars are coming in greater numbers, variety
Hall County drivers don’t seem to much care for electric vehicles. Maybe they should.
There are only 132 fully electric cars registered in the county, a tiny portion of the thousands of vehicles that ply its roads each day and less than 1 percent of the state’s 16,522 EVs.
Those registrations were climbing in the age of high gas prices and favorable tax breaks. No more; with both gone, there’s little growth of electric vehicles in rural Georgia and in Atlanta exurbs like Hall, the natural home of the pickup.
But right down the road in Braselton, a company is working to change the face of the electric vehicle in cities and towns — starting with a wild race car.
Atlanta and most other cities are already a different story, where high-dollar Teslas prowl the streets, charging stations number in the hundreds (compared to Hall County’s 10), a vehicle’s range matters less and the culture of environmentally friendly consumerism matters more.
In 2015, Georgia repealed a $5,000 tax break for electric vehicle owners that was considered generous even at the national level. The tax break meant that with the right lease, a savvy driver could have a Nissan Leaf, the state’s most popular EV, basically for free for two years.
“Nissan is the MVP of EVs in metro Atlanta because of their lease structure, and their commitment to help businesses get chargers,” said Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, a major booster of electric vehicles. “They joined our utility, Georgia Power, in offering rebates. Simultaneously, the power company created a time-of-use rate for EVs that made charging them off-peak very attractive.”
Power providers often provide breaks to electric vehicle owners for charging at night and other periods of low use, as it can be a significant draw on energy infrastructure.
When the tax break was repealed, state lawmakers added a $200 user fee for electric cars onto the registration fee paid by all drivers to make up for the loss in gas tax revenue, a taxation tactic growing more common among states, according to Anne Blair, president of the Atlanta-based EV Club of the South and program director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
But while other states are creating user fees, Georgia’s is the highest in the nation, Blair said.
Echols chalks the changes up to Georgia’s “mostly jaded” GOP lawmakers who are “viewing them as something that just benefits progressive voters,” as “80 percent of EVs are in five north metro counties in the Atlanta area.”
Even though she disagrees with the size of the user fee, which like gas taxes helps the state pay for road maintenance, Blair said the fee as an idea is appropriate.
“It makes sense for EVs to pay for roads — we’re using roads — but the $200 fee is more than a large pickup truck would pay in gas taxes,” she said, noting a more reasonable fee would be closer to $50 or $75 each year.
Despite a lack of help from the state, technology companies continue to roll out ever-improving electric vehicles while mopping up substantial federal subsidies for clean energy.
The industry has come a long way from the days of the exploding Chevy Volt. Most purely electric vehicles now get about 100 miles of range to a charge, Blair said. The next model of the Leaf is expected to double that, a significant jump over the 60 miles the average American drives each day.
“That’s going to change the behavior, the charging pattern and the reception of new group’s of people because of that longer range,” Blair said. “In my view, the cars can meet the needs of everyone no matter where you live, particular in rural areas.”
One local company in nearby Braselton and Hoschton is working to expand the reach of the EV, but from a different angle.
Green4U Technologies, the new owner of sports car builders Delta Wing and Panoz, is designing a range of electric vehicles aimed at businesses, municipalities and the general consumer.
The company jumped into electric vehicles in June when it unveiled the GT-EV, the first fully electric endurance race car, at the 24-hour Le Mans race in France.
The bright green, flashy GT-EV — with its 180 mph top speed, carbon fiber construction, 90 to 110 mile range at racing speeds and quick-replace battery packs — was Green4U Technologies’ signal that it was serious about pushing the boundaries of electric vehicle.
Green4U CEO Jack Perkowski said the industry is approaching an “inflection point” as technology improves — leading Volvo to announce this month that in only two years it will no longer produce purely gasoline-powered vehicles.