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Tim Walz wants Minnesota to have more electric cars. Do consumers really lack buying options?

Audi e-tron car
REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
California leads the nation in electric car sales, while Minnesota ranks closer to the national average.

Gov. Tim Walz is on a crusade. He wants to lower carbon emissions from Minnesota’s transportation sector, and says his latest plan to adopt California rules for tailpipe emissions could help make a dent, in part by invigorating a lagging market for electric vehicles.

“If we had more choices and there were more used low-emission vehicles, we’d buy those,” Walz said last month.

California, after all, leads the nation in electric car sales, while Minnesota ranks closer to the national average. But Walz’s plan has also raised some basic questions about the policy’s tactical goals: Is Minnesota’s car market really in need of a fix? And do consumers in the state really lack options for buying plug-in cars if they want them?

The plan: ‘Let the market work’

Walz’s transportation policy would make Minnesota adhere to California’s standards for low-emission vehicles (LEV) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Those rules — if they withstand a challenge from the Trump administration — can differ from national regulations and require auto manufacturers to create cars that pollute less and provide more electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered cars for sale. California has long held unique authority to combat smog through the rules, but a swath of states such as Colorado and Vermont have adopted the rules as well.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) in September recommended using the California rules to cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which now produces the state’s largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. And officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have recently been traveling across the state to hear feedback on the idea before it moves ahead with implementing the rule.

One justification MnDOT had for the ZEV rule in particular is to offer Minnesotans more choice in buying electric cars, making it more likely for consumers to own one. An agency report released in September said there were just 19 models of electric cars available in Minnesota in January, compared to 43 total models available in the U.S.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Gov. Tim Walz
Buying electric vehicles is even tougher outside of bigger cities, and the MPCA has distributed information showing little or no availability of popular models like the Chevy Bolt and the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV outside of Minneapolis.

In 2018, the electric vehicle market in Minnesota was just 1.14 percent of overall car sales in the state, which compared to other states, rated between the median share of sales at 0.96 percent and the average at 1.33 percent. California leads the nation with an EV market that accounts for 7.84 percent of overall car sales, while Washington state is second with 4.28 percent.

The Walz administration contends that electric vehicles’ small market share in Minnesota is not due to lack of interest. The governor has trumpeted a survey from Consumer Reports that says 60 percent of prospective car buyers in the state are interested in electric vehicles and 66 percent of those surveyed want to choose from more types of electric vehicles, such as SUVs and pickup trucks.

“If we do this, they will sell them,” Walz said of car manufacturers complying with his proposed rules. “People will buy them and the market will work.”

What if the market is already working?

But the electric vehicle market may not be as bad as the Walz administration has portrayed it to be. When asked which electric car and plug-in hybrid models are available in Minnesota, a MnDOT spokesman forwarded a list created by Jukka Kukkonen, an electric vehicle consultant who also works for the local nonprofit Fresh Energy.

As of October, Minnesota actually had 28 of 42 models available nationwide, according to Kukkonen’s website PlugInConnect. And Minnesota is not missing out on many popular models: nine of the 10 best-selling electric or plug-in hybrid cars in the U.S. are available in Minnesota, as are 12 of the top 15.

The nation’s top-selling electric car is the Tesla Model 3, and the Model X and Model S are in the top five. MnDOT data shows nearly a third of the 10,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids on the road in Minnesota are Teslas.

Electric car Minnesota-availability, price and U.S. sales

Minnesota is one of 27 states with a Tesla store or gallery, which are run by the company, not through franchised dealerships. Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota do not have Tesla stores.

Three popular electric car models Minnesota does not have, according to Kukkonen’s list, are light-selling, expensive Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, such as the S560e model ($103,000 after a federal tax credit for electric cars) and the GLC550e ($62,240 after tax credit).

Amber Backhaus, vice president of public affairs for the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, which has opposed the governor’s plan, said MPCA’s data on the lack of electric cars outside of the Minneapolis area can at times be misleading.

For instance, in a presentation to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, state officials said there are no Mitsubishi Outlander SUVs, Kia Niro SUVs or Subaru Crosstreks available for sale in Bemidji, Fergus Falls and Marshall. But Backhaus said there are no Mitsubishi, Kia dealers or Subaru dealers at all in those cities. “That won’t change with or without the mandate,” she said.

The downside of not being a ‘ZEV-focused state’

Even so, in an interview Kukkonen stood by the Walz administration’s assessment of Minnesota’s electric car market. While some electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles may technically available, manufacturers don’t provide enough of them to make them easily accessible to consumers.

He said of the more than 50,000 light-duty vehicles on dealers’ lots in Minnesota, only 300 were electric vehicles. Out of 320 dealerships that can carry electric vehicles, he said, only nine of them have five or more electric vehicles, and only a handful have more than one. That sharply limits the choices of consumers who show up to dealerships looking for electric vehicles.

Kukkonen said one reason Tesla is so popular is that its Eden Prairie dealership has a host of options ready for customers. Manufacturers do send more cars to states that adhere to the zero-emission vehicle, or ZEV, rules, in part because they’re required to provide more electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

Hyundai is one of the most prominent auto companies missing from Minnesota’s electric vehicle market. None of its four electric or plug-in hybrid cars are available for sale in the state, according to Kukkonen’s list, and all are among the cheapest models around, priced at less than $30,000 after the federal tax credit.

Tesla Model 3
REUTERS/Amanda Voisard
Minnesota is one of 27 states with a Tesla store or gallery, which are run by the company, not through franchised dealerships.
When asked why the cars were not for sale, and what might entice them to enter the market, Hyundai spokeswoman Michele Tinson said the company first rolled out its Kona EV in California, followed by “ZEV-focused states in the western and northeastern regions of the U.S. market.”

“Minnesota is not considered a ZEV-focused state,” Tinson said.

Tinson said their two Ioniq brand vehicles actually are available across the U.S., but said it’s “up to each individual dealer to determine their selected vehicle inventory.”

Dealers driven by customer demand

Scott Lambert, president of the Auto Dealers Association, said electric car sales aren’t hurt by the number of cars manufacturers currently provide. He said dealerships ask manufacturers for the cars they want based on customer demand, and more customers simply want SUVs and trucks rather than the electric cars available in the country.

Especially given Minnesota’s cold and dark weather, Lambert said, it makes sense some of the small electric or plug-in cars, such as the mini Fiat 500e or Smart ForTwo ED, are not available in the state.

If auto manufacturers create more ZEV SUVs and trucks and prices drop, customer interest could change, he said. “We just don’t find there to be big demand,” Lambert said. “Dealers can get vehicles now. If people want vehicles, different models, that’s not difficult to do.”

If Walz’s rules are adopted, the auto dealers say it could reduce vehicle sales because they would have to take popular cars off their lots to make way for electric ones and lower-emitting ones since auto dealers would be required to send more to the state. Colorado’s government also studied the ZEV rules before adopting them late last year; it concluded in a report that auto dealers and mechanics would lose business from vehicle maintenance and repairs that are more common in gasoline-powered cars. The report also found that auto dealers may have to pay more for advertising and training of staff to market electric cars (though it also found that consumers will save money on gas and maintenance as a result of buying more electric or plug-in hybrid cars).

Lambert said the state would be better off boosting incentives for electric cars to be more popular rather than forcing dealerships to hold more cars people aren’t interested in. “If this is what government wants to do, then they should find a way to make them more attractive to customers,” he said.

Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 11/01/2019 - 11:11 am.

    Making dealers offer them and making them take other models that sell better off their lots.

    How about we DON’T be like California this time?

    How long does the battery last in the summer compared to the winter?

    • Submitted by Ian Stade on 11/01/2019 - 11:23 am.

      I love my Prius but as far as I understand it if I had a Bolt and it was -20, the range would be cut in half.

      • Submitted by Maria Jette on 11/01/2019 - 12:49 pm.

        I have a Bolt. The stated range is 239 miles on a full charge, but in the nicest weather (50s-70s) I get more than that. In the coldest temps last winter, I think it got down to around 170. That’s a dramatic drop, but certainly not half!

        I generally drive around 15K miles per year, 95% of it in the metro, and even if the Bolt did go down to 120 in a spell of sub-zero weather (which it DID NOT!), it would still have plenty of range for someone staying in the metro and driving 300 miles per week.

        I love this car. I haven’t been to a gas station for a year…and no oil changes, ever.

    • Submitted by John Branstad on 11/01/2019 - 12:02 pm.

      >Making dealers offer them and making them take other models that sell better off their lots.

      It’s a convenient excuse for dealers to say “customers don’t want them” when it’s really hard for customers to actually find, see, and drive those vehicles. Carry more EVs on your lot and demand for them will almost certainly rise.

      >How long does the battery last in the summer compared to the winter?

      My family has a Tesla Model 3 and a small V6 SUV. In the winter, gas mileage on the SUV drops from 25/26 (summer) to 18/19 (winter), so about 70-75%. Based on last winter, the Tesla Model 3 seems to perform similarly: 300+ miles on a full charge in the summer compared to ~225 in the winter. The obvious difference is that I can “fill up” the Tesla Model 3 in my own garage for a small fraction of the cost. Oh, and I can use the mobile app to warm up the Tesla in < 5 minutes because the heater doesn't need to wait for an engine to warm up first.

      My Tesla battery warranty is for 120,000 miles / 8 years, and my ongoing maintenance costs have been significantly lower too (no oil changes, fewer moving parts, etc.).

      Don't get me started on how much better the actual driving experience is…

      • Submitted by Patrick Steele on 11/01/2019 - 12:22 pm.

        My Camry is 20 years old and has almost 170k miles and has never needed a major repair. I can also make my trips to Madison or Sioux Falls without rationing my heat or spending an hour charging in a random parking lot.

        We got a new car this last winter. I looked at some of the electric options from established players and there’s not much you can get without approaching $30k. We ended up with a Chevy Cruze hatchback for a little under $14k. Has remote start, heated seats, carplay/android auto, and the like. We get around 50mpg on trips in the summer (only penalty of note in the winter is the tires). Even assuming electricity is free, I’d never go on a trip that requires me to tap into the gas engine, and using pessimistic economy/gas price numbers we’d be well over 100k miles before the fuel costs would begin to approach the cost difference had we gotten a Prius Prime or a Volt. If we’re talking the long-range Model 3 that would be more like 300k miles even with those assumptions.

        Electric cars are toys for rich people, mostly. There’s no practical argument for them for your average driver at this point, and if privately-owned cars are a part of our future we’re in big trouble either way.

        • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/01/2019 - 01:14 pm.

          “There’s no practical argument for them for your average driver at this point.”

          There are roughly 6,000 average Minnesotans who own electric vehicles right now who might challenge that assessment. People should buy the vehicle that works best for them, their needs, and their budget. No one is going to be forced to buy an EV under these proposed rules. Hopefully, more choices will lead to more used EVs available to more people.

          • Submitted by Brian Scholin on 11/04/2019 - 06:58 am.

            There’s no practical argument for most people to own pickup trucks either, yet my friends all have at least one. For what they pay for a new diesel pickup every few years, they could surely own an ev or two. This is really a mindset issue, and they have been manipulated by the marketers one way or another.

        • Submitted by David Thompson on 11/01/2019 - 01:46 pm.

          I think you are missing the fact that electric cars are much cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered cars. Electricity is much cheaper than gasoline, electric motors are much simpler, no transmission, no need for a “tuneup”, etc. The initial investment is higher, but the total cost of owning an electric car is lower.

          • Submitted by Patrick Steele on 11/01/2019 - 02:08 pm.

            That’s just not true. KBB says the Leaf is the cheapest EV to own coming in at a bit over $35k over five years. Compare that to other categories and there’s a ton of options in that ballpark and many for quite a bit less.

    • Submitted by Matthew Vatter on 11/04/2019 - 10:51 am.

      Having more EV’s is a good goal, but without infrastructure, it’s impractical. Facilitating charging stations in out state MN and other related infrastructure would give more people incentive to consider EV’s. With Ford’s plans to field an all electric F150 by2023 and a Mustang based EV SUV in the same general time frame, it would be a safe bet to invest in the supporting infrastructure now. I know I’d replace my traditional F150 with an electric version if I knew I wouldn’t be stranded during a hunting trip to the north woods and if I had more charging options in metro parking ramps.

  2. Submitted by William Duncan on 11/01/2019 - 11:31 am.

    Gov Walz wants to pollute the Arrowhead for 25 generations, so we can have cheaper electric cars and smart devices now; and besides, the lithium bottleneck and the cost of battery storage is what is holding back sales, not gov policy.

    So I’m not really feeling like Walz is thinking clearly.

  3. Submitted by Paul Sortland on 11/01/2019 - 11:58 am.

    Not only do dealers have very few electronic vehicles on their lots, but even when they do, they are hardly ever advertised and made known to the public. Even when one gets to the lot, the sales people, for the most part, express total ignorance about the electronic vehicles, give bad advice, and try to steer the customers to an internal combustion engine car that they better understand. I love my Chevy Volt, which can run circles around most sports cars. If it ever needs replacement, will probably get a Chevy Bolt next time or maybe the new Audi E-tron, which sounds promising. A few incentives from the State could help improve the number of electronic vehicles offered and, more importantly, sold.

    • Submitted by Maria Jette on 11/01/2019 - 12:58 pm.

      Agreed on the sales force ignorance. When I went in to Suburban Chevrolet last summer to order my Bolt, I was met with a total lack of knowledge about the car, and more bizarrely, total lack of curiosity. When it arrived, the salesman had to do a desperate last-minute course on how to operate it in order to show ME how to operate it. Interestingly, he seemed to have finally summoned a morsel of interest in the car.

      The only reason I went there was because they were the dealer Costco assigned me for their car buying program, and I saved $1200 on it that way. I haven’t returned, though— Wayzata Chevrolet is much more EV-friendly. I’d suggest them as a dealer; or the one which apparently sells the most EVs (and is extremely enthusiastic about them), Roseville Chevrolet.

      And if I were GM, I’d send out a few “secret shoppers” to my dealerships. Suburban Chev seemed to be stocked with saboteurs!

  4. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/01/2019 - 01:07 pm.

    Sometimes people don’t know they want an electric vehicle, until they have been in one.

    During the past three years, the American Lung Association conducted electric vehicle ride-and-drive events. Thousands of participants in seven Midwestern states (including Minnesota) were surveyed before they rode or drove an electric vehicle, then again immediately afterwards.

    Not only did favorable reactions go up after the rides, but 21 percent of those surveyed expressed interest in purchasing or leasing a plug-in vehicle after the ride-and-drive.

    The surveys were designed by the U.S. Department of Energy to measure if educational events such as ride-and-drives change people’s minds about electric vehicles. The answer seems to be a strong yes.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/01/2019 - 01:38 pm.

    We need more options and more affordable EVs. Dealerships are definitely not interested in showing you the options they might have available, either. And definitely nothing used.

    For what it’s worth, don’t bother with the Tesla “dealership” here. Unless you sign up for a test drive in advance, it’s really just a place where they’ll tell you to go order your car online, or maybe walk you through the online ordering system there. Again, don’t bother with asking them about used vehicles, they won’t even consider being helpful with that.

  6. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 11/02/2019 - 06:31 am.

    So, the government wants us to buy more electric cars AND they want to ration electricity.


    As Chevy said a couple of decades ago in a commercial. It’s not just your car, it’s your freedom.

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/02/2019 - 12:06 pm.

    It’s human nature to just want to cruise along in a steady state. There is a myth that many business owners are always hoping to expand their empire. It’s not true; it’s a hassle to hire more employees, move to a larger facility, or add on.

    In the 80’s an organization set a goal of getting General Electric out of the nuclear weapons manufacturing business. Until then, GE had had a part in every nuke ever produced for the US military. Given they were more dependent on consumer sales, they made an fairly easy target for a consumer boycott.

    One of the signature GE products was (incandescent) light bulbs. GE was the only brand of bulb Target stores stocked, so pressure was applied to get Target to stock another brand along side GE.

    In meetings, Target execs balked. They said people only wanted GE bulbs. “How do you know? You’ve never offered then a choice?”

    Further, light bulbs were always largely an impulse item. They burn out randomly, so most people keep a few on hand. They mostly bought them when strolling through the hardware store or Target. People treated then like a commodity, a generic good. No one ever said, “The OK Hardware bulbs are junk compared to GE.”

    Eventually Target execs agreed to stock some Target brand bulbs. Not too many at first. What they found was that customers bought them, so much so that Target had to keep expanding the amount of shelf space to their own line of bulbs, and they were more profitable than the GE bulbs. The high level execs that had lectured the kids on how it works in the real world learned something new.

    So we should question the conventional wisdom of “experts” in their field. “We’ve never done it that way because it doesn’t work” is typically short hand for “I’m too lazy to do change.”

  8. Submitted by Garth Taylor on 11/02/2019 - 10:37 pm.

    Electric cars look great on paper. But ALL OF THE STATS ON DRIVING RANGE ARE MISLEADING. If you take to the road in a standard Minnesota winter, be prepared for a 20-30% reduction in the advertised driving range because of temperatures below the range for which driving ranges are reported. AS LONG AS YOU DONT TURN ON THE HEATER. There is no heat available from the engine, so the battery hast o supply that energy as well. They don’t even publish driving range stats for this scenario because if they did, no one would even consider buying one. You’d be better off with a golf cart and some blankets.

  9. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 11/03/2019 - 08:37 am.

    Though electric cars are far preferable to ICE vehicles but still leave many issues unresolved, like parking and congestion. Another e-solution is e-bikes and e-cargo bikes. They are far more useful than people think and could make a real difference. Some European countries are already looking to make zero percent loans to people to buy an e-cargo bike instead of a car. There are many benefits including better health (e-bikes are still exercise) and in many circumstances they are faster for short trips than a car. The worst months are a challenge for bikes on some days but usually 8 months are easily bikeable. Just biking to work or to the store once or twice a week can make a big difference.

  10. Submitted by Van Gooch on 11/03/2019 - 05:29 pm.

    Two cents per mile, amazingly fun acceleration, driving by gas stations, $7,500 tax break: What’s not to like!! We have always been a two car family living in rural Minnesota. We currently own a Subaru and a Chevy Bolt. I just put gas in the Subaru for the first time in 3 months. We use the Subaru for the worst winter days, long trips, or when we need two vehicles. It is amazing how little of our driving requires the Subaru. My local dealers had no interest in talking to me about electric vehicles, and we had to go to the Twin Cities to get our Bolt. We charge it on off-peak electricity in our garage and most of our driving is less than 150 miles

  11. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/03/2019 - 09:01 pm.

    Sorry Walker, paged a few comments didn’t read them all. The conversation however reminds me (historically speaking of course) of the change to automobiles from horse and buggy, Seems a bunch of folks are claiming it will never happen, shouldn’t happen, etc. etc. even though it is happening. Every year the EV’s and the batteries get better. Their point we are better off breathing and producing the carbon emissions than moving to something more green friendly. Point being if the nay sayers had their way ~ 100 some odd years ago, can you imagine the horse manure on 394 during rush hour?

  12. Submitted by Jean Ballenthin on 11/04/2019 - 06:02 am.

    Love my Model 3 Tesla. I am able to drive and not feel guilty for polluting our air, and I am not supporting oil and gas industries. I highly recommend the clean, quiet, and safe Tesla. After purchase, there are no other costs involved such as oil changes, tune ups etc. After purchase, it is plug in, unplug and go.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/04/2019 - 08:57 am.

    Walz in some ways is being too clever by half. On one hand the environmental benefits of electric cars is undeniable, on the hand, neoliberal markets solutions are a bust when it comes to making effective policy.

    So, yes… emissions standards might promote electric vehicles and other alternative fuel modes, but it’s not tweaking markets for consumers, it’s just promoting cleaner fuels. Walz is correct to observe that cleaner fuels will reduce greenhouse emissions, and tightening exhaust standards can move us in that direction. However when Walz drifts off into “market” rationale’s relying on manipulating consumer “choice” he steps on a banana peel.

    More and more people are looking at hybrid, electric, and “no-car” options. We should reduce emissions to clean up the air, and work towards providing the infrastructure to support those options. Tweaking “markets” is an anathema to good public policy, but Walz IS a neoliberal at the end of the day so this is what you’d expect. Right policy, wrong rationale.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/04/2019 - 09:01 am.

    In theory, I’m on board with EVs. In practice, not so much. Accordingly, when I took the automotive plunge from a strictly-gasoline-powered car to something else in 2018, I hedged my bet and bought a Kia Niro hybrid (not a plug-in, just a “regular” hybrid). In the 16 months since then, I’m pretty much a convert, but there’s a catch, or more accurately, two catches.

    First, battery life needs to be better before I’ll switch to an all-electric vehicle. I make an annual trip to the Rocky Mountains for hiking and photography. At present, it’s a 2-day drive each way (when I was younger, I could do it in a single 13-hour session, but no longer). Fuel stops take no more than 15 minutes, even with a bathroom break, and the first day on the road typically covers 700 miles or so. A 5-day week in the Rockies thus consumes 9 days on the calendar when outbound and inbound travel is included. With current technology, there are no vehicles (at least, none I can afford) with a range of 700, or even 500 miles. The 2 days out and 2 days back become 4 days out and 4 days back because of the time it takes to recharge a vehicle with a range of 250-275 miles. That doubles my hotel and meal expenses.

    Second, we don’t yet have the infrastructure for that kind of travel outside major metro areas. This year’s trip was to Spokane, WA via Glacier National Park, and in 3,000+ miles along I-94 and I-90, I saw only one EV charging station. There may be dozens, but I saw only one. If / when I get old and frail enough that I never leave the metro area, I’ll be in the market for an EV, but in the meantime, infrastructure will have to be built out considerably to make an EV a practical choice for people who don’t have the luxury of extra time (for charging) and extra money (Most EVs are significantly more costly than their gas-only counterparts.).

    Dennis Wagner’s comment about resistance to EVs seems on the mark to me, and Jim Ballenthin’s travel account is persuasive, just not quite persuasive enough. Yet. I think EVs are the likely future of automobiles. I’ve been a car enthusiast for more than half a century, and follow these kinds of technological developments in the field fairly closely. I’m pretty sure the EV is the automotive future, and we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet.

  15. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 11/04/2019 - 09:02 am.

    Love my BMW M4.

  16. Submitted by John Garceau on 11/04/2019 - 03:50 pm.

    More government overreach.

  17. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 11/05/2019 - 10:36 pm.

    I would love to have an electric car, but I, like the majority of Minnesotans, cannot afford one. Never mind that there is no way to charge one in 99% of the US. Is the government going to “help” me to buy an electric car somehow?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/08/2019 - 09:11 am.

      Well, maybe Trump cancelled it but yes, you used to get a tax break for buying fuel efficient cars. Tesla has actually brought the price of their cars down dramatically, I think the base model is around $30k (down from $50k). And like everything else, as sales increase the prices will eventually come down, and used EV’s will eventually hit the market as well.

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