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Potential new rules in Minnesota could increase electric vehicle ownership

Talking about Minnesota, the current status of electric vehicles in this state provides a range of views.

Three years ago, Pavel Ihnatovich decided he had to change after selling used cars for nearly a decade.

Driven by his own “green philosophy,” Ihnatovich renovated his Hopkins-based business, GS Motors. It’s now the only used-car dealership in Minnesota committed only to selling electric vehicles.

Traditional car dealerships sell some used electric vehicles as well in the region, and the Twin Cities’ two Tesla outlets market the firm’s signature cars. But Minnesota is bound to become a bigger player in the electric automobile market as the state thinks about tougher environmental regulations to fight greenhouse gases. The result could suggest more electric vehicles — both new and used — taking to the state’s highways in the near future.

“The majority of my buyers are people worried about the environment,” Ihnatovich stated. “They want to make an impact.”

As of early December, 11,123 electric vehicles were registered throughout the sate and nearly two-thirds of them were models from 2018 or before, Department of Public Safety noted.

This fall, Governor Tim Walz directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to impose clean car standards the same as those enacted in California and several other states in an attempt to decrease carbon emissions. Such a change would suggest more new electric vehicles would be shipped to Minnesota by automakers. Proponents say the new rules could increase interest in used electric vehicles, as well.

But of course, not everyone agrees with this strategy.

“People are not quite there yet,” stated Al Lentsch, CEO of the Northland Independent Automobile Dealers Association. He stated would-be buyers are worried regarding the reliability of the charging network for electric automobiles throughout the state, a phenomenon referred to as “range anxiety.”

That network of about 380 charging stations throughout the state may soon expand. MPCA officials have been seeking public input on how to invest $23.5 million from a national legal settlement associated with the Volkswagen emissions scandal, $3.5 million of which is set to be used for electric vehicle charging stations.

Ihnatovich stated that the most common fear expressed by clients is if the car will run out of juice at an inopportune duration or place. Most electric vehicle owners charge their vehicles at night while it sits in their garage. Drivers can locate chargers on a smartphone app if they’re taking a longer trip.

A native of Belarus, Ihnatovich had his interest in the environment piqued observing Jacques Cousteau television programs when he was growing up.

GS Motors, which is open by appointment only, concentrates largely on electric vehicles selling for $30,000 or less, and the best-sellers are the Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen eGolf, Chevy Bolt and BMW i3. Ihnatovich doesn’t stock Teslas, which are the top-selling electric vehicles worldwide, nor does he offer hybrids.

Ihnatovich generally purchases vehicles that are coming off short-term leases, scanning the internet for available models throughout the country. Because some of the vehicles are slightly older, their range maybe around 80 miles before they require charging — and the reach diminishes in cold weather. Newer models can have a 300-mile range, he stated.

While purchasers of new electric vehicles may be eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits, there aren’t any same deals to buy used electric cars in Minnesota. However, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is testing a pilot program that provides a $250 MnPass credit to qualified electric vehicle drivers.

Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, stated that “the question is if these models work for Minnesota because we purchase a lot of trucks”. Eighty-two percent of all vehicles bought in Minnesota are trucks, compared with a national average of 69%, Lambert stated. He also points out that batteries on electric vehicles ultimately wear out.

But others are still considering to give them a try. Allen Benusa of Hutchinson settled on a Fiat 500e electric car after doing enough research.

“If you go to normal dealers, like Chrysler, Ford, GM, they drop you like a hot potato,” he stated. “Even if they have a few [electric vehicles] on the lot, they don’t know anything about them.”

Benusa contacted Ihnatovich, who located the model and functions he wanted at an auction in California.

“I bop all over town in it,” Benusa stated. “It’s so nimble.”

Like many electric automobile owners, Benusa also owns traditional gas-powered vehicles — he’s a little bit afraid that he may not be able to find a charger on a road trip. “If I’m going a long way,” he said, “I’ll take a standard car.”

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