Buying Your First Electric Vehicle

Steps you can take to help assure car shopping success

For more than a century, gasoline has been the fuel of choice in the auto industry, but it wasn’t always so—and it doesn’t have to continue that way thanks to modern electric vehicles.

Cars started off using relatively clean energy. Steam powered the first self-propelled road vehicles in the early 1800s, with electric carriages arriving around 1850. It wasn’t until about 1885 that the first true gas automobiles hit the road. As the age of automobiles took off in the early 1900s, electric cars outsold all other types.

But by the 1920s, the internal-combustion engine won out because of considerably lower car prices, the development of an electric starter and the discovery of Texas crude oil that made gas cheap.

Today, with more than 265 million cars on U.S. roadways, it’s becoming increasing critical that Americans dump the gas engine and drive electric vehicles (EVs), for the sake of our planet and our health.

The EV buying experience

Buying any car can be overwhelming, but by following some helpful hints, you can make the EV buying process a lot easier.

  • Prepare your home for charging
    You’re ready—a standard 120-volt outlet provides about 4.5 miles of driving range per hour of charging and plugging in overnight is more than enough to cover typical daily driving with no additional investment. However, if you want quicker charging, a Level 2 charger is three times faster at about 12 miles of range an hour but requires 240-volt power and an electrician to install the equipment.

  • Locate public charging opportunities
    Finding charging stations on the road or at destinations is becoming easier in many urban areas with more than 17,500 stations available nationwide. Apps help you locate nearby charging and are especially useful for finding commercial-grade Level 3 chargers that are super-fast. If your employer doesn’t offer EV charging, ask them to consider it as an employee benefit.

  • Scope out available models and features
    Almost all auto manufacturers offer electric models, however, depending on where you live, you may not find them on dealership lots. Online research is the best way to get started, such as the California Air Resources Board’s DriveClean.ca.gov, Sierra Club’s Pick A Plug-in and the app MyGreenCar that records you current driving habits and matches your specs to an EV.

  • Ask for the dealership’s EV expert
    Most car dealerships have an EV specialist on staff. These sales reps have a higher working knowledge of EVs and most likely drive one themselves. As EVs rise in popularity, dealers will train even more staff to handle EV sales.

  • Consider online shopping alternatives
    Online services are changing how we buy cars. Basic services let you “build” a car and see approximate manufacturer’s suggested retail prices. Others give car prices that specific dealerships have promised to honor. Then there are brokers that offer pre-negotiated prices. The latest twist is a service through which you can submit bids to select dealers for specific models to start the negotiations.

  • Seek out EV rebates and tax credits
    Agencies in more than two-thirds of states offer some form of EV incentives, from rebates for purchases and leases to tax exemptions and carpool lane access. In California, check out DriveClean, and for other states, visit this Department of Energy website. The federal government offers up to $7,500 as an EV tax credit.

  • Check your local utility
    Increasingly, electric utilities are providing incentives for Level 2 home chargers and offering special discounted rates for EV charging, especially at night and when grid demand is low.

Consumer interest is growing and boosting EV sales, not only in California, but nationwide. With more than 1 million EVs on the road in the U.S., now is a great time for any car shopper to explore an EV option—and for innovative dealers to view these cars as a viable option.

About Joe Ficalora

Joe is auto industry specialist who interacts with dealerships, manufacturers and other stakeholders on issues related to electric vehicles and clean transportation.