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Jamestown dealerships see future for electric vehicles

A charging station for electric cars is seen on the back side of the Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center near R.M. Stoudt in Jamestown. A second charging station in town is located at Wilhelm Chevrolet Buick GMC. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Jamestown automobile dealerships said the market for electric vehicles in the state is growing, along with efforts of programs to promote electric vehicles and expand charging stations in North Dakota.

Dean Haas, sales associate at R.M. Stoudt, said the dealership has a variety of electric cars, some all electric vehicles, some plug-in hybrids and some hybrids with a braking system that charges the battery, which is most popular.

Haas said the electric vehicles are most popular in bigger cities, but there is a place for them in Jamestown too. He said he has a customer in Jamestown with an electric hybrid who only used two tanks of gas in a year, including trips to Casselton and Carrington. The plug-in vehicles can charge overnight, which can cost less than $1, Haas said.

R.M. Stoudt has two fueling stations for electric cars, one at Quick Lane and one at the dealership, Haas said. Not very many people from Jamestown use the stations, but people who are driving through with electric vehicles will stop to charge, he said.

“There’s definitely a place for it,” Haas said. “It can be the right vehicle for the right people. It comes down to what the vehicle is used for.”

Tim Schulz, manager of Wilhelm Chevrolet Buick GMC in Jamestown, said bringing more electric vehicles into the state can be done.

The dealership stocks the Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid with a plug-in charge and gas engine, and has a charging station outside the service lane, Schulz said. The dealership has sold quite a few Volts, and found people are excited about it, he said. The company is also rolling out a total electric vehicle, the Chevy Bolt, and Schulz said the dealership is excited about it.

Electric vehicles have limited range, but they continue to expand as batteries are improved, and the Bolt has a range of 238 miles, Schulz said. The Volt hybrid has an onboard generator that charges the battery, but anytime it can be plugged in, especially for a fast charge, is helpful, he said. Having the infrastructure for charging stations would be great, Schulz said.

Scott Krein, general sales director for Lloyds Toyota, said increasing the number of electric vehicles starts with the infrastructure, and there is a long ways to go with creating infrastructure in the Midwest.

Krein said the new thing in clean automobiles is hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. Toyota introduced the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle with zero emissions, in the U.S. in 2015. The vehicles are only available in California, but will expand as the hydrogen fueling infrastructure develops, according to Toyota’s website.

“I don’t see electric going away, but hydrogen will be the powerhorse,” Krein said. “The range is limited more with an electric only car.”

Increasing electric vehicles in North Dakota

The Midwest Electric Vehicle Opportunities: Learning, eVents, Experience (EVOLVE) is a three-year project launched at the beginning of the month that promotes and demonstrates electric vehicles in seven Midwestern states, including North Dakota.

Robert Moffitt, North Dakota Clean Cities coordinator, said the program gives people in the region a chance to try out the electric vehicles, provides training for local dealerships so they can sell the vehicles effectively and works with large employers to put in chargers at the workplace.

People do a lot of driving around in a small area, Moffitt said. Many families have two vehicles, so one could be for long trips and the other could easily be an electric vehicle, he said.

“An electric vehicle for driving around town makes a lot of sense,” Moffitt said. “It’s a good option that works in North Dakota as well as along the coasts.”

Moffitt said many people are concerned how electric vehicles perform when it gets cold, but the vehicles are just like any other; they lose a little efficiency, but can operate in any climate. People are also concerned about the range of the vehicles, Moffitt said.

The cost of charging stations vary, but public chargers are not necessary to having an electric vehicle, Moffitt said. Quite a few electric vehicle owners just plug in and charge at home, which takes longer than public chargers but works just fine, he said.

Interstate 94 from Michigan to Minnesota is part of the alternative fuels corridor, designated by the Federal Highway Administration, but the designation stops at the Red River. Moffitt said he would like to see the designation placed along the rest of I-94 into Montana.  

Fargo clean energy advocacy group, Citizens Local Action Energy Network (CLEAN), applied for a grant under Volkswagen's $11 billion settlement that allocates $7.5 million for North Dakota projects that reduce automobile tailpipe emissions, according to a Forum News Service story.

The group proposes a network of charging stations located along Interstates 29 and 94 and U.S. Highway 2, including a station in Jamestown, that will help encourage the switch to electric vehicles.