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May 4, 2023

Electric Car Show at CSUN Sparks Views on Technology, Environment and Pricing

Some say they can’t afford new EV models. Others say public transit is better for environment.

Juan Ventura stood on the sidewalk chatting with his buddies while sneaking quick looks at the shiny new electric vehicles lined up as part of the second annual EV car show held at California State University, Northridge on Wednesday, April 26.

“Gas prices are pretty expensive right now,” said the 18-year-old computer engineering major. “Also, there’s not even much maintenance on these electric cars, just change the tires and inspect the brakes. That saves you a lot of money.”

Still, Ventura kept his distance, not speaking to the car reps or asking for a test spin. He drives his dad’s car to school and can’t afford his own. Asked about buying a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), he said: “Maybe, in the future, but right now, I don’t know.”

While electric cars are hard to keep on dealer lots these days, it’s not a purchase that many low or middle-income folks can afford. And the price of a new one can be daunting.

Doug Schwartz, who is semi-retired, put his gasoline-powered Porsche up for sale but so far has not gotten any bites. He thought that a new BEV with about 200 miles of range on a charge would suit him fine. So what’s stopping him? “I would say the cost. The prices are a concern,” he said.

The array of cars on display at CSUN were almost exclusively mid-end to high-end EVs: BMWs, Porches, Volvos, and newer startups from Lucid and Vinfast, a Vietnam-based company new to the North American market. Missing were the Chevy Bolt models, which start at around $29,000.

With the suggested retail price of EVs about $10,000 more than gas-powered cars, sticker shock can be a roadblock to ownership. However, many point out that over time, plugging in a battery-electric vehicle saves the owner hundreds of dollars a year on fuel. And there are fewer maintenance costs, with no oil changes or tune-ups needed.

Inside CSUN’s Institute of Sustainability, a roundtable discussion on the industry, sales, and charging infrastructure shed some light on the state of EVs in Southern California. Most panelists said sales are picking up, even though supply chain issues are still a nagging issue.

Brandon Beckman, field operations director for Galpin, a multi-brand dealership with roots in the San Fernando Valley, couldn’t stop smiling when asked about sales of BEVs in his shop.

“The Mustang Mach-E (by Ford) has been a phenomenal competitor,” he said. “We can’t keep them in stock.” That particular BEV starts at $45,995, and depending on battery packs and other extras can cost $63,995. It has a battery range of about 300 miles.

Same story from Scott Stanley, general manager of Porsche of Woodland Hills, also on the panel. Its most popular BEV is the Taycan, a crossover with a range of 250 to 270 miles on a single charge. It costs about $100,000. “The last couple of years it has really taken off,” he said.

Stanley said his sales people explain how the EV works, how to charge it, and how to find charging infrastructure — or how to install a charger at home. “Once we got people driving them, it was a no-brainer,” he said.

Panelist Zach Jennings, CEO of Chargie, said his company is zeroing in on installing EV chargers at condo and apartment complexes. “We target the apartment buildings because we feel it is an underserved area,” he said.

Back at the car show, Ed Jackiewicz, a professor of geography in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at CSUN, was smitten. The driver of a gas-powered Subaru Forester, he is considering getting behind the wheel of a BEV — someday.

“I’d like to have one,” Jackiewicz said. “It is good for the environment. Good for my wallet. Good for everything,” he said, before test driving one of the Volvo models. Still, he had his eye on a blue Volkswagen ID.4. parked next to him. “That one looks really sharp,” he said, noting that he was just looking.

California will require all new cars sold in 2035 and after be zero-emission vehicles. That includes BEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles. The state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project offers rebates of up to $7,500 on certain models.

Getting gas-powered cars off the roads would reduce the state’s emissions of greenhouse gases that fuel global climate change, and would reduce tailpipe emissions that cause smog.

But not everyone at the show was a believer.

Alana Radar, 31, takes the bus to and from her workplace. Her family has only one car.

“I take public transit. I don’t really feel that buying a new electric car is helpful for the environment,” she said. Radar said driving a single-occupancy car — even an electric one — doesn’t solve L.A.’s traffic woes, and the cost of road maintenance and utility infrastructure must be considered.

Dave Deis, 53, said, “Certainly, electric cars are the way of the future.” But, he added, “it is not this panacea.”

This article originally appeared on Los Angles Daily News.