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Electric car purchases in MA finally become more accessible across income levels

A Chevy Volt pulls up to the curb for prospective buyers to take a test drive on Sept. 14, 2019.. The plug-in hybrid was one of many electric options at the first-ever Electric Car Show at Barnstable Municipal Airport.
Eve Zuckoff

A year after the state first promised it would be easier to buy an electric vehicle, new rebates have finally kicked in. CAI’s climate and environment reporter, Eve Zuckoff, broke down the extra incentives for low-income buyers and point-of-sale rebates with Anna Vanderspek, who directs the electric vehicle program at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Eve Zuckoff: Let's start with the costs up until this point of an electric vehicle. What have Massachusetts residents been paying and what does it even look like to own one?

Anna Vanderspek: That's a great question. So a lot of people, when you say electric vehicle, immediately think Tesla and immediately think luxury. But in the past couple of years, particularly, there have been a lot of new models that have come on the market. So the price gap between an average new gas car and an average new electric car has come down quite a bit. So one vehicle that is super popular is the Chevy Bolt. It gets about 260 miles per range and it starts right now at around $26,000. And that's before the federal tax credit and the state rebate. You can go up as high as you'd like to pay with these EVs, but there are a lot more options in the $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 range than than most people realize.

Eve Zuckoff: How will the expansion of the electric vehicle rebate program actually help folks?

Anna Vanderspek: So up until this recent announcement, the state rebate for electric cars, which is called MOR-EV, was $3,500 for a battery electric vehicle that costs less than $55,000 and is all electric. So no plug in hybrids. What these changes do is make that rebate more accessible to more people. So there's basically three big changes that were made. One, is that the rebate is now available for used electric vehicles, which is a big deal because we know tons and tons of people never buy a new car. But those people are the very people who would benefit from the lower fuel and maintenance costs of electric vehicles. Second, there's now an adder. If you qualify as a low income driver, your rebate goes up. And then finally, the rebate is now available at the point-of-sale at participating dealerships. And that's a big deal because we know lots of people can't afford to pay $3,500 more upfront, and then wait a couple of weeks or months to get a check in the mail. So the fact that you can now see that cost reduction right at the point of purchase will hopefully mean that the rebate, and therefore the vehicles, and therefore the benefits of the vehicles are more accessible to more people.

Eve Zuckoff: Of course, I think lots of people are skeptical when they hear that. There's a feeling that there's always got to be a catch. When you heard about these three changes, what went through your head about how much of a difference they'll make?

Anna Vanderspek: Well, I'll say that there are a couple of barriers to EV adoption and only one of them is upfront cost. The way the market is going... it's a little challenging. On the one hand, you've got manufacturers shifting towards larger, more expensive vehicles because -- regardless of whether it's gas or electric -- that's where they make the most profit. So over the past years, you've seen fewer and fewer sedans or smaller vehicles available at all. But at the same time, there's some really exciting new vehicles coming out that are a size that works for families in Massachusetts and are reasonably priced, or at least well under the average cost of a new gas car. So is this the silver bullet that will magically solve EV access in Massachusetts? No. Is this an excellent step towards making these cars more accessible to more people? Yes. So we're really glad to see this. And I think coupled with developments on the federal level and also incentives from electric utilities to help build out charging across the state, these are all good steps in the right direction.

Eve Zuckoff: There's more information out there about how people can actually take advantage of the program, or find an electric vehicle. Where do you encourage people to go from here?

Anna Vanderspek: I would recommend two stops for those two questions. So the state rebate program has its own website, www.MOR-EV.org, and that's where you can find all of the details about which vehicles are eligible, what the income qualifications are for that adder, and other sort of details you need to know, and also the actual application if you want to do the post-purchase rebate. One thing I also want to mention is that this website is now translated into multiple languages. If you want to learn about the different cars and figure out, 'Okay, I'm actually in the market, but I don't know where to start, what vehicle should I be looking at?' I will shamelessly plug our own website, www.greenenergyconsumer.org. We have a shopping tool where we've got information about all of the cars that are actually available in Massachusetts or in New England. And we've got information on what federal tax credit they qualify for, what state rebate, and then sort of fast facts that you want to know, like how fast do they charge? How far do they go? And you can use that and sort and filter to sort of narrow down your choices. But then when it comes time to actually apply for the rebate, the www.MOR-EV.org website is the place to go.

Eve Zuckoff: That's Anna Vanderspek, electric vehicle program director at the Green Energy Consumers Alliance. Thank you.

Anna Vanderspek: Thank you.

This conversation was edited for time and clarity.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.