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Three ways Michigan can lead on electric vehicles

Liesl Clark

Major automakers are rapidly expanding development and production of electric vehicles. Michigan has an opportunity to lead in this sector, and we need utility companies, regulators, policymakers and businesses to work together to make it happen.

Ford recently announced it would expand investment in electric vehicles and create a dedicated team ‒ appropriately named “Team Edison” ‒ to accelerate development of fully electric cars. General Motors will also introduce two new EVs to its current fleet of 20 EVs due for release in 2023. GM Executive Vice President Mark Reus recently affirmed the company’s vision, saying that “General Motors believes in an all-electric future.”

And, LG Chem recently announced another $25 million investment in Hazel Park to open a plant that will develop parts for EVs. That plant is expected to create more than 250 jobs.

This is exciting news, and everyone in our state should be proud. However, there are barriers that must be overcome for Michigan to be a leader on electric vehicles. Here are three key steps we can take:

First, we need to expand access to electric vehicle charging. Consumers need to know they will have ample access to charging stations for their cars, and the cost of charging their vehicles will be affordable. This is where utilities, charging station companies and regulators will need to work together to make sure there is sufficient charging infrastructure in the right places, and that charging rates are fair for drivers.

EV sales are up 16 percent this year. There are currently 13,203 EVs on the road in Michigan and 332 publicly available charging stations. Michigan ranks in the top half nationally for EVs and charging infrastructure, but falls behind states like California, New York and Florida, whose policies encourage driving electric. Those policies include zero-emission vehicle requirements, clean air requirements and energy storage mandates.

Second, utility companies should expand consumer education on the benefits and costs of owning an electric vehicle. Utility companies are uniquely positioned to encourage consumers to purchase EVs and expand the market in the process. EVs can have significant benefits to vehicle owners and all ratepayers with the right rate structure in place. EVs don’t require oil changes and require less maintenance than traditional vehicles because they have only one moving part in the motor. For example, owners of a new Chevy Volt don’t have a scheduled maintenance until 100,000 miles. Educating drivers on the best times to charge their vehicles can help take pressure of the electric grid and reduce electricity costs for all ratepayers.

Finally, we must collaborate across sectors to identify and meet emerging challenges. Last month, automakers, policy experts, utility companies and transportation businesses attended the Powering Mobility Conference in Detroit, where a wide range of stakeholders gathered to identify challenges and opportunities to embrace emerging transportation technology.

One of these key challenges discussed is building and upgrading cities to resolve mobility issues. There are significant opportunities for public-private partnerships to meet residents’ mobility needs and electric vehicles along with other forms of advanced transportation, like ride sharing, can play a role.

Mayors, city planners and developers, from Grand Rapids to Detroit, should explore innovative ways to collaborate with EV charging companies, autonomous vehicle developers and other transportation businesses to keep our cities on the cutting edge of advanced transportation.  

Michigan’s advanced transportation sector is already creating good jobs for thousands of Michiganders. According to a recent Clean Jobs Midwest Report, Michigan’s advanced transportation sector supports more than 28,500 jobs. This industry will continue creating jobs as automakers expand development and production.

The question is not if electric vehicles will be the future of transportation, but when. Here in Michigan, we have the opportunity to be a leader on creating a framework for vehicle policies and regulations to boost our state to the forefront of the EV revolution.

It is up to our policymakers, utilities and regulators to decide if they want Michigan to be ahead of the game, or play catch-up as these new technologies continue driving forward. It’s not about subsidizing a vehicle, but building an ecosystem for autonomous, connected, shared and electrified vehicles.

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