Watts going on? Electric car market tight in New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal

Watts going on? Electric car market tight in New Mexico

Chalmers Ford sales manager Chris Taylor charges a 2022 Ford at the car lot. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Dave Bradley loves electric cars.

So much so that, despite not being a “car head,” he left his job as a hairdresser to open Albuquerque car dealership Magpie Motors specializing in hybrid and electric vehicles.

“The electrics are fun,” Bradley said. “And I just believe it’s the future.”

But Bradley hasn’t been able to find an electric vehicle for sale for several weeks to add to his lot.

“Looking for a car, or trying to find them, is very difficult — for everyone. On wholesale, retail, even at auction,” Bradley said last month. “I don’t remember the last time I saw a Chevy Bolt at auction.”

High gas prices have pushed demand for alternative fuel vehicles, shrinking the state’s stock. At the same time, electric vehicle infrastructure recently received a funding boost in the state. The entire car market, including both gas-powered and alternative fuel vehicles, is at the whim of supply chain issues. Additionally, New Mexico has to grapple with the demand for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in neighboring states.

Some advocates also point to New Mexico’s slow adoption of incentives for electric car manufacturers that have kept inventory low.

Shoppers stalk stock

New Mexicans seeking electric and hybrid vehicles say they’re resorting to traveling farther — even out of state — to find alternative fuel cars.

Northwest Albuquerque resident Brandon Ferreira shopped for an electric or hybrid vehicle for a year before eventually giving up. He’s continued to drive his pickup truck, which is now “the opposite of what (he’s) looking for.”

Ferreira, who works in cybersecurity, worked from home for several years. He had to start commuting recently, and also drives his kids to school.

“Having to commute definitely changed how I look at driving,” Ferreira said.

Although Ferreira wanted an electric car long before the surge in gas prices, inflation added an extra incentive.

“Initially I just wanted one because it was the ecological thing to do, but then gas prices started rising,” Ferreira said.

At first, Ferreira was looking exclusively for an electric vehicle. He widened his search to hybrids after struggling to find an electric car in New Mexico.

“That’s been one of the barriers for people that want to buy electric vehicles — there haven’t been any for sale in our state,” said Tammy Fiebelkorn, an Albuquerque city councilor and New Mexico’s representative for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, which promotes energy efficiency in the region.

According to a 2022 survey by J.D. Power, 24% of U.S. auto shoppers were “very likely” to consider an electric vehicle for their next car — up 4% from last year. Angel Martinez, director of Albuquerque’s environmental health department, told the Journal that last year 1.7% of new vehicle sales in the state were electric vehicles — double the percentage of the year before.

“We’re seeing the interest rise, right?” Martinez said.

Earlier this year, Martinez and the environmental health department collaborated with the state to adopt the clean car rule in New Mexico. The rule mandates that starting in 2025, 7% of new vehicle sales in the state must be electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. Several other states have adopted clean car rules, including Colorado and California.

Ferreira started calling car dealerships in Colorado when he was still unable to find an alternative fuel vehicle in New Mexico. But, he found that most models in the neighboring state were marked up by about $15,000.

“It seems like it’s a supply and demand issue,” Bradley said. “A perfect storm of gas prices up and a shortage of vehicles that are economical.”

Magpie Motors owner Dave Bradley stands by three Toyota Prius hybrids at his Albuquerque lot. (Adolphe-Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Bradley points to the computer chip shortage which has affected all cars, alternative fuel or otherwise, and more specifically, a shortage of rare earth elements that make up electric car batteries. Earlier this week, Honda and LG battery announced they were investing $4.4 billion in a new battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. The plant is expected to be up and running by 2025.

“I have yet to have a vehicle on my lot go down in price. Some, in fact, have gone up,” Bradley said. “I try to keep my prices reasonable, but everybody’s paying more.”

Sandia Laboratories researcher Michelle Burke recently bought her first hybrid vehicle. She had been looking since May; the most frustrating part, Burke said, was that dealerships would list hybrids on their website, but when she got to the lot, there were none available.

“Honestly the hardest part was finding a car that was actually available,” Burke said.

Like Ferreira, Burke looked in neighboring states for hybrid vehicles. But, even when she found hybrids in Arizona and Colorado, she said they wouldn’t sell to an out-of-state driver.

When Burke was driving one day, she saw a car with a “Roswell Hyundai” bumper sticker, and decided to check out the dealership. They had one car available — the hybrid Hyundai Elantra that she now drives. Both gas prices and environmental concerns pushed Burke to buy a hybrid, although she’d prefer a full electric vehicle.

“I can’t afford a full electric car, so this is the next step up,” Burke said.

Long waits, empty lots

Chevrolet, Ford, Kia, Nissan and Volvo all currently have EV offerings, as well as some luxury car brands. There are dozens of plug-in hybrid models also available in the U.S.

Last fall, Tesla opened its first New Mexico dealership and service center in Nambé Pueblo. The location on sovereign pueblo land, which Tesla also touted as its first location on Native American land in the United States, allowed the company to avoid violating a state law that prohibits vehicle manufacturers from selling directly to consumers rather than through a franchise dealership.

However, customers should be prepared to wait if they order an alternative fuel vehicle.

Chris Taylor, sales manager at Chalmers Ford in Rio Rancho, said that it’s hard to keep electric and hybrid cars in stock.

“Ninety-eight percent are sold before they even get to the lot,” Taylor said.

Ford sells three fully electric car models and two plug-in hybrids. In mid-August, Taylor said Chalmers Ford had fewer than five electric cars on the lot — and zero hybrids.

“They’re selling like hotcakes,” Taylor said. “We just got lucky that we got this stock.”

Taylor himself owns two electric Fords — one each for him and his wife — and waited over eight months for each car. The average wait for the Ford F-150 Lightning is 12 months, Taylor said.

“I love them,” he said.

Chevrolet has one electric vehicle model, the Chevy Bolt, and will add three new models in 2023. In mid-August, Galles Chevrolet on Menaul and University had just two Chevy Bolts on the lot, said Andy Michael, new vehicle sales manager at the dealership. Recently, there was a battery recall which constricted the stock of the Bolt, Michael said, but he estimates that the model generally stays on the lot for just two weeks before being sold.

“With gas prices the way they are, there’s more demand for electric cars,” Michael said.

Besides gas prices, Michael said, many Chevrolet customers with solar panels on their homes come in to buy electric cars. With excess power from the panels, these customers are able to charge their cars with minimal cost.

People attend a celebration of the Tesla facility’s opening in Nambé Pueblo last September. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Regulatory woes

An environmental economist, Fiebelkorn was an early adopter of electric vehicles. When her hybrid died five years ago, she knew she wanted to get an electric vehicle.

“It’s been the best decision ever,” Fiebelkorn said of her fully electric Nissan Leaf. “… I haven’t been to the gas station in five years — it’s amazing how freeing that is.”

She pays just an additional $6 a month on electricity to charge her car.

However, now, Fiebelkorn said a lack of government incentives has hampered the growth of electric vehicle stock in the state. According to Fiebelkorn, before the state passed clean car standards this year, car manufacturers would send their electric vehicles to neighboring states like Colorado, which had already implemented clean car standards, and pass over New Mexico.

Although New Mexico adopted the Clean Car Rule in May 2022, it will take a while for the state’s inventory to increase, she said.

“We won’t start seeing them come in for about a year,” said Fiebelkorn, who bought her car online from Carvana.

Since the surge in gas prices, Fiebelkorn said SWEEP has been getting more calls from people interested in making the switch to electric vehicles. However, UNM research professor and economist Kelly O’Donnell says that while gas prices have increased interest in alternative fuel vehicles, it’s more complicated than that.

“It used to be that the price of gas would go up, and people would see it as an inconvenience and a problem — but a temporary one,” O’Donnell said. “People are increasingly moving away from this sort of simplistic calculation of whether they’re going to save money on fuel in the short term, and realizing that the crisis of fossil fuels is not a temporary one.”

Bradley of Magpie Motors agrees that high gas prices are a trend, rather than an anomaly.

“Now it seems like only people with money have electric cars. But I think what you’re gonna see is only people with money will be able to drive the big V8 that gets 16 miles per gallon,” Bradley said. “Fuel is a finite product. And as that goes down, prices are going to continue to rise.”

“The price of fuel is a driver in the short term — no pun intended,” O’Donnell said. “But really what we’re talking about is something more significant than that, and that’s, you know, the sustainability of our way of life.”

Martinez says that despite a growing awareness of climate change issues around the state, New Mexicans need to be educated about the financial savings that alternative fuel vehicles can bring to truly increase interest.

Despite the hurdles, though, Fiebelkorn says that a clean car future is coming to New Mexico, however slow.

“The move is happening, the future is electric — New Mexico is just taking a little longer to get there,” Fiebelkorn said.

 

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