Electric vehicles growing in popularity in state

LIHUE — Of the more than 70,000 vehicles registered with Kauai County, 166 of them are electric.

“If you’re a two-car family, it’s pretty easy (to convert to electronic vehicles),” said Ben Sullivan, energy and sustainability manager for Kauai County. “And in a few years, I see it becoming easier.”

The Lihue Business Association discussed the popularity of EVs in Hawaii on Thursday.

Panelists were Goran Rad, co-founder of Kauai Electric Vehicle Alliance; Sullivan; Gordon Talbo, professor of automotive technology at Kauai Community College; and Jan TenBruggencate, member of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative Board of Directors.

With the current models on the road, EV drivers can go four or five miles on about 32 cents if EVs are charged at home. Home charging stations range from $600-$800.

Most EVs can go about three hours on one charge, but battery life and practicality are just a couple of questions that need answers before EVs become a staple on Kauai due to its rural character and terrain.

“Until they develop an electric pickup truck, it’ll be difficult to have it pick up on Kauai,” TenBruggencate said.

About three out of four vehicles purchased on Kauai are in the light truck category, according to the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association.

Currently, none of the major manufacturers have an EV pickup truck, and one isn’t expected to come out anytime soon.

Last month, Hawaii reached the threshold of 5,000 electric vehicles on the roads, and KIUC has thrown its weight behind a new statewide campaign to promote EVs.

KIUC and Nissan North America are offering KIUC members a $10,000 rebate off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price on the all-electric Nissan Leaf sedan at participating dealers.

“By incentivizing the use of electric vehicles, we can support the state’s Drive Electric Hawaii initiative, which gets us that much closer to the goal of 100 percent renewable energy,” said David Bissell, KIUC’s president and chief executive officer. “We’re excited to work with Nissan to offer our members this opportunity to save money on electric vehicle purchases.”

Also newly forming is the Kauai Electric Vehicle Alliance, which is a platform for EV enthusiasts and those with questions to connect and exchange information.

“The best way to promote electric vehicles is to talk story,” Rad said. “The technology is changing. The cost of batteries is going down and the amount of power is going up.”

Joining KEVA is a way to follow the trends in electric vehicles and stay on top of the emerging technology, but the platform will also create a space for Kauai to share and analyze its own experience with EVs.

“There’s an evolution within our culture with these electric vehicles,” Rad said.

Some details and questions that need to be worked out are things like maintenance costs for charging stations. Currently, businesses are required to have one EV charging station for every 100 parking stalls in a lot, and it’s difficult to recover charging costs from customers.

“The way to promote EVs is through policy, and there’s a few bills in the Legislature (pertaining to EVs),” Sullivan said.

Another roadblock to the popularity of the EV is the stigma that EVs don’t have enough power, Talbo said.

“The younger generation … want to hot rod,” Talbo said. “So we’re trying to get the kids involved (at KCC), and they have newer designs coming out that are more appealing.”

Maintenance and repairs are also a challenge on Kauai, especially as warranties for older EV models expire, and some vehicles have to be shipped to Oahu for things like battery replacement.

“KCC is training mechanics that can work on these vehicles,” Talbo said. “It’s primarily a training center, but since there’s no one else certified on the island to do the work, people with EVs bring them to us.”

When it comes to the environment, EVs are only one piece of the solution, Sullivan said.

“The other part is getting more people out of cars with things like the Kauai Bus,” Sullivan said.


Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.


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