2022 | Green

County hopes purchasing co-op will spark public to get electric vehicles

Officials say new effort furthers county’s goal to reduce emissions

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County officials and transportation partners on Thursday launched a cooperative purchase program aimed at making electric vehicles more affordable and attractive to residents. 

County Executive Marc Elrich and his administration have asked residents to sign a pledge in support of the initiative and co-op. Elrich hopes 1,000 residents and 50 businesses sign it this year.

Officials said those who take the pledge will be part of a group that, with county support, will try to negotiate better prices for electric vehicles and educate others about the benefits of switching from gas to electric.

The focus on electric vehicles locally mirrors a worldwide increase in interest. Axios reported on Wednesday, citing the research firm BoombergNEF, that 2022 global sales of electric passenger vehicles is expected to be about 10.5 million — about 4 million higher than in 2021.

Elrich and others said the local effort is part of the county’s actions to reach goals laid out in its Climate Action Plan. The plan seeks to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 2035, and cut them 80% by 2027.

County officials will work on the co-op with the Electrification Coalition, a national nonprofit focused on encouraging widespread use of electric vehicles across the country.

Matt Stephens-Rich, the program manager of the coalition, told reporters that many local car dealerships are interested in offering electric vehicles. Coalition members will lead a “consumer engagement campaign” in the coming months to teach them more about the benefits of owning one, he said.

Stephens-Rich said buyers often take time to make a decision, so there is time to show them why electric vehicles are a sound environmental and financial decision. And car manufacturers have started to realize there is a market for electric vehicles, he added.

Part of the reason for that is federal and local tax credit and utility-based incentives, Stephens-Rich said. 

Federal tax credits differ on the model and make of the car, but are in the thousands of dollars.

A guide by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection shows that electric vehicle owners save thousands of dollars per year in combined fuel and maintenance costs.

“It is being sure they have all the access and resources and know how to be able to engage with customers and consumers, from everything from: What’s the best electric vehicle option for me? How do I do charging at home? Those types of resources,” Stephens-Rich told reporters.

Elrich and Chris Conklin, Montgomery County’s transportation director, said the co-op will help the county reach the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan. Elrich added that the county can’t do it alone. 

Car manufacturers are realizing that to address climate goals, they need to sell at lower price points, Elrich said. And there’s also a market for urban environments, with shorter trips and fewer charges, he added.

“I think we’re gonna get a boost out of this from some of what actually happens with the industry, because they seem to be waking up to the fact that this has to change,” Elrich told reporters.

John O’Donnell, president and CEO of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, told reporters Wednesday that many local dealerships are interested in the co-op program, and are educating potential customers about electric vehicles. 

There have been supply chain problems in the manufacturing process, due to a shortage of semiconductor chips, O’Donnell said. Industry leaders hope that normalizes within six to nine months, he added.

In the near term, Stephens-Rich said initiatives like the co-op are important, to show manufacturers and the industry that there is demand, or at least interest, in electric vehicles.

“These are numbers that do matter. … Often the vernacular is the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but so, too, is by showing this type of market demand, especially in such a large metro region,” Stephens-Rich said. “This is a part of how we make that case for prioritizing vehicle options.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com