By Marilyn Miller
I have been the executive director of the Vermont Automobile Dealers Association, more recently known as the Vermont Vehicle and Automotive Distributors Association (VADA), since 1984. From a change in our organization’s name to reflect an expanded membership to autonomous vehicles, I and the entire industry have seen a lot of change over these 36 years. But none of the changes have been so big, transformative and disruptive as the one that we stand on the precipice of today: the transformation from internal combustion (gas and diesel) engines to electrified vehicles (electric and plug-in hybrids). Across the state, Vermont’s auto dealers are working hard to ensure they have the infrastructure, education and stock in place to keep up with this changing landscape and the eventual consumer demand.
Today, electric vehicles are only a tiny fraction of the nation’s market. This is true in Vermont as well where, despite generous federal and state subsidies, gasoline trucks and SUV’s continue to dominate. But lower battery costs, stricter emission regulations, and rapidly improving technology are all creating momentum for the shift to electrified vehicles. In 1997 there were only two non-gas car models on the market. Today there are 98. As costs continue to lower, infrastructure is built out and technology is improved, this momentum is only expected to build. Industry analysts expect that the sale of electrified vehicles will triple in the next five years alone. Auto companies around the world are preparing for this transformation and are investing billions of dollars into electric vehicle manufacturing.
Vermont’s auto dealers are also preparing for this transformation—installing equipment to service and charge EV’s, training employees, encouraging EV sales by partnering with local utilities to provide substantial rebates, and participating in EV ride and drives. Right now, 31 dealers across Vermont are participating in the state’s new incentive program to get more EV’s on the road.
Of course, disruptive industry transformations are not easy or simple. Many questions still need to be answered: how will we pay for our roads and bridges if the gas tax is no longer a reliable source of income? Will electric vehicle manufacturers be able to meet consumer demand for trucks and SUVs? What will happen with all of the combustion powered vehicles on the road and the infrastructure (gas stations) that currently dot our state’s landscape? And many hurdles still need to be overcome: not all manufacturers are making electric vehicles, which puts some Vermont dealers in a challenging spot; though they’re coming soon, most manufacturers aren’t yet offering an electric truck – a particular challenge in Vermont where 80% of vehicle sales are made up of trucks and SUVs; and manufacturers have yet to produce a varied selection of electrified all-wheel drive vehicles – again a particular challenge in rural Vermont.
But all roads have bumps – especially in Vermont – and it does not mean that they aren’t worth traveling down. Auto dealers understand this fact better than almost anyone and also understand that the question of whether the industry will transform is no longer a question of if but when.
Vermont’s dealers are excited about the future and the varied benefits that the transformation to EV’S will bring and are actively engaged in trying to make this transformation as smooth as possible for Vermont consumers.