Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: November 1, 2021 Focus on Logistics / Transportation

Electric avenue: Mirroring US trend, Maine move to electric cars picks up pace

Barry Woods in a ReVision Energy electric car Photo / Tim Greenway Barry Woods, director of electric vehicles at ReVision Energy, says the recently passed Biden infrastructure bill marks "a very exciting and historic moment for electricity and transportation for Maine and the country."

Car enthusiast Ben Van Deventer is a new convert to electric vehicles after a Subaru WRX he had driven for years broke down on a highway in the middle of the night earlier this year.

The structural engineer, who lives in Westbrook, ordered a white Tesla Model 3 online he picked up in New Jersey and drove to Maine. Though he initially missed the vroom and vibration of a manual transmission, Van Deventer now gets that experience from a virtual-reality home racing simulator while relishing his new ride.

“It’s incredibly smooth and quiet and relaxing, but it’s also violently fast if you want it to be,” he says. “It’s kind of like driving a UFO.”

As a new convert to EVs, Van Deventer is among a small but growing number of drivers who have made the jump from filling up gas-powered internal combustion engine cars to plugging in vehicles that run on electricity. It’s a transportation shift that’s slowly taking hold in Maine.

“This rivals the transition from horse and buggy to combustion energy, or rotary dial to cell phones, because it reinvents transportation’s relationship with energy,” says Barry Woods, director of electric vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy, a South Portland-based installer of solar-powered EV chargers with seven electric Chevy Bolts in its 80-strong sales fleet and long-term plans to go all electric.

“The vehicles are no longer solely about travel but about consumer interactions with the electric grid, which has hitherto been invisible for the average person,” Woods says. “Now we can create our own microgrids at home, provide utilities with storage, lower our energy costs and effect reduction in carbon through clean energy use without compromising our transportation demands.”

Photo / Tim Greenway
Barry Woods, director of electric vehicles at ReVision Energy, says the South Portland-based solar provider has seven all-electric Chevy Bolts in its 80-strong sales fleet.

While all that will take time, the momentum is picking up. It’s been more than a dozen years since Elon Musk’s Tesla released the Roadster, still the world’s fastest production electric car — with a neck-straining 0-60 speed of 1.9 seconds, but a base price that might give a buyer pause, $200,000.

Though carmakers have been slow to follow Tesla’s lead, many are now converting their portfolios to EVs as states including Maine promote carbon-reduction policies in the fight against climate change.

Market momentum

In 2020 when the global automobile market shrank 16%, a record 3 million new electric cars were registered, a 41% increase from the previous year, the International Energy Agency said in an April report. Momentum remains strong this year, with sales in the first quarter reaching nearly two and a half times their level in the same period a year earlier, the report shows.

Another report, published in September by McKinsey & Co., shows a steady rise in the electric share of U.S. car sales, from 1.7% in the first quarter of 2020 to 3.6% in the second quarter of 2021; in absolute terms, the number of U.S. electric cars sold has jumped from 54,000 in the second quarter of 2020 to 160,000 in the second quarter of 2021. Sales of all-electric or battery vehicles are also outpacing hybrids and plug-in hybrids, whose motors are powered by a combination of fuel and electricity.

However, with only 17% of the world’s total stock of 10.2 million EVs in 2020, the U.S. still lags well behind China and Europe, whose electric car markets are also growing much faster.

Looking at the road ahead, McKinsey analysts note that while reduced inventories could continue through 2022, EVs could make up more than half of passenger-car sales by 2030. McKinsey also predicts a turning point for all auto dealers, saying the move to electrification will transform every aspect of their business from front-end sales to service and maintenance.

In Maine, where an estimated 65,000 new cars are sold every year, electric cars remain a novelty, totaling less than 0.5% of total light duty vehicles. But mirroring the national trend, electric cars are making up an ever-bigger slice of Maine’s car market, rising from 1.2% of new cars sold in 2020 to more than 2.4% in 2021.

While expensive batteries mean a sticker price of $40,000 and up today, electric cars are more economical to maintain and run than internal combustion vehicles. They’re also quieter and can accelerate quickly, and have the added cachet of being good for the environment.

Early adopters in Maine include E2Tech Executive Director Martin Grohman, a Tesla driver since 2007 who upgraded to a Model S during the pandemic.

“You get a lot of young guys come up to you and go, ‘That’s my dream car,’” he says. “It kind of looks like the Batmobile, and it’s as fast as the Batmobile.”

Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls with 17 dealerships from Bangor to Saco, is on his third electric car, in which he commutes almost daily between Topsham and Westbrook and charges at home. Seven or eight years after getting his first EV, Lee — who advocated for federal laws that eventually forced automakers to raise fuel economy standards on gas engines — says, “I don’t expect I’ll have a gasoline-powered car again.”

He believes it will take a long time to convince customers to do the same given current supply shortages, including SUVs and trucks that constitute a small percentage of today’s electric cars, and the fact that prices are still high for the average consumer.

“Even if prices of batteries start to come down a bit, it won’t be like phones or computers,” he says, “but I have faith in the industry and in technology in this country. We’ve done remarkable things before, and hopefully we can do that again.”

Noting that that will take time, Lee says of his own business: “It’s very realistic that someday we’ll be selling mostly electric or a majority of electric cars, but that time is still very far off.”

Photo / Tim Greenway
Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls with 17 dealerships from Bangor to Saco, is also an EV owner.

It isn’t just individual consumers who will drive the EV market, but also purchasers of commercial and government fleets, with McKinsey predicting the U.S. market for services to support the charging of EV fleets to be worth $15 billion by 2030. As that transition happens, Portland-based financial technology service provider WEX Inc. recently expanded its partnership with ChargePoint, of Campbell, Calif., to better integrate EVs into fleets.

“The adoption is going to be complex for a lot of our customers, so we’re working with ChargePoint to give customers a one-stop shop to help them manage this new type of fleet,” explains Hannah Young, WEX’s global fleet strategy director.

Peggy Watson, WEX senior vice president for global fleet and marketing, adds that while customers are coming up on the learning curve, there are still a lot of unknowns about the charging infrastructure and how to reimburse for EV usage, saying, “We want to help them navigate through all that.”

Rebates and chargers

For Maine car buyers wanting a price break on a new electric car, close to 70 dealers statewide offer rebates through a program run by Efficiency Maine.

Rebates range from $1,000 to $2,000 for eligible new models of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, with additional amounts offered to qualifying low-income customers. While rebates aren’t the only incentive to go electric, they are a factor: Of the 2,500 EVs added to Maine roads since the program began in September 2019, Efficiency Maine has given rebates on 2,000. There are also manufacturer rebates and federal tax credits.

While those won’t offset high production costs, that will eventually change as battery costs come down and automakers add more EVs to their lineups. Besides cars, that includes SUVs and trucks like the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 EV Lightning that got an endorsement from President Joe Biden in May.

Clad in his signature aviator sunglasses as he pulled up to a media gaggle following a test drive in Dearborn, Mich., he remarked: “This sucker’s quick.” Beyond the Biden buzz, experts predict the Ford F-150 will be a game-changer for pickup drivers in rural states like Maine — along with Tesla’s plan to open its Supercharger network to all EV cars.

Plans are also underway to add to Maine’s current network of 600 chargers through a pilot program recently launched by Central Maine Power and ReVision Energy, as well as additional chargers funded by Efficiency Maine.

Photo / Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
Ford Motor Co. is set to introduce the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning next year, a pillar of the company’s $22 billion-plus global electric vehicle plan.

Michael Stoddard, Efficiency Maine’s executive director, says the quasi-state agency is keen to add high-speed chargers through Aroostook County and east to Calais as well as in urban areas near apartment complexes to serve future EV drivers without access to off-street parking, and along U.S. Route 1.

But what about the burden on the electric grid when everyone needs to plug in? That’s another question for policy makers to hash out with energy and utility companies.

“Charging thousands of vehicles at peak times could potentially cause a lot of strain on the grid,” warns Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “However, if we create the right EV charging rates — incentivizing charging at night for example and/or incorporating smart charging technology — it could provide big benefits to both consumers and the grids.”

Mapping Maine’s EV policy future

While Maine is at the forefront of the move to EVs, ranking No. 9 by PlugIn America in 2021 in terms of supportive policy measures, further moves are planned to help the state meet its goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, half of which come from transportation.

The state’s climate action plan, released in December 2020, estimates that Maine needs 219,000 light-duty EVs on the road by 2030 to meet its emission targets; policies for how to achieve that will be included in Maine’s upcoming clean transportation roadmap due out this December.

Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, also happens to be an EV driver, charging her Hyundai Kona at her North Haven home. She says the clean transportation roadmap will spell out the policies needed to meet Maine’s aggressive goals for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Pingree says she’s keen to expand Maine’s charging network to rural areas and make it accessible to everyone.

“As a policymaker, I understand both the challenges and opportunities for charging infrastructure,” she says.

Photo / Tim Greenway
Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, is keen to expand Maine’s EV charging network in rural areas.

Of her new Hyundai, she says the heat works well even on the ferry when the car engine is off, and that she’s never had to be towed because she’s run out of juice.

Equally enthusiastic about his Tesla, E2Tech’s Grohman compares the interior to an airplane cockpit with lots of controls like the aerodynamic cars depicted in the “Jetsons,” the 1960s-era futuristic animated series.

“Most EVs are very streamlined to slip through the air, and that is what makes me think of it,” he says.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF