After a year of waiting, Phil Hays received good news: His Volkswagen ID.4 was ready to be shipped from the manufacturer to the dealer.
Hays had done his research. Retired and no longer having to commute to work, he was sold on Volkswagen’s battery electric vehicle, a sporty four-door crossover SUV that had more than enough range for his needs and would require less maintenance.
And he was thrilled not to have to pay more than $4 for a gallon of gas.
The Vancouver resident expected to pay what is called, in auto sales lingo, MSRP — manufacturer’s suggested retail price — but when Hays showed up at the showroom in February, the dealer had raised the car’s price by $7,500.
“It was a sucker punch,” said Hays, who drove off the lot in his old car.
Clark County, Washington’s fifth-most-populous county, ranks fourth in the number of registered “battery electric vehicles” — known as BEVs. Over the past two years, Clark County drivers purchased more than 2,000 BEVs, raising the total to 4,890, according to data from the state Department of Licensing.
With rebates available from the federal government and Clark Public Utilities and concerns about unstable fuel prices and the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, the attraction for electric vehicles is growing. Rules that will require all new cars sold in Washington to be nearly emission-free by 2035 further stimulate demand that supply cannot yet meet.
The result has been higher prices, long waits and too little inventory for Clark County residents eager to get on the BEV bandwagon.
Ron Stiglich of Vancouver was an early BEV adopter, purchasing a used Nissan Leaf in 2015 for $18,000. The car had 30,000 miles on it and a maximum range of about 90 miles on a single charge.
The limited range didn’t bother Stiglich, who also owned a gas-powered car. The Leaf was his around-town car, and he typically drove it no farther than Beaverton, Ore.
The credit comes with conditions and stipulations, ranging from the cost of the vehicle to household income to the location where the minerals in the batteries are sourced. Until the Treasury Department issues its rules in March, some electric vehicles that may not comply with the new guidelines will be eligible for the credit.
Power costs low
On top of the benefit of the rebates, electricity is relatively cheap in Clark County. Clark Public Utilities offers electricity at roughly eight cents per kilowatt-hour for residential rates. In King County, the average is over 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Stiglich, who bought a Chevy Bolt in 2021, calculated that he paid $200 in electricity for the 10,000 miles he drove on the new car, compared with the roughly $1,300 he would have paid in gasoline on his 2020 Ford Escape.
The cost of operating an electric vehicle can vary greatly, depending on where a driver charges the vehicle. Stiglich typically charges his car at home, trying to avoid public chargers, where he once had to pay 51 cents a kilowatt-hour, more than six times what it costs in his own garage.
“You’re gonna save a lot of money on gas,” he said, “but if you have to rely on public charging, think hard and look at the costs of charging.”
Clark Public Utilities offers rebates for certain in-home charging stations and low-income, used electric-vehicle rebates that pay 10 percent of the purchase price, with a floor of $1,000. Through November 2022, the program had provided more than $15,000 total for 12 customers; the Nissan Leaf was the most popular purchase.
For as many resources and incentives are available, simply finding a vehicle can be exceedingly difficult. Long waits and dealer markups can frustrate someone hoping to drive off in a new BEV.
BEVs sales made up only 6 percent of the new passenger vehicle registrations in Clark County in November 2022, according to the state Department of Licensing. Comparatively, vehicles featuring the internal combustion engine — also known as ICE — made up 83 percent of new registrations that month. The other registrations were for PHEVs and others.
In spite of the gap, the demand for BEVs far outpaces supply, according to Kent VanArnam, director of marketing at Dick Hannah, which sells a variety of brands including Toyota, Subaru, Volkswagen and Dodge.
The bottleneck stems from manufacturers taking a long time to ramp up production, which requires them to build new factories and invest in new technologies. Manufacturers are essentially building a brand-new car, VanArnam said.
Because Washington won’t be a zero-emission-vehicle state until 2025, Vancouver Hyundai did not receive a single electric Kona from the manufacturer, according to Phillips.
All pre-orders required a refundable $500 deposit, but Phillips said his company does not sell ordered vehicles above MSRP, although it does mark up some units already on the lot.
Phillips said he is familiar with stories like Hays’, however. He had a customer who ordered an F-150 Lightning at another dealership, but when the truck was ready to be shipped, the dealer told the would-be customer the price would be $25,000 higher because of a limited supply of the vehicle. The customer, Phillips said, ended up doing business with the Vancouver Auto Group.
Manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, Subaru and Hyundai cracked down on dealership markups in 2022, according to Kelley Blue Book.
‘I wanted to simplify my life’
Hays finally received his ID.4 in October 2022. It’s black, has all-wheel drive, and can do back-in as well as parallel parking.
After his first reservation fell through, he placed a second reservation at a Volkswagen dealership in Hillsboro that did not mark up online orders above MSRP. The second reservation took six months. In spite of the hassle it took, he’s glad he did it.
Hays anticipates being eligible for the full $7,500 tax credit on his 2022 returns, but he said he would have still purchased the car without the rebates.
“I just want something with less maintenance, and that’s what it boils down to,” he said. “Whether it’s pulling into a gas station or scheduling an oil change or having the transmission fluid checked and all that other stuff, I wanted to simplify my life.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.