December 28, 2016

Baker hopes electric vehicle test drives lead to sales

SAM BONACCI
SAM BONACCI

Electric Vehicle

Last year's electric vehicle event at Worcester Polytechnic Institute featured the kind of cars Baker would encourage consumers test drive and then buy.

Massachusetts officials plan to use their share of a $500,000 federal grant to put more drivers behind the wheels of electric vehicles over the next two years in a bid to spur sales in that market.

According to the Baker Administration, more than 1,600 drivers and passengers since 2015 have test-driven different makes and models of electric vehicles at employer-sponsored and public events funded through the Mass Drive Clean pilot program. The U.S. Department of Energy grant, which will be split with Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, will be used to continue that program and will augment existing financial incentives.

The Baker Administration recently announced $12 million in new funding for its MOR-EV program that offers rebates to customers who buy electric vehicles. State officials are counting on a big increase in electric vehicle sales to achieve transportation sector emission reductions as part of a broader Global Warming Solutions Act plan to reduce emissions across economic sectors.

Massachusetts has a goal of putting 300,000 zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs) on its streets. Between 2011 and the end of 2015, there were 6,587 ZEVs sold in Massachusetts, according to the Association of Global Automakers. The recently announced funding for electric vehicle rebates, ranging from $750 to $2,500, comes from carbon credit auction proceeds generated by a multi-state initiative to reduce power plant emissions.

Pilot program supporters say test drives lead to sales. According to the Baker Administration, 83 percent of drivers surveyed before and after test rides said their overall opinion of zero-emission vehicles is better after their test drive and 68 percent said they were more likely to purchase such a vehicle after trying one out. In California, about 10 percent of ride-and-drive participants will purchase a ZEV within six months, according to Plug In America.

"The innovative test drive initiative funded by the program is proven to help shape consumer perceptions of driving electric and how easy it is to make the switch away from petroleum to make our environment cleaner," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said in a statement Tuesday.

The transportation sector is the single largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, accounting for 40.8 percent of such emissions in 2013. Between 1990 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions in the Massachusetts transportation sector increased, compared to reductions in other sectors such as electricity, residential, commercial, industrial, and agriculture.

The Baker Administration said it was announcing the grant award on Tuesday but Plug in America on Nov. 22 announced it had been awarded the $500,000 to advance electric vehicle use in New England with ride-and-drive events and auto dealership training.

According to Plug In America, a national group formed in 2008 to promote electric vehicle use among consumers, policymakers and auto manufacturers, more than one third of Northeast respondents in a recent Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union study said they would consider an electric vehicle for their next vehicle purchase or lease, and over half had some interest in electric vehicle technology.

Plug In America has sponsored ride-and-drive events at Google, Mattel and Paramount Pictures and supports state-level electric vehicle policies such as access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes, sales tax exemptions, registration incentives, insurance discounts and parking incentives.

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