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Learning to Love EVs

A small cadre of real estate pros has left gas-powered cars behind. Their experiences, and advances in battery life and charging, may put you on the electric path, too.

July 18, 2022

It took only one time at the wheel to turn Bill Milliken from electric vehicle skeptic to proponent.

Milliken, CCIM, CIPS, had decided to trade in his Volkswagen Touareg diesel after the automaker was caught cheating on emissions numbers. He took up an offer to try out a friend’s Tesla battery-electric sedan. “After a half-hour in the seat, I was convinced it was the way to go. I went home and placed an order,” says Milliken, broker-owner of Milliken Realty, a commercial brokerage in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I’ve become a believer.”

When he first bought the big Model S in 2018, Milliken worried it might seem over the top. He found “it doesn’t raise eyebrows” and, if anything, clients like its roominess, comfortable ride, and library quietness. “There are a lot of positives,” he says.

For real estate professionals, choosing an auto is serious business—and it’s not just a matter of image or client comfort. Brokers and agents often clock a significant number of miles behind the wheel, drive on rough terrain, and cover large market areas. Owning and relying on an EV can require adjustments to their driving patterns, especially when it comes to charging.

Clients like its roominess, comfortable ride, and library quietness —Bill Milliken

But as new, longer-range models come to market and more public charging stations dot the American landscape, the negatives are becoming less of an issue, and sales reflect that. EV sales nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021 and gained another 60% during the first quarter of 2022. Like many Americans, real estate professionals are starting to take a closer look.

Makenzie Brown with Century 21 Bill Nye Realty, based 30 miles north of Tampa in Zephyrhills, Fla., averages as much as 600 miles a week in her Tesla Model Y, so she quickly learned the locations of the public charging stations. It’s worth the hassles, she says. “With the price of gas getting to where it is, I’m glad I don’t own my old Mercedes anymore.”

For Christopher Matos-Rogers, the Nissan Leaf he bought eight years ago not only changed his life but also led him to a new career.

Matos-Rogers and his husband had planned to go electric and were looking for a new home that would have the necessary wiring to let them put in a pair of chargers. But few of the real estate agents they spoke to understood what they needed. That led Matos-Rogers to get a real estate license; today, he focuses on buyers who own EVs, as well as those looking for a home where they can put in solar and even drop off the grid.

“My Leaf was a gateway drug,” says Matos-Rogers, GREEN, AHWD, now a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Realty in Atlanta and a Tesla owner. “A lot of people look at EVs as appliances, slow and boring. But I’ve always been a passionate driver, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised” by how much fun they are to drive.

A Century in the Making

Electric vehicles have been around since the dawn of the horseless carriage. Indeed, there were more battery-powered models than vehicles relying on internal combustion through the late 19-aughts. Even after Henry Ford began putting America on wheels with the Model T, his wife Clara stuck with an electric flivver, like many women of her day who found gas models dirty and even dangerous.

“These were women’s shopping cars,” comedian and avid classic car collector Jay Leno told The New York Times. “There was no gas or oil, no fire, no explosions— you just sort of got in and you went. There were thousands of these in New York, from about 1905 to 1915. There were charging stations all over town, so ladies could recharge their cars while they were in the stores.”

The Ford Motor Co. founder turned to his old friend Thomas Edison in hopes of coming up with a better battery. But that would take another century to reach production. Even when the first modern, mass-market EV—that Nissan Leaf— arrived on the scene in 2011, it hadn’t progressed as far as proponents might have thought. With its 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, the quirky little EV delivered an EPA-rated 84 miles per charge. Clara Ford’s 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham could travel 80 miles, albeit at a top speed of just 20 mph.

A decade later, EVs are finally coming of age, as the new Lucid Air sedan reveals. The Dream Range edition will get you 520 miles per charge. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of range—settling for a mere 471 miles—the Dream Performance version can hit 60 in a mere 2.8 seconds and top out at nearly 200 mph, its twin electric motors punching out a combined 1,111 horsepower.

Of course, at $169,000, the Lucid Air isn’t what you’d call a mass-market product. But in 2023, you’ll have a rapidly expanding list of options if you’re thinking about buying a battery-electric vehicle. At the end of 2021, there were barely 20 long-range BEVs, those EPA-rated at 200 miles per charge or more, on sale in the U.S. By the end of this year, the number is expected to grow to as many as 60. More importantly, they’re expanding into an array of new product segments, including sedans and SUVs both large and small.

I can save a lot of money I can put elsewhere —Makenzie Brown

Jeff Smart of Kennewick, Wash., drives a Porsche Taycan, the first of three BEVs the German carmaker will bring to market over the next several years. “I never thought about a Porsche,” he says—at least not until he saw the 4-seat Taycan, which “looks like a bat. In fact, I call it the Batmobile.” While some might call it a bit ostentatious, “clients remember me,” says Smart, broker-owner of HomeSmart Elite Brokers. Smart is in line to serve as the president of Washington REALTORS® in 2024.

At the other extreme, there’s the new Ford F-150 Lightning, one of the first of a wave of all-electric pickups. Demand for that truck has far exceeded even Ford’s most optimistic expectations, with preliminary orders for 200,000 units. Ford initially geared up its new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Mich., to build 25,000 Lightnings annually. It soon raised the number to 50,000, then 80,000. It’s now targeting 150,000.

“Just when we finished the walls [at the plant], we’ve had to knock them down,” says Darren Palmer, Ford’s vice president of electric vehicle programs. “We put them back up, and now have to knock them down again.”

Tesla, meanwhile, saw global sales last year fall just short of 1 million, a mark it will blow through in 2022, now that it has four assembly plants running, including new ones in Berlin and in Austin, Texas.

Battery-electric vehicles still account for only about 3% of the U.S. market, but sales grew by 81% in 2021, a year when overall new vehicle sales dipped by double-digits due to the semiconductor shortage. And demand is expected to grow even faster in 2022. General Motors called this year “the tipping point” for BEVs. President Joe Biden has said he expects half of the nation’s fleet to go electric by the end of the decade.

There are plenty of skeptics but a growing number of true believers, among them are the people who will have to build those vehicles. GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra has declared the automaker “on a path to an all-electric future” by 2035; Volkswagen’s Herbert Diess wants to get there sooner, even with the German automaker’s most exotic brands, such as Bentley, Lamborghini, and Porsche. Volvo will introduce nothing but BEVs by 2028, Chrysler by 2026.

Overcoming Objections

What’s making this transformation possible? It helps to understand the obstacles to widespread consumer acceptance of electric vehicles. The biggest challenges are:

  • Range
  • Cost
  • Charging times
  • Lack of a public charging network

All these challenges are being addressed. Only the rare new BEV is coming to market with a range of less than 200 miles; 250 to 300 miles is quickly becoming the norm for products like the Volkswagen ID.4, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Ford’s new Lightning tops out at 320, and the Tesla Model S Long Range can travel as much as 412 miles between charges, according to the EPA.

As for pricing, there’s no question that you’ll pay more for an electric vehicle— typically about $5,000 above the sticker for a comparable gasoline-powered model. But the gap is closing and, according to a study by consulting firm AlixPartners, BEVs should wind up costing less by 2028.

Not surprisingly, new battery technology will be key to both range and price. When the Nissan Leaf debuted a decade ago, it cost about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour for a lithium-ion battery pack. That’s down to less than $150, and the Japanese automaker expects that to drop to $100 with its next-generation BEV, the Nissan Ariya. Considering the SUV has a 91 kWh pack, that’s a substantial reduction in cost.

But it doesn’t stop there. By 2026, Nissan will begin shifting to an entirely new solid-state battery technology that could halve costs yet again while sharply reducing size and mass—and making it possible to push EVs’ range up to 600 miles or more.

As for charging times, that remains a headache for many BEV owners. Plug in at home and you’ll generally need eight hours or more using a 240-volt Level 2 charger. But new public quick chargers are speeding up the process. Most BEVs can hit an 80% “fill” in under an hour. The Porsche Taycan will get there in under 20 minutes. And GM President Mark Reuss has proclaimed a goal of cutting that to “as little as 10 minutes,” not much longer than it takes to fill a gas tank, as the company improves the new Ultium batteries it’s getting ready to introduce.

In May, the Biden administration announced $3 billion to help spur battery development and increase the production of advanced batteries in the U.S. At least a dozen plants are already in the offing, with the eventual capacity to power millions of BEVs.

The infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2021 adds billions more to help kick-start a nationwide network of EV charging stations; the White House is hoping to have 500,000 in place by 2030. Tesla isn’t waiting. The company has already rolled out about 3,500 Supercharger stations with more than 30,000 individual chargers.

Start Each Day With a Charge

There’s “no need to replace every gas pump with a charger,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “About 80% of EV owners charge at home or the office today, and that’s likely to continue going forward.”

That’s one of the things Brown loves about her EV. Although she occasionally has to find a public charger, she normally starts every morning with a full battery. Better yet, she can “pre-condition” her EV by tapping on a smartphone app. When she’s ready to head out for a showing, her car is cool, comfortable, and charged.

When asked if driving an EV has had any negative impact on her life and her work in real estate, Brown offers a one- word answer: “No.” Quite the opposite. “I love having an EV. At the end of the day, it’s a great way to reduce expenses. I save a lot of money I can put elsewhere.”

With the flood of new battery-electric vehicles coming to market, and with gas prices continuing to soar, Brown says she expect more of her colleagues to start plugging in.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. He has more than 30 years of experience covering the auto industry for a broad range of print, broadcast, and electronic media.

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