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Will the electric vehicle wave hit South Dakota? They're 'not completely practical,' says one auto dealer owner

“Until someone comes out with a much more effective way of doing this, it is not completely practical,” said Austen Iverson, owner of Iverson Auto.

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An electric vehicle charges its battery as it is plugged into the Tesla charging station next to the Goodwill on Tuesday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

MITCHELL -- While there has been a nationwide push for drivers to transition to electric vehicles, Austen Iverson says South Dakota is not equipped to handle a big EV wave.

Iverson, owner of Iverson Auto , is getting behind the electric car movement. But he said electric cars have a long way to go for Mitchell area drivers to “feasibly” move toward electric vehicles.

“Until someone comes out with a much more effective way of doing this, it is not completely practical,” he said.

From cold winter weather draining batteries to a lack of charging stations, Iverson said the EV infrastructure is not “in place” for a large number of South Dakotans to make the switch from gas-powered vehicles to electric, and have it be a “practical” transition.

Until EV manufacturers can produce cars that have a longer battery life able to withstand the cold and the price range competes with gas-powered vehicles, Iverson said gas automobiles will remain the predominant mode of transportation in the area for a “very long time.”

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“I don’t think we will ever see gas-powered cars get completely replaced by electric vehicles in our lifetime,” he said. “It’s easier to charge a small electric car than say a large truck. And we are in the heavy truck market up here.”

As more electric vehicle charging stations have sprouted up in cities across the state over the past decade, including Mitchell, Iverson said there would need to be a massive increase in charging stations to handle a gradual transition to EVs.

President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was recently signed into law is aiming to change that by setting aside $5 billion for states to help build up to 500,000 charging stations across the country.

As of now, Mitchell has six Tesla charging stations on the west side of the city that are intended to be used for Tesla vehicles. As more charging stations are expected to sprout up across the state now that Biden’s infrastructure bill is signed into law, Iverson anticipates to see a slight uptick in EV sales.

Energy concerns

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds has concerns with the plan to roll out more EV charging stations. Rounds said it isn’t clear who will own and operate the stations. Regardless of how they are rolled out, Rounds indicated that he strongly opposes the federal government running any of them.

“Should the federal government build their own gas stations, or is this where the private entities should have a coordinated effort so that all the stations being put in are the same,” Rounds said. “I don’t have a problem with coordinating the creation of these stations, but I’m not sure we should be calling building these stations a federal responsibility.”

READ MORE: Sen. Mike Rounds facing 'unknowns' while navigating holidays after wife's death The former governor of South Dakota spoke candidly this week in Washington, D.C., about the death of his wife, Jean Rounds, his family members' new roles over the holidays, and a path toward public responsibility in government.

Although Rounds supports taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions to protect the environment, he said the nation’s transportation energy system is still “very” dependent on fossil fuels and natural gas.

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If the country saw a large switch to EVs, he’s concerned of its potential impact on the nation’s power grid.

“Electricity is not by itself the end result for electric vehicles. It is only a conduit to another energy source, and until we have agreed on how we are going to produce enough electricity for our homes, businesses and transportation needs, everyone suddenly switching over to electric cars isn’t going to work,” Rounds said during an interview with the Mitchell Republic.

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South Dakota's junior U.S. senator, Mike Rounds, speaks on Tuesday, Aug. 17, at the 2021 Dakotafest in Mitchell, South Dakota (Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service)

Rounds pointed to renewable energy sources like ethanol as a more “realistic” and “cost effective” transition away from traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Impact cold weather has on EVs

Another obstacle that Rounds said needs to be addressed for more South Dakotans to go electric is battery life in extreme cold weather. Some EVs have a battery life that lasts around 150 miles. But 20-degree weather can drop the battery life down to 88 miles, according to a AAA study.

Compare that to a gas vehicle that can trek around 300 miles before running on an empty tank, it makes purchasing an EV less appealing. In addition, the time it takes to recharge an electric car can last up to around 30 minutes or longer.

Considering gas-powered vehicles can be refueled quickly at a gas pump, Rounds said it adds another caveat for some drivers mulling over a transition to EVs. Speed also affects the battery life of an EV, which Rounds said would make it “very difficult” for a South Dakotan who commutes or travels around the state.

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Despite the effectiveness of EVs in colder weather states, a growing number of Americans have made the transition to electric cars. According to the International Energy Agency, as of 2020, nearly 1.8 million EVs were registered in the U.S., three times as many as there were in 2016.

High price range for EVs adds more barriers

On the cheaper end, EVs hover around $35,000 to $40,000. The average cost of electric cars as of 2021 was roughly $51,000, according to automotive research company, Kelly Blue Book . For gas-powered cars, the average price tag in 2021 is a little over $42,000, about $9,000 cheaper than a new EV. The average price for a medium-sized sedan is even lower, hovering around $30,000, nearly $20,000 cheaper than an EV.

But Iverson pointed to the U.S. government incentivizing EV owners with tax credits as one approach that will help offset the higher costs of electric cars and entice more drivers to move away from gas-powered cars.

For example, the new EV Jeep Wranglers at Iverson Auto are attached with a $7,500 tax credit.

“It doesn’t matter if it is a Prius or a Hybrid Wrangler, they all may be eligible for a $7,500 tax credit,” he said. “You can redeem them in two ways, with one being similar to a rebate. When you pay say $55,000 for an electric vehicle, you end up catching some of that back when you file your taxes at the end of the year.”

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The Tesla charging station next to the Goodwill on Tuesday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

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