With gas prices sky-high, some would-be EV buyers are getting creative

Until the car keys were in her hand, Bonnie Velasquez was worried that she might have stumbled into some form of electric car fraud.

Velasquez was tired of waiting for Tesla to build the Model 3 EV she had ordered but was turned off by the prices of used Model 3s that were as high or higher than new. So how could a Santa Monica startup named Autonomy tell her that all they needed for approval was her driver’s license?

Then it became even more interesting, Velasquez said. Within a day after that approval, she was told to come and pick up her new model 3 in an indefinite parking garage. Among a bunch of shiny new Tesla Model 3 was a gray with a pink bow on. That one was hers, Velasquez was told.

“I did not even know how to open the door. I had never even driven a Tesla, ”she said. “So they showed me how, let me drive it a little bit. Then they sent me off.”

What Velasquez experienced is a major departure from the traditional buy-or-lease route that almost all car buyers take. Instead, she used a subscription service to get the new electric car, essentially renting a car owned by Autonomy for a monthly fee of $ 490, in Velasquez’s case, a little less than a direct rental from Tesla.

Bonnie Velasquez picks up her new Tesla Model 3 in Santa Monica.

(Alexis Lopez)

What should be a golden moment for electric cars may pass the industry by. Six dollars per gallon of gasoline should translate into a sharp increase in the buyer’s interest in electric cars and trucks, right?

It actually has.

Too bad the dealers do not have enough electric cars and trucks available to meet the rising demand.

“There is simply no availability for all types of vehicles – especially electric cars,” said Brian Maas, president of California New Car Dealers Assn.

Electric car searchers recognize all sorts of unusual tactics for landing a vehicle, such as haunting multiple waiting lists or looking for overlooked electric cars at remote dealerships. Some drivers, such as those with Chevy Bolt, have seen their leases expire without any new bolts available to replace them.

– There is a shortage of cars in general. It will not shock you, but it’s more so for electric cars, ”says Joel Levin, CEO of Plug In America, a non-profit advocate group.

“This is because the price of gas is so high that the demand for electric cars has increased slightly right now,” said Levin, adding that problems with the supply chain will not disappear soon. “What I’ve heard from the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] is that we’ll probably be in it by the end of the year, at least. “

It is a potential loss of revenue and a missed opportunity for electric cars to gain serious traction in a country that still overwhelmingly prefers motor vehicles powered by liquid-fuel internal combustion engines.

“Gas prices hit at a difficult time,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds. Car buyers, who were facing almost record-breaking petrol prices in a time of extreme inflation with little idea of ​​how long such conditions will last, began to take electrified cars more seriously, according to Edmund’s data. (See diagram.) Cars.com tweeted that since the end of February, consumers’ interest in electric cars, based on website visits, increased by 173%.

But that interest is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in sales of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, Caldwell said, as too few cars are available for immediate sale.

Lack of computer chips and bottlenecks in the supply chain has created a stock drought at car dealers across the country – and around the world. Stunning price increases have resulted from the imbalance between supply and demand. The average selling price for vehicles in August 2020 was approximately $ 38,000, according to the Kelley Blue Book; in February 2022, $ 46,085.

Electric car customers are often put on waiting lists that can last for weeks or months, and some dealers who have cars in stock increase the sticker price by thousands of dollars. Some dealers in California add $ 8,000 to the approximately $ 50,000 sticker price for the new Kia EV6 crossover.

Tesla has raised the base price of its Model 3 by $ 8,500 to $ 48,440 and Rivian raised the mark on its new pickup by $ 12,000 to almost $ 80,000. Both companies blamed rising costs due to inflation.

Even before the problems with the chip and supply chain, the production of electric vehicles was limited for all car manufacturers who were not named Tesla. The biggest reason why Tesla dominates the electric car industry is its huge lead when it comes to entering the market. The company produced appealing, longer-range, fun-to-drive cars when traditional carmakers tried to sell what critics called swollen golf carts, with little effect on the market outside places like Santa Monica and Berkeley.

Tesla has been the only vehicle manufacturer to actually increase production compared to a year ago. At present, it is the company that Autonomy depends on for its electric car supply.

Autonomy co-founder and CEO Scott Painter is seen with several Model 3s.

Autonomy co-founder and CEO Scott Painter is seen with several of the Model 3s that the company offers via subscription.

(Steven Carter)

It contains a warning for people who may be interested in trying out the subscription service because the only vehicle Autonomy handles is the Tesla Model 3. Although Autonomy has a goal of acquiring 10,000 of them by the end of 2022, Autonomy co-founder Scott Painter said, no other Teslas is currently available for Autonomy, and the base model is the only one customers can get, not the long-distance or performance versions.

Another warning: Autonomy is buying Teslas, which customers have given up waiting for, which means that the options are limited.

“Tesla has an interesting relationship with its customers. You can make a deposit, let them build a car for you and then you can waive your deposit up to and including until the day you receive the delivery. These are the cars we buy at MSRP, said Painter.

“We do not jump in front of anyone and take their car,” he said. “The only thing we did is go to Tesla and say, ‘We do not care what color, what tire and wheel package or what battery pack you have, we only buy it if it falls out of production.'”

In terms of production, the rest of the industry is only now beginning to catch up with Tesla with cars that have a wider appeal, such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Ford Mustang Mach-E. On the luxury side, there are cars of the brand Polestar and Lucid and trucks of the brand Rivian, but with a waiting list.

Chip shortage has reduced dealers' supply of Ford's electric Mustang Mach-E.

Chip shortage has reduced dealers’ supply of Ford’s electric Mustang Mach-E.

(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Other vehicles are in a close pipeline, including the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup, Volkswagen ID Buzz minivan and Cadillac Lyriq luxury crossover EV.

“The lyrics are coming, but it’s not on the street yet. Mach-E is out on the street, but they do not make 10,000 of them [a month]they earn a few thousand, ”said Maas.

If supply were not an issue, early 2022 may have marked a turning point for the automotive industry – similar to 1973, when the Middle East conflict and rising oil prices turned the American public on small, fuel-efficient cars, prompting Japanese models from Nissan, Honda and Toyota to enter the US market and forces American carmakers to reluctantly offer their own reduced cars.

If gas prices remain high and supply problems are fixed, “the potential is there” for another major shift, Maas said. But it’s big oms.

Spencer Purves in Hudson, Ohio, is taking a big step in electric cars. He has ordered a new Ford F-150 Lightning and he is looking for an electric car replacement for his wife’s aging Prius.

“My wife commutes 75 miles a day,” he said. “We made the numbers and we can buy two electric cars, rent a car for vacation in several states” and still save money on fuel.

His Ford dealer has not added a mark-up to his Lightning order, but when he buys for the other car, he discovers that deliveries are short and many dealers raise prices. He keeps track of a Hyundai Ioniq 5 crossover. But he is in no hurry. “Hopefully the supply will pick up sometime.”

While new electric cars and plug-in hybrids are in short supply, traditional hybrids, which improve petrol operation with battery and electric motor but do not have to be connected, can be easier to find, especially in the used car market.

“People do not need to have full battery power. People are increasingly considering hybrids as a bridging strategy,” says Caldwell.

Registering for monthly use via Autonomy or similar subscription services is another brewing strategy.

An Autonomy customer who made a huge lifestyle change is Brian Pennington from Torrance, a 53-year-old self-proclaimed country boy who said that large pickup trucks have been his standard for many years. The latest is his 2018 Ram 1500 with a huge 5.7-liter HEMI engine.

But he has filled in two or three times a week because of his job as safety manager on the construction site. Gas prices made him reach a solution he had never thought of before.

“The last time I refilled was $ 137, I’m not lying to you,” Pennington said. “I got so angry the last time I refilled. … I said, ‘I do not care what it is. I’ll get an electric car.’

The change. he said, has been overwhelming.

“I’ve had a truck my whole life. Getting used to something this new to me is incredible. ”

For Velasquez, it was incredible to get hold of a new Tesla at a time when forces are conspiring to make electric cars more desirable and harder to get hold of than ever.

As she drove away with her, she said, “I felt like I stole something.”

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