OPINION: 250,000 miles later, EV driver spreads gospel of going gas-free

On Saturday, April 20, Steve Epstein reached 250,000 miles on his Chevy Bolt. Epstein has been a rideshare driver for almost a decade. He thought EVs would be a great option for the ridesharing industry. Image Credit: Steve Epstein

Credit: Steve Epstein

Credit: Steve Epstein

On Saturday, April 20, Steve Epstein reached 250,000 miles on his Chevy Bolt. Epstein has been a rideshare driver for almost a decade. He thought EVs would be a great option for the ridesharing industry. Image Credit: Steve Epstein

Just as it approached the West End Mall, Steve Epstein’s 2017 Chevy Bolt reached a major milestone. The ride-share driver timed the momentous event — the car’s odometer rolling higher — to coincide with his arrival at the Drive Electric Earth Day Atlanta EV Car Show.

“It happened,” he announced triumphantly, “250,000.”

Epstein, 69, has been an advocate for electric vehicles since 2016 when he attended a Clean Energy Road Show in Cobb County. That was his first time seeing the Nissan Leaf. His first time riding in a Tesla. He’s passionate about a green economy and believes EVs are a good way to go, particularly for ride-share drivers.

This week, in recognition of the 54th annual Earth Day, it seemed like a good time to share Epstein’s evangelism. Across the globe, people marked April 22 as a time to recommit to protecting the environment.

Epstein’s first EV was a hybrid, which ran on both gas and electricity. He drove it for a couple of years before deciding he wanted to go fully electric. Now he chats up his riders, offering information and education as a self-proclaimed ambassador of EVs.

But he may have a long road ahead of him, given recent headlines about sluggish EV sales. Even in Georgia, a rising hub for EV production, the demand for electric vehicles has slowed.

It has been almost a decade since I wrote a story about Georgia ending its tax credits for EVs. At the time, there was concern that the move would stall the burgeoning market.

The EV market still grew. But 2024 is shaping up to be a gap year for electric vehicles.

Tesla, the leading maker of EVs, saw an 8.5% decrease in sales in the first three months of the year. Ford, GM and other carmakers have delayed production of new EVs. Toyota has continued to focus on hybrids rather than battery-only EVs, a decision that was once ridiculed but now seems genius.

Rivian has paused construction of its $5 billion Georgia manufacturing facility. Instead, production of its lower-cost, mass-market crossover will go to its Illinois plant. (Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has about a 3% stake in Rivian.)

It seems 38% of the population is enthusiastic about purchasing an electric car in the near future. Still, that’s a 4% drop since May 2022, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center.

That’s understandable. The past couple of years have been chaotic. A global pandemic, supply chain issues and high interest rates have impacted the auto industry as a whole.

When it comes to EVs, people are getting more comfortable with the idea, but still cautious, the Pew research indicates. Consumers worry about driving range, though the average EV in the U.S. is approaching 300 miles per charge. They worry about cost — though federal tax credits are available for certain models, EVs are priced anywhere from 20% to 40% higher than gas-powered cars. They worry about whether there are enough charging stations throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. And they worry about the reliability of EVs.

Some of these concerns are valid. Some of them (lack of charging infrastructure, total cost of ownership, amount of range needed) are not, according to the Department of Energy.

In 2017, when Hurricane Irma blew a tree across my car, I found myself shopping for another one. I wanted a Toyota hybrid or a Subaru. I never considered fully electric. Why? I had some of the same concerns that people cited in the survey — range and reliability. I didn’t know many people who drove EVs. I knew a ton of people who drove Subarus.

For many Americans, cars are major purchases. We aren’t likely to trust car dealers to give us advice. We trust other consumers.

Georgia has been laser focused on creating a hospitable environment for EV manufacturers, but that won’t sell cars. Early on, it was the true believers who shifted to electric vehicles. Now it’s time to meet the masses where they are, with lower cost options and widely circulated information on how average Americans are navigating life with electric vehicles: how utility bills are affected, what kind of driving conditions drain a battery faster and the cost of repairs and maintenance.

Epstein preaches the gospel of EVs each time a receptive rideshare passenger gets into his car. He tells them that, in the past five years, he’s had to take his car to a mechanic just once. And that was for the air conditioning.

He tells them that he charges his car in his garage between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. to get the best rates with Georgia Power.

If pressed, he will talk about the time, on New Year’s Day, when he picked up his last ride and had to stop to charge his car. He told the passengers in advance that his battery was low, but they still reported him to the ride-share company.

When we talked, he shared his dismay about the added alternative fuel vehicle fee for EV drivers in Georgia and a pending tax at public EV charging stations.

Making Georgia the capital of EV production in the country won’t, on its own, make consumers more receptive to EVs. That will take time — and a lot more evangelists like Epstein.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.