Arkansas poised to lead on the future of mobility

by Lauren Waldrip ([email protected]) 1,290 views 

Electric vehicle adoption is not a question of “If it will occur”, but “How fast it will occur?”, which is becoming blatantly apparent from product buzz on both the public and private fronts.

Nearly 78% of auto ads in this year’s Super Bowl featured a plug-in vehicle. Consumers are increasingly interested in electric vehicles largely due to a variety of benefits including cost savings from lower fuel consumption, lower maintenance, and fewer emissions. Some EV drivers are seeing additional savings when charging up using energy produced by their own solar panels.

In addition to growing consumer interest, government investments are also spurring the EV market. The bi-partisan infrastructure package will enable $54 million to support charging stations across the Natural State. While the exact amount is unpredictable, Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment Secretary Becky Keogh has communicated plans to place fast chargers every 50 miles or so. Tesla is looking to put five additional Superchargers in Arkansas over the next two years, while money from the Volkswagen Mitigation Fund is helping to install several chargers as well, and will soon even start going toward DC Fast Chargers. Additional access to charging stations will only enhance the already growing adoption of EVs.

Generally speaking, urban areas tend to house more electric vehicles than rural regions. However, the potential in Arkansas for adoption is significant partially due to our rural nature. More than 23% of vehicles on Arkansas highways are pickups. As the electric pickup truck market grows through dealers including General Motors, Ford and Rivian to name a few, the projected adoption in remote states is leading to more charging stations in these areas.

The Feds aren’t the only ones laying the groundwork for this movement in transportation. Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced plans for a Council on Future Mobility during his annual State of the State address. Council membership contains private sector representation including Walmart, J.B. Hunt and Canoo, as well as public sector involvement from Public Service Commission Chair Ted Thomas, Secretary Keogh and Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor. Collectively, this council is well-positioned to identify a path forward creating an innovative atmosphere that will continue to attract business in this space while giving consumers what they very much want.

One particular barrier hindering our progress on this front is A.C.A. § 23-112-403. Arkansas is one of only 12 states with laws on the books restricting direct sales from manufacturers to consumers. Unfortunately, Arkansans often patron other states in order to purchase electric vehicles. A free-market approach would no longer block consumers from obtaining a product they desire, while also making us more competitive as a state.

The recent investment Arkansas is seeing from groups like Canoo and Envirotech is an example of the significant economic impact our industry is having across the state. In fact, Envirotech has a working relationship with Shine Solar to incorporate solar panels into their Osceola operations, which also illustrates the role renewable energy can play into the big picture of EVs.

At the end of the day, this electrification movement helps to keep the Natural State beautiful, but it is also helping our home state grow as an innovative place to live and do business.

Editor’s note: Lauren Waldrip is the executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.