Electric car sales pitch heads to northern Minnesota to generate interest

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A coalition of groups that support the increased use of electric vehicles is making a sales pitch to residents of northern Minnesota this week with public events in Bemidji, Roseau and Duluth.

More than 150 people came to Roseau, expressing their curiosity and some skepticism. People were waiting to test electric vehicles half an hour before the event started.

“I have my ticket to ride. I’m supposed to be the first in line to drive this one,” said Dennis Erickson, 68.

While waiting to drive the Ford Mustang Mach E, Erickson described himself as an electric vehicle skeptic.

“Here in the north, winter driving … and [lack of] charging stations, and how much money are you actually saving? ” he said.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m sort of wondering if this is a good deal or not.”

That’s a common answer, according to Jukka Kukkonen, owner of Saint-Paul-based Shift2Electric.

“This skepticism comes from something new that they haven’t experienced yet,” said Kukkonen, who travels as an electric vehicle educator and recently attended several events in rural communities.

Ford dealership Paul Blomquist answers questions at an electric vehicle educational event in Roseau on Wednesday.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

He also saw doubt quickly turn to acceptance.

“When they can try it out, when they hear their neighbor start driving one, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, that seems to be working,’ so things start to change,” Kukkonen said.

Batteries lose a bit of power in cold weather, but new lithium battery technology can handle freezing temperatures much better than previous vehicles, Kukkonen said, and gasoline vehicles are less efficient in winter as well. Vehicle charging stations are being built statewide, but Kukkonen said most vehicle charging is done at home, so access to charging stations is less of a concern than most people. don’t think so.

As Erickson settles into the driver’s seat, local Ford dealer Paul Blomquist jokingly tells him to run the engine, “so you hear all that engine noise.”

The loudest noise is the tires cracking through the dry grass as Erickson walks away.

Blomquist has two Ford dealerships, one in Roseau and another 60 miles west in Hallock.

He was one of the electric vehicle skeptics until a few years ago.

“This ‘aha!’ moment I had was listening to Ford executives say where they were headed.

“We all need to get on board as soon as possible if we are to truly thrive in this environment,” said Blomquist.

Blomquist admits he’s getting some hindsight for advocating electric vehicles in a conservative part of the state. Donald Trump won 72% of the vote in Roseau County in 2020.

cars painted to promote electric vehicles

Cars promoting electric vehicles at an educational event on electric vehicles in Roseau.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

“There is no doubt that it is becoming politicized. You know, if you drive an electric vehicle, you love trees. And I respect that. I understand why people say that because I think 10 years ago the range of electric vehicles was 100 miles, it was not practical in northern climates. But we are past this phase of early adoption, ”he said.

Blomquist believes that despite the policy, many of its clients are pragmatic. Most of the vehicles he sells are pickup trucks or SUVs. So far it has taken 59 reservations for the new Ford F-150 electric truck.

“A local farmer who made a reservation on one travels 65,000 miles a year. That’s a lot, isn’t it? His average miles are around 200 miles a day. He’ll never have to. get to a gas station, ”Blomquist said.

Steve Yanok hasn’t booked an electric truck yet, but he’s thinking about it seriously. Yanok is a sportsman and hunter and lives near the state forest on Beltrami Island south of Warroad. A truck is an essential form of transportation, and an electric truck means freedom.

“This is something you can do at home. I don’t need to depend on electricity and a gas station. I can have a solar installation and I can charge my own vehicle. I need to depend on no one, ”Yanok mentioned.

His reluctance to buy an electric vehicle is mainly due to the cost and the fact that he recently switched to a new combustion engine truck. Electric vehicles tend to cost more, but Blomquist said government discounts and lower operating cost make vehicles competitive.

two men are chatting in an all terrain vehicle

Jeff Zeman of Custer, SD, receives instructions from Dennis Sabourin with Polaris, before testing driving an electric utility vehicle at an event in Roseau.

Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Dennis Erickson returned from his test drive in the Mustang with a big smile on his face.

“Lots of pizzazz and speed, and [it] behaved very well and didn’t have the sound of the muffler of course, ”he said with a chuckle.

Erickson admits he might buy an electric vehicle – someday, when prices drop.

Jeremy Lindemann believes the majority of his neighbors will be driving electric vehicles in 10 years.

“We’re sort of preparing for the future of anyone who owns an electric vehicle,” said Lindemann, director of member services at the Coopérative Électrique Roseau.

He signed up to get one of Ford’s new electric trucks for his 18 mile commute to work. He said the utility was planning to update the power grid to support more vehicle recharging and would offer off-peak electricity tariffs to people who recharge vehicles overnight.

“You know our top-up rates, they’re equivalent to $ 1 a gallon of gasoline, so there are economic savings with this electric vehicle as well, so I think that will gain a lot of people as well,” he said. .

Lindemann admitted that he was a little worried that only a handful of people would show up at the EV event.

Seeing more than 150 people check out vehicles and ask questions bolstered her confidence that electric vehicles have a great future in northern Minnesota.

Blomquist, the Ford dealership, shares this optimism, but also sees challenges. Will enough rural car dealerships support electric vehicle sales? Will automakers be able to build vehicles quickly enough to meet demand, given the current supply chain disruptions? And will people put aside their skepticism to buy an electric vehicle?

“It’s not for everyone,” Blomquist said. “But I think that’s for most of the people in this corner of the woods.”

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