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Environment and Outdoors

Higher gas prices have Mainers turning to electric vehicles. But supply is limited

Electric Vehicles Charging Stations
Richard Vogel
This Oct. 17, 2018 photo shows a Chevrolet Volt hybrid car charging at a ChargePoint charging station at a parking garage in Los Angeles. The country, and the world, will need thousands more for drivers to accept vehicles that are powered by batteries alone. But automakers and charging companies are struggling to raise the numbers now because they’re investing before demand arrives. With more than 40 fully electric vehicles on the market in the U.S. or coming within the next three years, however, auto and charging company executives say the demand is on the way.

With gas prices hovering at $4.00 or more per gallon across Maine, car dealerships are reporting more consumer interest in electric vehicles and hybrids. But an already limited supply of vehicles is making it hard to meet that demand.

For more than a decade, Paris Autobarn has filled a niche in Oxford County, selling used hybrid and electric cars in a region dominated by gas guzzlers. But owner Tony Giambro said with gas prices skyrocketing in the weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, demand has suddenly shot up. Giambro said his lot is now nearly empty, and he has a waiting list of about 20 people.

"So I'm happy that more people are getting on board with that idea," he said. "It just makes it difficult on our end, because now, all the sudden, it seems like everybody wants one. And I can't keep up, as far as keeping our inventory full."

Giambro says new demand has helped to drive up the value of used hybrid and electric vehicles in recent weeks, and he's now routinely outbid on used cars.

"I could spend all day looking for them, researching the vehicle, deciding which ones fit our criteria here," Giambro said. "Then waiting for them to come up at auction, bidding. Then they go for many thousands above retail. So all that time is wasted."

Bigger dealerships, such as Lee Auto Malls, are facing a similar inventory crunch with new cars. Chairman Adam Lee said in February, inquiries for the all-electric Nissan Leaf were significant higher compared with a year before, and inquiries for the plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime have doubled in recent months.

But despite that interest, Lee said the company isn't selling many more hybrids or EV's, because it doesn't have them. Lee said while sales are still strong, pandemic-related shortages make it tough to maintain an inventory on the lot.

"There's very little the average car dealer can do to increase the supply of cars they're getting," Lee said. "The manufacturers are building, they would love to build more if they could build more."

Lee doesn't see the situation improving much over the next six months, either. His message to customers: if you've leased your car, buy it out and hold on to it if you can. With car values high, he said, you can still trade it in whenever supply improves.

For disclosure, Adam Lee serves on Maine Public's Board of Trustees.