Sales of electric vehicles are growing in Florida, but EVs still amount to less than 1 percent of registered vehicles, cost about a third more than gas cars, and charging stations are far from universal. How fast can Florida really go electric?
When he first started looking at electric cars in 2009, Nick Howe was underwhelmed by the options. “Almost everything that was electric was low-performance, low-range, tiny and they had the reputation of being golf carts, essentially, and that absolutely wasn’t what I was looking for,” the Boca Raton retiree says.
He eventually found a comfortable four-seater with solid performance and an acceptable battery range in the Tesla Model S, a luxury sports sedan that sells for upward of $99,000 today.
In 2020, Howe bought his second Tesla, a Model Y. His wife ditched her gas-powered Lexus for the 8-year-old Model S. Howe says she was inspired to switch after they evacuated to Georgia in separate cars during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and he had an easier time finding a charging station than she did a gas station. “I came back two days before she did. That kind of convinced her that you don’t actually need a gas car,” says Howe, who now heads the Tesla Owners Club of Florida.
As of January, there were more than 120,000-plus light-duty electric (or hybrid) vehicles on Florida’s roads — nearly double the number from two years ago, according to vehicle registration data, and nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of them were Teslas.
That’s still just a sliver — roughly 0.77 percent — of 16.3 million cars and pickups registered in Florida, but EV enthusiasts like Howe and some others believe the EV market is poised for exponential growth as automakers invest billions in EV development and commit to ambitious electrification goals.
Ford plans to invest $5 billion in electric vehicles this year (double what it spent in 2021) as it splits its iconic company into two business units — Ford Blue, which will continue to make vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines, and Ford Model e, which will build electric vehicles, such as the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E. The carmaker plans to spend $50 billion on its EV initiative through 2026, with electric vehicles reaching 40 percent to 50 percent of its global vehicle volume by 2030.
Other car manufacturers have made similar promises. Honda is aiming for EVs to account for 40% of its sales by 2030 and 80 percent by 2035. Volvo says it will be fully electric by 2030, as will BMW’s Mini brand. GM has promised 30 new electric vehicles by 2025. Those timelines appear to come with a caveat: GM and Chrysler parent Stellantis, for instance, have said they’ll only meet those targets with a range a government subsidies — including purchase incentives for consumers, a bolstered charging network, investments in research and development and incentives to expand vehicle manufacturing and supply chains in the United States.
“Will everybody be driving these? Yeah, they will,” says Doug Kettles, director of the Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition, a Department of Energy vehicle technology program focused on sustainable transportation research and deployment. “But when is the question.”
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Full electrification is a long way off. Conservative estimates predict that Florida’s EV market share will increase to 5 percent by 2035 and 10 percent by 2040 if “growth is limited due to factors such as cost, technology innovation pace and existing policy,” according to the Florida Department of Transportation’s 2021 “EV Infrastructure Master Plan.” Alternatively, with “reductions in cost, rapid technological improvements and bold policy or funding incentives,” penetration could hit 5 percent before 2030 and reach 35 percent by 2040, the report says.
At the end of the day, the pace of change will depend in large part on how well the technology resonates with consumers — and whether it can overcome barriers to mainstream adoption, such as higher upfront costs, range anxiety and gaps in charging infrastructure. Following is a closer look at some of the issues involved in a substantial shift to EVs.
Electric Vehicle Snapshot
.77 percent — Share of all registered vehicles in Florida that are EVs, up from .41 percent in July 2020
124,961 — Approximate number of electric vehicles registered in Florida in January 2022, up from 107,000 in July 2021, a nearly 17 percent increase. Of the total, about 97,000 were pure EVs (battery only), and another 23,000 were plug-in hybrids (gas engine and a battery).
45,000 — Number of electric vehicles sold in Florida in 2021, a 114 percent increase over the previous year’s sales
3.5 percent — Share of vehicle sales in Florida that are EVs, amounting to six EVs sold per 1,000 Florida residents
Perspective and Context
- “Florida’s EV adoption rates are accelerating. The challenge now is to accommodate the accelerated deployment rate of EVs and improve the performance and capabilities of Florida’s charging infrastructure.”
— Florida Electric Vehicle Roadmap
- 12% — Rough portion of global emissions accounted for by road transport, including both passenger vehicles and transport trucks. The transportation sector overall accounts for about a quarter of global emissions, but that includes emissions from jets and other airplanes, passenger boats and freighters.
- “Estimates are hard to find, but private non-business passenger vehicles likely account for no more than 6% of global emissions, of which at best half might be eliminated if consumers could be impelled to switch to electric cars, which they have good reasons to avoid.”
— Holman Jenkins Jr., columnist, Wall Street Journal
- Oil and natural gas make up about 55% of global energy use today. By 2040, 10 of the 13 assessed CO2 mitigation scenarios that use a full complement of technology to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius project that oil and gas will continue to supply more than 50% of global energy, according to an analysis by ExxonMobil.
- 13.5 percent — Portion of global CO2 emissions accounted for by the U.S. in 2020, down from 55.6 percent in 1946
- 30.7 percent — Portion of global CO2 emissions accounted for by China in 2020, up from 1.2 percent in 1946
Electric vehicles sell for an average of nearly $56,437 before rebates, according to Kelley Blue Book, versus an average price of $25,650 for a compact and $42,804 for a full-size gasoline-powered car. EVs have fewer moving parts, so owners spend about half as much as gas-powered car owners ($0.03 per mile versus $0.06 cents per mile) on maintenance and repairs, according to a 2020 analysis by Consumer Reports. Those savings — between $6,000 and $10,000 over the life of the car — don’t make up the difference.
Fuel costs are another matter. Kettles, the Central Florida Clean Cities Coalition director, drives a Chevy Volt and says he pays the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon, saving him about $5,000 a year in gas costs. “What that means is after a couple years, I can fix about anything on that car and still come out way ahead,” he says. Some speculate that sticker prices will come down as battery technology improves. And Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research subsidiary of Bloomberg that focuses on the clean energy market, predicts that the cost of an EV will be equivalent to a conventionally fueled vehicle by the year 2025.
The current bottom line for EVs remains that they’re viable for most daily driving, less so for longer trips. Over the past decade, the average range of EVs has increased from about 75 miles on a single charge to between 150 and 300 miles. While the standard 2019 Chevy Bolt has a range of 259 miles, a fully charged Ford Mustang Mach-E can travel up to 314, and a 2022 Tesla Model S can go up to 405 miles on a single charge — far more than most people need for daily driving. The American driver averages about 2.5 daily trips in the car for a total of 30 miles, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Long-distance driving, however, still requires planning, with EV advocates hoping that expanding the charging grid will help allay drivers’ anxiety about running out of juice.
Filling up a 15-gallon gas tank at the pump takes less than five minutes versus the 20 minutes or so it takes to recharge an EV at the fastest EV charging station — but faster-charging batteries are on the horizon. StoreDot, an Israeli battery company, has recently started manufacturing silicon-based battery cells that can recharge in just five minutes enough to go 100 miles. The company plans to mass produce them by 2024. There’s just one catch — the charging grid will need an upgrade, too.
Right now, the state has enough DC fast chargers (which can recharge a battery in 20 to 30 minutes) to meet charging demand until 2025 and enough level 2 chargers (which take hours to fully charge an EV) to meet demand for the next 10 years, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Energy’s “Florida EV Roadmap.”
Even so, the geographic distribution of the equipment is uneven. While Tesla “supercharger” stations are sprouting up at Winn-Dixie, Wawa and other locations in major metropolitan areas, many rural communities have no electric vehicle charging stations where drivers can pull up, plug in and pay for a charge — and there are few options in interior regions and along significant stretches of I-75 and 1-10 in the Panhandle.
At a legislative hearing last September, Brad Thoburn, the Florida Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for strategic development, told state lawmakers that FDOT is looking at ways to shrink the gaps and create a “more robust” network of a greater number of charging stations. The agency has suggested using existing state property to develop and deploy mobile charging stations along major evacuation routes, as well as at Florida’s welcome centers.
In addition to being limited, much of the state’s EV charging infrastructure is also more than 6 years old — meaning it has surpassed two-thirds of its useful life. Many charging stations are not networked, employ older technology, have proprietary operating and billing systems and typically have lower charging capabilities, according to the state’s EV “roadmap” report.
“Some of these charging stations have been around for five or 10 years. They’re sun-bleached, there are key marks on them, and it could be because that whoever owns the station just doesn’t want to invest in keeping them up. Rolling up to a charging station you think is going to be available and then it’s broken is one of the worst things that can happen,” says Brenna Kaminski, co-founder of the Space Coast Electric Vehicle Drivers club.
A 2021 study by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation found that approximately one in five Californians who bought an electric or hybrid vehicle between 2012 and 2018 went back to gaspowered vehicles. Those who switched were more likely to have slower charging at home (29% vs. 50%), and 28% reported having no access to charging at home.
Apartment dwellers, in particular, face significant challenges when it comes to charging at home. Under Florida law, condominium associations and homeowner associations can’t prohibit residents with electric vehicles from installing a charging station in common public parking areas, but car owners must pay for the equipment and installation — which can cost tens of thousands of dollars if the existing infrastructure isn’t up to par.
Last year, the Orlando City Council approved an Electric Vehicle Readiness code that requires commercial developments as well as multi-family and industrial structures to equip 2% of parking spaces with EV charging stations and make 10% to 20% of parking spaces “EV capable,” with dedicated electrical panel capacity and wiring infrastructure.
A lack of knowledge continues to plague EV adoption — and it isn’t just drivers who are in the dark. The sales staff at dealerships are often unacquainted with electric vehicles. In 2020, OUC, Orlando’s municipal utility, launched an Electrified Dealership Program to help spur sales of EVs. Sales staff at participating dealerships receive incentives for selling EVs as well as specialized EV training and educational materials, and customers have access to rebates if they buy an electric car. Both FDOT and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Energy have recommended that the state develop a consumer-oriented EV education and outreach program.
Types of Charging
- Standard equipment included with most vehicles. Slowest charging speed: Adds about four miles of range per hour.
- Can recharge most EV batteries overnight, though a completely depleted battery may take up to 20 hours to recharge.
- Upgraded equipment that can require professional installation. Slow charging speed: Adds 15 to 30 miles of range per hour.
- Can recharge a completely depleted battery in about seven hours.
DIRECT CURRENT FAST CHARGERS
- Commercial equipment ranging from $10,000 to $40,000.
- Fast charging: Generally adds 80 to 100 miles of range in 20 to 30 minutes.
- A high-powered system (such as a Tesla supercharger) can fully recharge a depleted battery within 30 minutes.
- There are 3,907 level 2 charging plugs and 844 direct current fast chargers in Florida. Tesla chargers account for about half of the state’s charging infrastructure.
- Florida is slated to receive $29 million this year (and $198 million over the next five years) to expand its EV charging capabilities under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last year. The state must submit a plan to the federal government by Aug. 1 on how it plans to use the funds, which are intended to replace and upgrade chargers along the highway system.
Since launching its EVolution program in 2019, the utility has constructed or is in the process of constructing more than 1,000 charging ports at more than 200 locations in Florida — “and that’s only going to continue to grow,” says Ashley Weber, FPL’s senior project manager for E-Mobility. Customers pay 30 cents per kilowatt hour at FPL-operated fast-charging stations — an amount that is three times cheaper than the typical cost of fueling up a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Last year, the utility started a fleet pilot program to help commercial customers electrify their fleets, providing everything from advisory services and recommendations on vehicles to installation of charging infrastructure and any needed service upgrades.
“I think a lot of people think it’s easy to buy an EV, but it’s really difficult to figure out the charging infrastructure. We kind of bundle all that into one and allow customers to have a one-stop shop to support electrifying their fleet. No upfront capital costs (for charging equipment), and it allows customers to pay over 10-year period,” Weber says. “We have our own workplace charging program within our own company — over 400 vehicles in our own workplace. That number doubled in the last 12 to 14 months.”
Duke Energy Florida
Duke recently installed 627 charging stations under its Park & Plug pilot program. To date, drivers have used Duke Energy’s Park & Plug network for more than 114,000 charging sessions, displacing more than 200,000 gallons of gas. Duke’s customers are paying up to 50% less for electricity to power their cars than they’d pay for gas, when it was $3 a gallon. Residential customers are eligible for a $10 per month credit in exchange for managing their charging to off-peak periods.
The utility is installing 200 plug-in level 2 charging ports (and contributing $5,000 toward installation costs) at business customer locations as part of a four-year, $2-million Drive Smart program.
Orlando will soon be home to the largest high-speed charging facility in Florida. The Robinson Recharge Mobility Hub — located near I-4 in downtown Orlando — will feature approximately 20 level 3 charging ports, which provide the fastest type of charging available. “The intention is to provide people with a place to bring their vehicles to charge, get about 100 miles of range in 10 to 15 minutes and really increase the confidence folks have in using electric vehicles,” says Thomas Nealssohn, OUC’s director of new product and market development. “We think that it’s in great proximity, not only to people who work downtown, but people who are in multi-family units.”
OUC, Orange County, Orlando and Power Electronics (an EV equipment manufacturer) collaborated on the $1.8-million project, of which $500,000 came from a state grant.
Depending on the vehicle, EV buyers may qualify for $7,500 when they purchase a plug-in vehicle that weighs no more than 14,000 pounds. Because the tax credits are limited to the first 200,000 vehicles sold by a specific automaker, EVs made by Tesla and General Motors no longer qualify for the incentive. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill would have raised the federal tax credit for American-made EVs to $12,500 and reopened eligibility for Tesla and GM vehicles, but the legislation is stalled in the U.S. Senate.
There are no state rebates for EV purchases in Florida, but several utilities offer their own incentives:
Kissimmee Utility Authority offers a $100 rebate to customers purchasing electric vehicles, as well as a $100 rebate for installation of a home charger.
JEA, Jacksonville’s public utility, offers a charging rebate of up to $7 each month to residential customers who charge their electric vehicles during off-peak hours. JEA also offers electrification rebates for commercial customers — including rebates of up to $17,000 for electric school buses, $100,000 rebates for electric transit buses and $5,200 in rebates for businesses that install level 2 charging stations for fleets, employees or the public.
OUC, Orlando’s municipal utility, provides customers with a $200 rebate after they purchase or lease a plug-in vehicle and will also give customers a $50 gift card if they test drive an EV at one of seven Orlando area dealerships.
HOV Lane Exemption
Electric and hybrid vehicles can be driven in high occupancy lanes at any time, regardless of the number of passengers in a vehicle. Cars must display a decal issued by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for a $5 annual fee. Vehicles traveling on the I-95 Express Lanes in Miami must also obtain an I-95 Express Hybrid decal from the South Florida Commuter Services program.
State Rep. Rick Roth points out that one advantage to operating an EV in Florida is that “batteries are more efficient in warmer temperatures.” Roth also points out a negative, however — more electric cars mean less money for Florida’s roads. The reason: Every 1% increase in EV adoption translates into a half-percent reduction in state transportation trust funds because of lost gas tax revenue, says Brad Thoburn, FDOT’s assistant secretary for strategic development.
Speaking to state lawmakers last fall, Thoburn said that revenue could dip 5.6% by 2040 under conservative EV growth scenarios or by as much as 20% if EV adoption accelerates. While at least 30 states charge registration fees for plug-in electric vehicles to make up for the lost road dollars, Florida lawmakers have been reluctant to do so. Last year, Sen. Jeff Brandes proposed legislation to levy a fee of $135 to register most electric cars and $235 for trucks and vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds. The proposal died in committee.
In Utah, an engineering research center known as ASPIRE (Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification) is testing an in-road wireless system that recharges vehicles while they drive. The Utah State University-based group is also collaborating with the Central Florida Expressway Authority on a pilot project that will install the technology along a one-mile stretch of the expressway authority’s new Lake/Orange Expressway, which will connect U.S. 27 to S.R. 429.
The technology relies on electromagnetic induction, which is produced by electric cables embedded in the concrete of the road. That generates a current that triggers a magnetic field stimulating a second electric current in equipment attached to the underside of the vehicle. While the $680-million road project is still in the design phase — with construction set to start in 2023 and finish in 2025 — Laura Kelley, executive director of Central Florida Expressway Authority, believes the pilot program could be a game changer for freight movement and the entire EV landscape. “With wireless charging in motion at highway speeds, it takes the battery question out of it,” she says. “In order to move semis at highway speeds, with clean, electric energy, it will require a solution like the one we’re talking about.”
Last year, Ocala put three electric garbage trucks in service — a first in Florida — and city officials are thrilled with the results. While the vehicles came with a hefty price tag of $525,000 apiece, they are generating significant savings. The emissions-free trucks consume about $30 of electricity per day — versus the $150 a day spent on fuel for their diesel counterparts. Combined with 76% lower maintenance costs, the city expects to save $270,000 over the lifetime of each vehicle. “As diesel fuel costs continue to increase, so will our savings,” says John King, director of fleet and facilities management for the city. The 70,000-pound vehicles are also stronger than their diesel counterparts, with 65% more horsepower, and they’re much quieter to boot. “The drivers love these trucks,” says Darren Park, the city’s public works director. “They’re quieter, much quieter.” The city will put two more electric garbage trucks into operation this year, bringing the total cost for the five-truck fleet to $2.6 million, $770,000 of which came from an EPA grant.
Months after emerging from bankruptcy, Hertz is betting big on electric cars. Last fall, the Estero-based rental giant announced it was purchasing 100,000 Tesla Model 3s — an investment of more than $4 billion that will make 20 percent of its fleet electric. More recently, it coled a $19-million investment in UFODrive, a European EV-only car rental company that allows customers to book and rent vehicles entirely through an app. The contactless process takes about two minutes.
Cenntro Automotive, a New Jersey-based manufacturer of light- and medium-duty electric commercial vehicles, is building a $25-million, 100,000-sq.-ft. assembly plant in northwest Jacksonville. The company — which is getting a $450,000 property tax rebate from the Jacksonville City Council — has manufactured and sold more than 3,600 commercial electric vehicles since 2017 and plans to produce 50,000 vehicles over the next four years at its Florida plant. Cenntro gets most of its revenue from sales of the Metro, a compact electric utility vehicle used for city services, such as street cleaning and last-mile delivery, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company manufactures “vehicle kits” for the Metro in China, which are then distributed to facilities in Europe and the United States for local assembly, according to its filings. Cenntro plans to assemble two new vehicle models — the CityPorter (an electric cargo van with a 220-mile range) and Terramak (an off-road electric utility vehicle with a 50-mile range) — at the Jacksonville plant.