Electric vehicle usage set to zoom toward advocacy group’s goal

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DriveElectricTN shooting for 200,000 EVs on Tennessee roads by 2028

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Dave Hrivnak remembers his surprise when he calculated his personal carbon footprint several years ago.

“It wasn’t below average, it wasn’t average — it was above average,” the retired Eastman Chemical employee said.

“Here I was understanding what’s going on with global warming and I’m part of the problem,” Hrivnak said. “So when I figured out that cars were the biggest offender for us we got an electric car.”

Since then, the driver of a Tesla 3 has become a major advocate for EVs, or electric vehicles. He serves on the local chapter of DriveElectricTN, an advocacy group that has partnerships and support spanning the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), TVA and more.

The group, which held an EV “ride and drive” event at Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport Thursday, is likely to become less a voice in the wilderness and more the rider of a growing wave.

Dave Hrivnak at an EV fast-charge station in Kingsport, Tenn.

The environmental benefits are certainly top of mind for many. Hrivnak said the “pounds per mile” of EVs, even using the TVA grid, is 0.2 pounds per mile. An internal combustion car getting 25 miles to the gallon releases five times that amount.

“If you can reduce your emissions by 75, 80 percent that’s a solid step in the right direction,” Hrivnak said.

“You pair that with solar on your roof, now you’re talking about driving emission free. So from an environmental standpoint it’s a real solid step forward.” 

Hrivnak knows of nearly 100 EV owners in the Tri-Cities but said “I believe it’s going to be exploding.”

That’s certainly the assessment of Champion Chevrolet co-owner Andy Dietrich, who sat in one of several all-electric Chevy Bolts on the lot. He said the model will be joined by many more options soon.

“I would say in the next three years we will probably have about a third of our vehicles be electric,” Dietrich said of the dealership.

Champion Chevrolet’s Andy Dietrich said the Chevy Bolt he was sitting in will be joined by many more models soon.

“In five years, probably half. EVs are coming. All cars are going to be electric at some point in time in the next 15 to 30 years.”

That’s music to Hrivnak’s ears, but also no surprise to him. He said as major carmakers enter the market using the basic platform developed by Tesla, people will be surprised at the benefits beyond environmental advantages.

Cost of ownership, for starters.

“You’re getting your fuel for like the equivalent of 85 cents a gallon,” Hrivnak said. “There’s literally no maintenance on the cars.” 

When drivers take their foot off the accelerator the motor turns into a generator harvesting power so they almost never use the brakes.

“There’s no pressurized cooling system. There’s no belts. There’s no tuneups. No air filters, no spark plugs.”

Nissan Leaf driver Meghan Keith-Hynes of Johnson City laughed when asked about maintenance expense for her 2018 Model.

“Maintenance? None. No oil changes, nothing.”

Then there’s the performance aspect.

“The performance of an electric vehicle is absolutely unmatched,” Hrivnak said. “It is immediate torque right off the line.” 

Because the batteries are underneath the weight of car is below the center line of the wheels, “so it’s extremely good handling. 

“You have a car that handles as good as a Formula 1 racer and accelerates better than a Corvette but is cheaper to run than a Prius.” 

Keith-Hynes and her husband Patrick still use a Prius for trips to Nashville.

Meghan Keith-Hynes

“There really is sort of a desert of charging opportunities on the way to Nashville,” she said.

She and Dietrich both said more infrastructure is needed in the way of charging stations — just the kind of thing DriveElectric Tennessee is working on.

“We’re going to have to have more charging stations installed,” Dietrich said. “In public places, shopping centers, restaurants.”

The Keith-Hynes’s tool around the Tri-Cities no problem though the Leaf has a smaller range than many current models at 150 miles. But they can go to Asheville, N.C. and back no problem partly because of the infrastructure there.

“We can plug it into a high speed charger there and then have enough charge to make it back,” she said.

“It’d be great if there were a high speed charger that could charge you up in a half hour. The charger at the (Johnson City) library is about a two-hour charging endeavor, which is fine. But I think people would enjoy having a high-speed charger.”

With the government pushing the transition forward for climate change reasons and the major manufacturers pouring billions into making the change, the infrastructure is likely to come.

“Just this year we saw the really nice Mach E Mustang (an SUV) that’s now shipping,” Hrivnak said. “The VW ID.4 (a compact SUV) is another credible, nicely laid out car.” 

“You’re gonna have pickup trucks that are all electric, Ford has announced that they’re gonna have an all-electric pickup.” 

Hrivnak’s not overly concerned about the impact on job availability. He sees more of a shift, with a boom in electrician demand for installation of home and community charging stations among the new opportunities.

Home is where the fueling is, mostly, for Hrivnak and the Keith-Hynes’s.

“You wake up every morning to a full battery,” Hrivnak said. “You’re not trying to rush in to a gas station.” 

Meghan Keith-Hynes sees that as a huge benefit.

“I love not going to the gas station,” she said. “On a personal aesthetic level. Not handling that gunk.” 

Champion’s Dietrich expects home charging to be the case for most people. The typical buyer adds on a home 240-volt charger, which average around $1,000.

“The cars come with a 110-volt plug, which takes about twice as long,” he said.

Dietrich was sitting in a premier model Bolt – price range in the mid 40s. He said with discounts a buyer can get prices down into the $30,000s easily for the compact car.

“As technology becomes more readily available the price on electric vehicles will drop,” he said.

Hrivnak believes the result will be millions of very happy drivers over the coming decade.

“Not only did it cut our emissions greatly, but they are absolute a blast to drive,” he said. “When we had to get milk – I’d be like, ‘hey, I’ll go take the car and I’ll go drive it,’ because it truly was fun.” 

He said a decade later he’s still having fun driving electric, and encouraging people to attend a ride and drive event or ask an owner about their experience.

“See their experiences, how they’re saving money, how they enjoy driving, how the cars are so responsive.”

Hrivnak likened it to the difference between getting on an older small prop plane at the airport and getting on a jet. 

“To me the electric cars are the jets and the internal combustion engines are like the old prop planes.” 

More information about the state effort is at:

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