Quiet Luxury

The Electric Vehicle Revolution Is Here. What Does It Mean for Sarasota?

There are now more than 3 million EVs on American roads, with more to come.

By Matthew Gutierrez September 25, 2023 Published in the July-August 2023 issue of Sarasota Magazine

The first thing you notice when you drive an electric vehicle: It’s so quiet. No combustion means no exhaust, no emissions and very little sound. But while you may not hear an EV coming, you’ll definitely see it. A quick glance along Sarasota’s Main Street tells you just how much EV popularity in Florida, and particularly in Sarasota, has soared over the last few years.

And we’re not alone. EVs are upending the automobile status quo, thanks partly to action by the federal government. Since President Biden took office, the White House says EV sales have tripled, and the number of available charging ports has grown by more than 40 percent. There are now more than 3 million EVs on American roads, with more to come.

While Tesla has received most of the attention from EV-curious Americans, other automakers have been or soon will be flooding the market with options. In addition to sedans, the lineup includes pickup trucks, vans and SUVs. Tesla itself is expected to release its Cybertruck, the cost of which could start at about $50,000, while electric SUVs from Hyundai, Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen, Subaru and Toyota are expected to range from about $40,000 to $55,000, most of which are at least 10 percent more expensive than a comparable gas-powered vehicle.
But costs are coming down rapidly. You can now buy a second-hand EV without breaking the bank, and new EV tax credits created by the Inflation Reduction Act could help you save up to $7,500.

Ford has pledged that by 2030, 40 percent of its global sales will be EVs, while General Motors, Volkswagen and Toyota have also set ambitious benchmarks. According to the International Energy Agency, almost one in five cars sold worldwide this year will be electric, and global sales last year topped 10 million. The surge in demand for battery-powered models means EVs will account for 18 percent of global car sales this year, up from just 4 percent in 2020, per the agency’s annual outlook. Florida has been particularly welcoming to EVs; altogether, California, Texas, Florida and Arizona are home to roughly half of the EVs on the country’s roads.

So what’s all the fuss about? To find out, I recently drove two friends’ EVs—a Honda and a Tesla. The silence and comfort of each struck me. I’m no car buff, but they accelerated well, felt safe and charged up within 25 minutes. And while I had to wait a few minutes for an open charger at Whole Foods Market, I found most people’s worries about charging to be overblown.

I also spoke with several local EV owners, from whom I heard tales about lower maintenance costs, higher electric bills and no regrets. Many said they do the bulk of their charging at home from a plug in their garage, and a full charge can cover anywhere from 250 to 350 miles, a range that’s more than enough for 95 percent of the average driver’s trips. But what about longer getaways? Drivers told me they glance at various mapping apps designed to help them find chargers. Pins appear to indicate charging stations, whether at shopping areas, public garages or rest stops off interstate highways.

“I look forward to driving mine,” David Lough, who lives in the Rosemary District, told me. He started with a hybrid Ford and now drives a long-range Tesla Model Y that gets about 270 miles per charge. Lough, a former engineer, grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, in the mid-1960s. He worked two summers in a Ford Motor Company plant. “Cars are in my blood,” he says. He plugs in his Tesla every night in his garage and delights in no longer dealing with gas stations. “You’re around fewer chemicals and fuels,” he said. “It feels freeing.”

One of the most common questions from people who are interested in buying an EV but hesitant to pull the trigger is how easy it is to find a recharge. Lough told me there are plenty of options. According to ChargeHub, a website that maps charging stations, the Sarasota area is home to well over 100 stations, and they can be found at most hotels, Selby Public Library, Whole Foods, the University Town Center mall, City Hall and beyond.

But the charging infrastructure still has a long way to go. Americans will not flock to EVs until the networks improve and chargers become as ubiquitous as gas stations. There are nearly 20,000 Tesla charging outlets strategically placed across the country, but, for now, non-Tesla models don’t use the same plugs, which creates a confusing mix of nozzles for non-Tesla owners, who have far fewer stations to choose from. (Tesla co-founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk has indicated that other EVs may soon be able to use Tesla chargers.) Overall, while there are thousands of charging outlets out there, the number pales in comparison to the 125,000 gas stations spread across the U.S.

Eric Johnston of Wellen Park bought a Tesla Model Y in 2020. He answers emails and catches up on messages while his car is charging, which takes about 35 minutes. “You do have some range anxiety,” he says of longer trips. “But the benefits far outweigh the cons. You go from thousands of moving parts in a combustion car to such a simple vehicle.”

When Johnston built a new home, he added a Tesla solar panel system that powers both his home and his vehicle. When he stops in at Costco, he sets the car to “dog mode,” which keeps his dog Chester cool while he shops. The typical cost to use a public Tesla charger is about $15, versus $30 and up for gasoline. Because Johnston loves the vehicle so much, he even launched a Facebook page for Tesla drivers in Sarasota.

“It’s software on wheels,” Johnston says. “It feels like you’re driving a laptop.”
In conversation, a few drivers cited environmental reasons for switching to an electric vehicle. They know EVs are a key part of dealing with the climate crisis. Transportation accounts for almost a third of U.S. carbon emissions, and cars and trucks make up the bulk of that. EVs, over their lifetime, produce less than half the emissions of gas-powered cars.

Robert Selby owns an auto repair and customization business in Bradenton called The Shop. He told me that “EVs used to be elitist, snob-like vehicles,” but today’s drivers rave about not needing oil changes, spark plugs or gas stations. Still, he noted that it can be tough to find a charge sometimes and that replacing an EV battery can cost more than $10,000. “I’ve been in line where there were 28 drivers and only 14 chargers,” Selby says. “The charging infrastructure isn’t keeping up with EVs.”

One day in 2014, Rich Garrett of University Park was visiting the University Town Center mall to upgrade his iPhone. A Tesla showroom was nearby, so he popped in, liked what he saw and went for a test drive. He bought a Model S and fell in love with its silence, plus the savings that came along with not having to fill up a tank. He came to appreciate the Tesla’s safety features when he drove home from the airport and the car sensed a biker he didn’t see and dodged him.

“It took action before me,” Garrett says. “It’s a better driver than I am. It’s a smart car that’s safe, and it’s a blast to drive.”

For Phil Jones, who also drives a Tesla Model S, long trips haven’t been a problem. He’s driven to Louisville and Key West and through Alligator Alley with zero stress over finding a charging station. His electric bill rose about 50 percent per month, but he told me it’s still significantly less expensive than what he was paying at the pump.

The same applies to Kathy and Lexi Gilbert, who live downtown and drive a pre-owned Kia Noro. They feel good about not driving a vehicle that spews pollutants into the air and estimate they save about $100 per month on gas and oil changes.

“We were spending $100 a week on gas,” Kathy told me. “Now we spend $100 a month on electricity, if that. I’m fascinated by the technology and feel like it’s the future.”

Filed under
Show Comments