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Articles on Electric Vehicles

May 29, 2019
Paul Gipe

EVs in the Hoosier Heartland

As a former Hoosier and as an Electric Vehicle advocate I keep an eye on EV development in the state of Indiana. Yes, Indiana is the home of the arch-conservative vice president and former governor Mike Pence, but the red state's role in the automotive industry, and potentially in EVs, shouldn't be dismissed.

Columbus, Indiana is the home of Cummins Diesel, who has been testing an all-electric heavy truck that could rival Tesla's entry into the marketplace. And there has been a host of EV startups located in "business-friendly" Indiana where GM, Navistar, Subaru, Chrysler and Toyota all operate plants. BorgWarner, once a powerhouse gearbox manufacturer, now pushes its electric drive trains.

One of those ambitious startups is Workhorse, which currently builds electric utility vehicles at its plant in Union City, a small Hoosier town on the border with Ohio. Workhorse made waves in early May when it announced discussions with GM to use its closed Lordstown, Ohio plant to build EVs.

Despite all the EV business activity in the state, there are few EVs on the road. There are no incentives or subsidies and few DC Fast Chargers and the results reflect that. There are only 6,000 EVs registered in Indiana, one-sixth of those in California, relative to population. Seeing an EV on the road in the state is still a noteworthy event.

Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs.

The EV Capital of Indiana?

So, I was pleasantly surprised--while touring some of the state's historic sites--we stopped in New Harmony, Indiana. The erstwhile utopian settlement is off the beaten path in more ways than one. You're as likely to get run over by an errant golf cart in New Harmony as you are by a gasser. Golf carts are everywhere. The sole hotel in town rents them. It seems that every other house in the sleepy town of 800 has a golf cart.

One writer calls New Harmony a golf-cart utopia. In 2006, the town passed a golf-cart ordinance requiring the vehicles register with the city, and have taillights and headlights. By registering, golf carts have the run of the town. The local museum, the Richard Meier-designed Atheneum, uses golf carts to ferry visitors to various sites around town.

Not knowing better, my knee-jerk reaction was to label New Harmony the EV Capital of Indiana. Not so, says Richard Steiner, president of the Hoosier Electric Vehicle Association.

For one, Steiner doesn't consider golf carts EVs. Moreover, says Steiner, Blue Indy alone operates 190 EVs in the state's bustling capital, Indianapolis. The car-share company maintains 93 stations with 450 Level 2 charge ports across the city, including five stations at the airport and some at Indiana University's local campus in the far southern suburbs.

Limited Fast-Charging Network

Indianapolis is also home to the bulk of non-Tesla, DC fast-charging stations. There are a dozen DCFC stations in the Indy metro area, a city that bills itself as the crossroads of America. Many are operated by convenience store chain Ricker's.

Outside of Indy, there are few DCFC stations and few charging stations of any kind. There are no fast chargers in east-central Indiana where I am from, and the few Chevy dealers who have low-power "fast" charge stations, such as the one in Fort Wayne, have made them nearly inaccessible.

Surprisingly, Indiana has more DCFC stations per capita than liberal bastion New York State. But Indiana is a laggard otherwise. The state has only 3.7 DCFC stations per million inhabitants. Compare that with North American leader Oregon, with 25 stations per million people.

In this regard, VW's Dieselgate has been beneficial to the state. Electrify America has installed five stations in or near Indiana in its first cycle. EA's station in Indianapolis has a whopping eight kiosks.

If you live in Indy and drive electric, you can travel to most destinations in the state now that EA's stations are live. Most destinations are less than 200 miles. The exception, Lansing, would require an intermediate charge along the way.

Not Clear on the Concept

Some institutions in Indiana are unclear on the concept of how to promote or simply enable the use of EVs. For example, there may be more Level 2 charge stations in the state than shown on PlugShare.

Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana has half a dozen Level 2 stations on the campus but only one station shows up on PlugShare. And that station is shown as restricted, even though it is in a pay-as-you-go parking garage open to the public. If you have your PlugShare filters set to exclude private-use-only restricted stations, you would never know about this public charger.

Ball State commuters will only know about the Level 2 stations on campus if they study a busy pdf on the university's website or if they stumble across the stations as they're trying to find a place to park.

In contrast, Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, has eight Level 2 stations on or near campus, and all are listed as public stations on PlugShare.

Indiana University, like BSU, has only one restricted station on campus. They may, like BSU, have more stations, but a commuter will have to study the campus map to find them.

Worse yet, BSU makes a point on its website of emphasizing that they are using "electric cars" on campus as part of their "sustainability" plan. Well and good. BSU has made great strides on their sustainability plan by heating and cooling 43 campus buildings with North America's largest ground-source heat pump system that's an engineering marvel. But when I queried campus leaders about their experience with EVs, the response I got was unexpected. "Yes, we had one--once." The implication was that they'd been there, done that, and needn't take another look at it--despite the very clear statements on the university's website.

In an age where politicians--some notably from Indiana--maintain that truth is what they say it is and nothing more, it behooves academic institutions to hew to a higher standard. Otherwise, universities can use high-sounding words to falsely wrap themselves in a green cloak when the actuality is just more false posturing to deceive students, the public, and their donors.

Although Indiana has more EV development activity than most states outside California, it has a long way to go before it's EV-friendly. The Hoosier Electric Vehicle Association has its work cut out for it.

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