OEC, Fowler partner to make electric vehicles more affordable

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Brian Gwinner poses for a photo with his 2018 Pruis Prime. Starting this month, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative members who buy an electric vehicle from Fowler Automotive will receive a free Level 2 in-home charger, a $500 value.

The Oklahoma Electric Cooperative and Fowler Automotive are partnering together to make electric vehicles more accessible.

The partnership provides a free in-home Level 2 charger, worth $500, to any OEC member who buys a fully electric vehicle from any Fowler Automotive dealership, according to Autumn McMahon, OEC manager of marketing and member relations, and Fowler President Jonathan Fowler.

Fowler said the rebate begins this month.

“We have really focused on electric vehicles here at OEC. It's an exciting new opportunity. It's a great time savings for our members,” McMahon said, adding that the company began working with Fowler over the course of the past six to eight months last year. “He has just been a phenomenal partner. Fowler Automotive is always looking for ways to serve their end consumer, and this is just another opportunity that they are capitalizing on.”

Fowler said electric vehicles that the dealership currently offers include the Toyota Prius Prime, Volkswagen e-Golf, Honda Clarity and Insight. Fowler Automotive also offers hybrids, for those not quite ready to dive into the electric market.

Currently, McMahon said OEC has one electric fleet vehicle owned by the cooperative, and they have two Level 2 chargers and two Level 3 chargers at their office, 242 24th Ave. NW in Norman, that are available for any resident to drive up and use. The chargers work on full-electric and hybrid vehicles.

The difference is Level 2 and Level 3 chargers is the charging speed, she said.

“Essentially, the higher the level, the faster it charges. So, basically, with a Level 2 charger, I can charge my car to full in about eight hours; with a Level 3, it takes about an hour,” McMahon said, adding that a full charge should last for 250 miles of driving.

Fowler said Francis Solar has been steadily rolling out charging stations across Oklahoma, making it one of the top five states for access to electric vehicle charging.

The Plug Share app allows residents to see nearby electric vehicle chargers, McMahon said.

“Within Oklahoma, and this is an exciting statistic, you are within 25 to 50 miles of a Level 3 charger. So you can drive across the state without any concern that you will have access to charging,” she said.

The recent increase in the number of charging stations has helped ease range anxiety, Fowler said.

McMahon said the partnership is an effort to help interested OEC members get an electric vehicle, if they decide that's the right choice for them.

“So we really have jumped into the market as a means to better understand how electric vehicles work, what that looks like in the day to day and be a resource for our member consumers. That's why we own a fleet vehicle electric vehicle, and that's why we're looking for opportunities to partner with people like Fowler Automotive,” she said.

McMahon believes electric vehicles “present an exciting new way to drive” and, despite a slightly higher initial price point, offer greater cost-savings and less wear and tear on vehicles.

However, Fowler said electric vehicles used to cost more, but prices have dropped some over time, and the market is competitive.

“We fill up our electric vehicle about once every two to three weeks, and it costs us about $5. So you compare with a gas engine where you're filling up for, what, $30 to $40 a time. So there's a monumental cost savings in the expense you have as an individual to fill your car,” McMahon said.

She added that there's time savings, too, since owning an electric vehicle and having the means to charge at home overnight eliminates the need to drive to a gas station.

“I also am not having to do oil changes, because it doesn't have oil, so the wear and tear on your car is less. You also have opportunities in some models to do some alternative forms of braking that make your brake pads last longer,” she said.

McMahon stressed that the point of the partnership isn't to tell members that they should buy electric vehicles but rather to be a resource for them if they make the decision to buy one.

McMahon said she has received a steady flow of requests for a rebate for chargers on electric vehicles. However, according to a report released by Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, the market share in the state is relatively small. Of all the cars on the road, a little less than 1% of them are electric.

“The market share is low, so that's why we are working with OEC to push the number higher,” Fowler said.

McMahon cited several reasons for the statistic.

“One is it's a new technology, and prior to 2019, we didn't have the charging and structure in the state that we do now,” and electric vehicles offerings have been limited in the past, she said.

McMahon said this year, a lot of large brands like Ford, Chevy, GMC and other big players in the market have started offering additional electric vehicle options. Current offerings include the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf.

McMahon said one of her colleagues has pre-ordered a fully electric SUV.

“What we anticipate seeing in Oklahoma, we want to drive SUVs and trucks. We are seeing a lot more of those options out on the market, and that's what we think will really kind of move the needle on the percentage of people who drive those,” McMahon said.

Fowler said SUVs are starting to come out from Toyota and Volkswagen, and Ford introduced a fully electric F-150 prototype last year in Norman.

McMahon said a launch date hasn't been set for the F-150, but she anticipates a release by 2021.

Fowler said most residents interested in buying electric vehicles have bought them in person versus online, because “electric vehicle technology is so new that most people want to touch and feel the vehicles.”

He reported that manufacturers are set to increase their electric vehicle offerings over the next five years.

With electric vehicles being discussed more in the media and pop culture, Fowler said he predicts that the popularity of electric vehicles will grow.

“We will see savings as climate change debate changes to action. It's a more efficient way of designing in the future,” he said.

Regarding future electric vehicle technology, Fowler said he foresees a development of a greater range in battery power, extended battery life and more towing power in trucks.

McMahon said the energy that OEC currently provides to its members is about 50% renewable, including wind, solar and other forms.

“What we are really proud of here at OEC is we strive really hard to make sure that we are offering electricity that comes from a good mix of traditional sources of energy, like coal or oil and gas and renewable energy,” she said. “We at Oklahoma Electric Cooperative are really excited to be a trusted energy advisor for our member consumers. This electric vehicle offering is just another way we can do that.”

Regarding other future vehicle technology, Fowler said fully autonomous vehicles are still 20 to 40 years down the road. Also, Toyota is working on hydrogen fuel cell technology that will reduce carbon emission, but it's not done yet.

Fowler said he is thankful to the OEC and appreciates their partnership.

For more information about electric vehicles, visit okcoop.org or watch OEC's #Evmoments on their Facebook page.

Jamie Berry

Follow me @JamieStitches13

jberry@normantranscript.com

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