Aaron Turpen: Is Wyoming Ready For Electric Cars? It Needs To Be.
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
Published on April 21, 2022 in Aaron Turpen/Column
By Aaron Turpen, transportation columnist
The debate over electric vehicle (EV) adoption is ongoing and very politicized. The how, when, and (inevitably) the who are hot topics. Yet the question isn’t just about us. Wyoming has a $4 billion per year tourism industry. An industry that’s growing as more and more travelers come here to vacation. Electric vehicle adoption will most certainly affect us through them.
This makes the question of whether an electric vehicle is right for Wyoming a bit moot. Whether or not people here adopt them en masse, it’s feasible that a large number of those who visit us will have one. Especially as adoption in places like Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington begin adopting them in earnest. Places whose residents often come here to visit Yellowstone, Frontier Days, Devils Tower, and more.
According to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, 2021 had the best year yet for tourists visiting our state. We bested pre-pandemic numbers and it’s projected that 2022 will be even better. With a growing number of tourists comes a growing number of jobs related to tourism and the impacts those tourists will have on our state. About $4B was spent by tourists coming to Wyoming in 2021, with over 8 million tourists visiting.
The number of electric vehicles sold in the U.S. has been growing very quickly. In 2011, there were about 16,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles sold in the U.S. In 2021, there were 2.32 million.
With state and federal mandates and incentives likely to push the industry further and with automakers rolling out electric models by the literal truckload over the next couple of years, those numbers will continue their upward trend. Whether we agree it should happen or not, that’s where the industry is going.
How Prepared Is Wyoming?
So how prepared is Wyoming for this coming influx of EV drivers as tourists? Well, better than we could be, but not as good as we might hope.
There are currently about 56 publicly-available electric vehicle chargers in all of Wyoming. 39 of those are in Cheyenne. Of those 39, most are “slow” chargers, meaning they will take at least a day to charge most EV batteries to full.
Of the 11 fast chargers available, four are Tesla-only (located at Frontier Mall), four more are at car dealerships, and exactly none of them are downtown where tourists are most likely to park for food, socializing, and so forth.
The good news? Wyoming is a net power exporter, meaning we produce far more electricity than we actually use. Much of that gets sold to other states. So in terms of production and, for the most part, infrastructure to add more charging stations, we’re in good shape. That puts us a big step ahead of many of our nearby competitors who have some work to do before their infrastructure can handle too many visiting EVs.
Finally, we come to the question of how much time do we have before this becomes an issue. That’s a good question and one that isn’t as easy to answer.
Electric Vehicle Adoption In Wyo
When asked the question of how fast electric vehicle adoption is going to happen, there are political answers and there are realistic answers. Ask any industry insider and they’ll give you a political answer to be quoted and a realistic number off the record.
The realistic number is roughly 10 years to ten percent, 20 years to no turning back. Which means we have about a decade before electric vehicles are sold in such numbers throughout the U.S. that they’ll be a double-digit portion of the vehicles on the road.
And about two decades before they are a big enough portion of new car sales that they’ll impact everything else in the peripheral automotive industry (repair, fueling, resale markets) enough that there’s no turning back. Most of us in the industry then add another 20 years to full market penetration–the point where electric vehicles are the majority of the passenger vehicles on the road. New or used.
That gives the Cowboy State about a decade to get ready to be on the trendsetting side and about two decades to be on par.
Major tourist spots should have plans for electric vehicles and be implementing those plans over the next few years. Businesses, emergency responders, tourist destinations, etc. should definitely be gearing up to cater to the EV crowd.
Those that do not will be behind those who have and will be playing catchup instead of being ahead. We have the base infrastructure and the incentive. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s not a question of whether electric vehicles will “catch on.”
They are most certainly where we are headed. It’s a question of where in the timeline Wyoming wants to be: cutting edge, middle of the road, or late. Given what tourism does for the Wyoming economy, being ahead of the curve seems smart.
Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.