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Electric vehicles begin to win over more diverse customers in Wisconsin

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Chuck Quirmbach
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WUWM
Anthony Cooper and Olivia Martinez with their 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV.

More makers of electric vehicles are showing signs of reaching out to a broader, more diverse group of customers. The change comes as there are indications in Wisconsin of some diversity among EV and gas-electric hybrid buyers.

The auto industry is investing billions of dollars in electric vehicles, expecting to raise the market share of EV sales from its current worldwide 2% to 10-12%. Maybe sales will grow much more over the next decade.

Some of the money is going into marketing, including television ads. For example, a current commercial from Cadillac, for its EV called the Lyriq, features Black actress and director Regina King.

In the ad, King says, "Cadillac is going electric. If you want to be bold, you have to go off-script."

Another example is Black singer and actress Janelle Monae, featured in a new ad for an EV made by Audi.

While the commercials could appeal to anyone, they come after criticism that the EV revolution has focused on more affluent, white buyers, and threatens to leave behind people of color.

Milwaukee residents Olivia Martinez, a Latina, and her husband Anthony Cooper, who's Black, say they have no intention of being left behind.

A few months ago, the couple bought a 2022 Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility Vehicle.

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Chuck Quirmbach
The Drive $mart Wisconsin meet-up in West Allis in early October.

At a recent West Allis meet-up of Drive $mart Wisconsin, a group promoted safe and fuel-efficient driving. There, Cooper said the Bolt, with a price tag of about $35,000, revived his interest in electric vehicles after some early Tesla models were much more expensive.

"The price just didn't feel fair. It's like, spending 50-60 grand on something I'm going to have to find charging stations for...it just didn't sit right with me," Cooper said.

Cooper said not only is the Bolt at a better price point, but Chevy also threw in the free installation of a faster home charging station that will only take about five hours to restore the Bolt's range of about 260 miles.

Cooper said he's keeping his gas-fueled pickup truck for longer trips. His wife, Olivia, said she will be driving the Bolt, and maybe they'll be role models for other people.

"In driving the EUV [Chevrolet Bolt Electric Utility Vehicle], since this is so rare still here in Milwaukee, we get those looks, 'Omigosh, what kind of car is that?' And then I think it also helps seeing that we're of color background. 'Oh, maybe I can afford something of newer years,'" Martinez said.

Martinez said the couple also hopes they're doing their bit to slow down and reduce global warming.

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Chuck Quirmbach
Dr. Jyot Soni with his 2017 Ford C-Max Energi.

Nearby at the Drive $mart meet-up was Appleton physician Jyot Soni. He drove his 2017 Ford C-Max Energi to the event.

Dr. Soni said the Ford could go for about 20 miles on batteries then has a gas engine for longer trips. The native of India said he has also convinced his sister to buy a hybrid.

"It's a change that's going to come from the ground up. It's certainly not the case that it's all Caucasian people buying alternate energy cars. If we're ever going to improve on climate change and move toward a greener future, everybody has to be part of it, regardless of race, religion, color or whatnot. But everybody should be part of it," Soni said.

Soni supports a proposal in Congress that allows buyers of electric vehicles to qualify for tax credits to cut their up-front cost. The idea is being held up by disagreements on Capitol Hill, including whether union-built vehicles would trigger more significant credits.

But the hope to diversify EV drivers will also depend on getting charging stations into more neighborhoods. For example, a Northwestern University study showed that mostly Black and Latino areas are "charging deserts" with little or no access to public chargers in Chicago.

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Chuck Quirmbach
A charging station charges an EV outside the Festival Foods in West Allis.

Lorrie Lisek of Wisconsin Clean Cities said a new program called Drive Electric Wisconsin, part of a multi-state effort funded by the U.S. Energy Department, will in part work with underserved communities.

For example, Lisek said she hopes to see more charging stations in non-white neighborhoods. "Absolutely! It'll give us the opportunity to address those issues. And, since we're working on a national level, we'll be able to draw on information from other parts of the country and what's being done," Lisek said.

Lisek said Drive Electric would also increase education and outreach about what appears to be the automotive future for many people: powering a car through means other than burning gasoline.

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