Tony Federico bought his Tesla Model 3 in 2018. A former Marine who votes Republican, Federico said he was drawn by the cool technology and the chance to save money on gas.
“I think selfishly it was, you know, how is this going to help my pocketbook,” he said from his living room one recent morning. Environmental concerns were “not really” on his radar, said the head of the local Tesla owners club.
Electric vehicles are often associated with liberal coastal types who speak of saving the planet. But in this Republican stronghold north of Dallas, more and more people are deciding that driving an EV is just common sense. As Jeanne Whalen said in The Washington Post.
In Collin County, home to Plano, EV market share is well above the national average and growing fast, reaching 8.7 percent of new-vehicle registrations last year, according to S&P Global Mobility. In neighboring Denton County, also reliably red, EVs grew to 7.3 percent of the market. Nationwide, electric cars were about 6.2 percent of new-vehicle registrations last year.
Some EV buyers in the Plano area expressed concern about the climate, but most said they were drawn by the performance, style and high-tech features of the vehicles — and the convenience and savings of avoiding the gas pump.
Allen, a Republican voter who lives in nearby Frisco, works as a property manager in Dallas’s Uptown neighborhood. A year ago, hers was the only EV parked at one of the residential buildings she manages. Now there are half a dozen.
For the Biden administration, it doesn’t really matter why drivers choose EVs, so long as they choose them. Rapidly scaling up EV adoption is a centerpiece of the administration’s green-energy agenda, which is using tax credits and other incentives to try to make plug-in vehicles account for half of new vehicle sales by 2030. Hitting that target would mean reducing U.S. greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions by up to 9 percent by 2030, according to Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.
Nationwide, most of the counties with the highest EV uptake are predictably blue and often high-income, but pockets of red are springing up. Florida’s St. Johns County, home to St. Augustine; Indiana’s Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis; North Carolina’s Union County, southeast of Charlotte; New Jersey’s seaside Monmouth County; and California’s Kern County, home to Bakersfield, are among the areas that voted for Trump in 2020 and had higher-than-average EV market-share growth last year, S&P data shows.
Conservative support for green energy isn’t a totally new phenomenon, says Neal Farris, a left-leaning photographer and EV enthusiast in Dallas who promotes the vehicles at auto shows and Earth Day events. “One of the people I quote a lot is T. Boone Pickens,” he said, referring to the oil billionaire and longtime Republican donor who embraced renewable energy late in life. “He said, ‘Yeah, let’s do solar, let’s do wind, because if we do, then the oil will last longer.’”
To be sure, there are plenty of regions in Texas where EV skepticism remains high and chargers are tough to find. Federico volunteers with a Christian ministry group that visits prisoners near small-town Palestine, Tex., and he makes sure to charge up at home before driving. “I couldn’t plug in there if I wanted to,” he said.
And the powerful oil and gas lobby still holds a lot of sway in the state, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, head of the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance.
But even some Republican lawmakers who have long supported the oil-and-gas industry have begun sponsoring a few bills that favor EVs, partly because their wealthy constituents are buying the cars, Smith said. “They are seeing [EVs] all over the Republican communities,” he said. “And they are seeing them with people who are seen as political and intellectual leaders in their communities.”
One Republican-sponsored bill recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbott fast-tracks infrastructure upgrades to support charging, among other things. Another awaiting the governor’s signature would ensure that public chargers clearly post their pricing. A third recently signed into law, however, creates a $400 registration fee for EV drivers and a $200 annual renewal fee thereafter, to recoup money that drivers aren’t paying through gasoline taxes.
Buzz Smith, an electric advocate in Fort Worth who calls himself “The EVangelist,” said he has had executives from Exxon and other oil companies approach him at auto shows and whisper their interest in electrification. “They say they are retiring and their next car will be an EV,” he said.
“If you’ve driven [an EV], you’ve realized how convenient they are to own and drive,” said Emr, an engineer and racecar driver who has a Rivian SUV on order. His father-in-law, a longtime Ford driver who favored pickup trucks and SUVs, recently bought Ford’s electric Mustang Mach E. “No more gas station trips, no more oil changes. No more maintenance, no drips in your garage, no smells. Everything just works.”