A few weekends ago, University of Maine Economics Professor Jonathan Rubin loaded up his car and set off for his sister’s house on Cape Cod. The journey would have taken a bite out of most drivers’ wallets, but Rubin didn’t need to worry about the price of gas: His Volkswagen ID.4 is one of a growing number of fully electric cars on Maine roads.

While the vehicle saved Rubin money, it also complicated his trip. Unable to make the 350-mile journey on a single charge, he needed to plan his route carefully or risk getting stranded between charging stations.

For Rubin, who has studied the economics of fuel-efficient vehicles for over 20 years, it was no problem. He stopped at the West Gardiner charging station, grabbed a cup of coffee from Starbucks, checked a few emails and was back on the road within 30 minutes. That wait still illustrated a problem he said needs to be fixed.

“No one’s going to buy an electric vehicle unless it’s convenient,” he said.

Millions of dollars in state and federal funds are currently working to promote electric vehicle adoption, both by incentivizing EV purchases and by improving the state’s network of charging stations, according to Molly Siegel, Efficiency Maine’s electric vehicle program manager.

2021’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $19 million dollars to build high-speed charging stations in highly traveled corridors in Maine, Siegel said. Efficiency Maine, which has partnered with the Maine Department of Transportation on the project, hopes that drivers soon will be able to charge their electric vehicles every 50 miles on Interstate 95, I-295, Route 1, Route 2 and other major roads.


The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law this week, could incentivize individual consumers to switch to electric vehicles by extending a federal tax credit worth up to $7,500. That could stack with an Efficiency Maine rebate of up to $2,000, resulting in significant savings for buyers.

“Tax credits are hugely important, and extending them into the 2030s is crucial,” Siegel said. “(Electric vehicles) are not going to become instantly more affordable overnight, so we are going to need subsidies for the foreseeable future.”

According to “Maine Won’t Wait,” the state’s climate plan, Maine must increase the number of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids on the road to 219,000 by 2030 in order to meet its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 45%. That’s an ambitious goal for a state that currently has only about 7,000 EVs, according to Siegel.

Yet according to local dealers, there’s no shortage of demand for eco-friendly vehicles.

Customers at Lee Toyota in Topsham have overwhelmingly sought plug-in electric hybrids since the price of gas began spiking in 2021, according to General Manager Tom Santospago.

“Without exaggeration, 80% want hybrid,” he said. “It’s crazy.”


Plug-in hybrids like the RAV 4 Prime operate as fully electric vehicles for up to 40 or 50 miles before shifting to gasoline to run as a fuel-efficient hybrid. According to Santospago, customers are regularly willing to wait 18 months for a hybrid, even when the gas-only version might be available in three.

“They’re looking for a compromise,” he said. “I go to work, I drive 20 miles each way, I don’t have to spend a dime on gas. But if I need to hop on my car and go to Manhattan, I don’t have to worry about charging stations.”

Supply chain problems, which are particularly pronounced in the EV market, have helped keep the number of eco-friendly cars from surging, according to Larry Davis, general manager of Morong Brunswick, which sells Volkswagens.

“That demand is there,” he said. “I very seldom actually have (an ID.4) on the lot available.”

Even without the ability to test drive the vehicle, about 25 buyers have put down deposits and are waiting for their ID.4s, he said.

Davis, like others in the industry, worries that a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act could backfire and reduce demand by limiting the $7,500 federal tax credit to American-made cars, which make up only a small portion of the current EV market.


“Will that change things?” Davis asked. “Yes, it will change things. All of a sudden, you’re losing $7,500 that you thought you were going to get.”

Other problems need to be fleshed out as well, according to Rubin, who pointed out that apartment-dwellers without garages might find charging electric vehicles to be a hassle, even in towns like Brunswick, which has a half-dozen public charging stations. Even with state and federal rebates, many middle-class buyers can’t afford even the cheapest EVs, partly because the technology is too new for a robust used market.

Still, Santospago is betting on electric. He just paid $100,000 to upgrade the charging system at Lee Toyota, anticipating that it will be an even bigger part of his business in the future.

“I think it’s a wise investment,” he said. “We’ll find out. Call me back in five years.”

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