Around the region: Weaverville, other towns plan for EV future

LEADING THE CHARGE: Weaverville Police Chief Ron Davis hopes that shifting to electric vehicles will significantly reduce the department's fuel usage. Photo by Cindy Kunst

Small-town officials in Western North Carolina agree on one thing: Electric vehicles will be a big part of transportation planning in their communities.

But the specific approach to EVs varies from town to town. Weaverville, for instance, recently added two Mach-Es to its police fleet. Waynesville and Black Mountain have focused on building public charging stations while taking a more cautious approach to buying vehicles.

“We consider the conversion to electric vehicles as a process,” explains Rob Hites, town manager of Waynesville, which recently set a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. “We could simply jump headfirst into the market, but we prefer to let other people road test and see if there’s any issues with them before we buy them. But we’re committed to converting as much of our fleet as possible to electric.”

These towns all face challenges as they look for ways to reduce emissions, cut fuel costs and provide an infrastructure that supports EV owners. Concerns run from costs and availability to selling taxpayers on the benefits of EVs. It turns out adopting a new technology comes with some headaches. But officials say the effort of figuring it all out will be worthwhile.

“We know we are in a competition with other similarly sized mountain communities to attract tourists and would-be homebuyers,” says Willam Hite, chair of Waynesville’s Environmental Sustainability Board, which was created to help the town reach its 2050 goal. “The community that conveys to its residents the most climate-forward position, backed up by evidence-based policies, will be best positioned to excel in the 21st century.”

Jury is out

When Ron Davis became Weaverville’s police chief in 2019, he made reducing the department’s fuel costs a priority. To that end, the department added 11 hybrid Ford Police Interceptors to its fleet starting in 2020 and has phased out all but two fully gas powered vehicles.

The hybrids, which use gas and electricity, have allowed the department to cut fuel consumption from about 12,000 gallons a year to 9,000 and saved on maintenance costs, Davis says.

To build on that success, Davis and Town Manager Serena Coffey decided to purchase the two Ford Mustang Mach-Es and a Ford Lighting truck. They believe Weaverville is the first municipality in WNC to have fully electric police vehicles.

“We are a little ahead when it comes to EVs in law enforcement,” Coffey says.

The base cost for the Mach-Es was about $50,000, though Davis says the exact price of each vehicle is hard to calculate because each had to be upfitted with aftermarket radios, radar, modems and more. One was paid for with net profits from the Weaverville ABC store, which is owned and operated by a Town Council-appointed board. 

Putting the Mach-Es, which were purchased in September, into service has been a challenge. Until recently, the department had only one charging point available to service two cars. That changed when Weaverville added three charging stations at Town Hall for town government employees.

Also, supply chain issues have made it difficult to equip the vehicles with some necessary features.

“In the EV I’m driving right now, for example, there’s one cable that I was missing from a radio that connects the radio control head to the interface that’s mounted in the trunk,” Davis says. “I couldn’t use the radio. I don’t want to have an officer with a radio that doesn’t work in a car. But that doesn’t have anything to do with it being electric.”

He hopes having the EVs in the fleet this year will decrease fuel consumption to about 7,000 gallons.

Coffey says to make the EVs truly effective for law enforcement purposes, the town will have to find a way to eventually add some Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, which can add around 100-250 miles of range in 30-45 minutes. The town’s Level 2 chargers can add about 12-32 miles of driving range for each hour of charging.

“Let’s say our officers come into the office, and there’s an accident down the street,” she says. “They don’t have the time to sit and wait for a couple of hours to get the vehicle charged. So we really need the DC fast chargers, but those are very difficult to come by right now. And then paying for them is even more difficult.”

But despite such challenges, Coffey thinks Weaverville will continue to add EVs as it replaces fleet vehicles.

“I don’t foresee us going backwards,” she says. “We still have some hybrids that are not ready for replacement yet and won’t be for a few more years, but our goal is to eventually be 100% electric, at least in the Police Department.”

Weaverville has no current plans to add public charging stations, Coffey says.

“We found that places like Ingles and … places like that have many of them that are often sitting unused. And so we decided to bypass that,” she explains.  “I do expect that we’ll circle back to that at some point in time.”

Cautious approach

After Weaverville added its two police EVs, word spread fast to other Western North Carolina municipalities. Officials reached out to Davis and Coffey with questions: How were the police using them? How much did they cost? Were they reliable? How long did it take to charge them?

Waynesville Town Manager Hites was one of the officials who contacted Weaverville. The Haywood County town has had one EV — a Nissan Leaf — and some hybrids in its fleet for years, but those cars are mostly used for town administrative purposes.

Given costs and uncertainties about the technology, Hites says the town is not ready to take the plunge on buying more EVs yet, despite Waynesvilles’s pledge to be emission-free by 2050.

“We’ve been talking about it and are trying to develop a program where we can use police vehicles,” he says. “The issue that we’re facing is that we have to design a way where we can charge the vehicles given that the police officers take them home with them at night.”

The Town of Black Mountain is taking a similarly cautious approach to investing in EVs. In 2022, the Town Council adopted a policy saying purchasing EVs should be a priority when feasible  for its fleet. So far, though, the town has not bought any.

“Our goal is to be cognizant of climate change and try to act accordingly, but also not jump so quickly that we end up spending a lot more money and a lot more time on electric vehicles when they’re not quite ready yet,” Town Manager Josh Harrold says. “We do look at electric vehicle pricing as we’re getting our other vehicles, but there’s not a lot out there at this time.”

But despite cautious approaches about buying EVs, Waynesville and Black Mountain are taking other steps.

Over the summer, Waynesville installed a Level 2 charging station at its downtown parking lot and another at the Waynesville Recreation Center. More recently, it activated a fast-charging station at the parking lot. The chargers were paid for through state grants funded by North Carolina’s share of the 2016 Volkswagen settlement, an agreement between the German automaker and the federal government. The agreement resolvedclaims that VW violated the Clean Air Act by selling diesel vehicles that violated EPA standards. As part of the settlement, VW agreed to spend $2 billion to promote the use of zero emission vehicles and infrastructure.

“We didn’t have any public charging stations at all in Waynesville and we thought we needed to fill that gap,” Hites says “Now people that are shopping downtown will have access to get 150, 180 miles in 30 minutes at that [fast] charging station.”

Black Mountain has public charging stations at the Police Department, the Black Mountain Library and the Lakeview Center for Active Aging, Harrold says. The latter two were purchased through VW settlement money.

Hite, the chair of Waynesville’s Environmental Sustainability Board, says even more public charging stations are needed, and Waynesville and other towns should be more willing to spend municipal funds on them.

“Those of us leading the charge know that much more must be done to achieve carbon neutrality, but we are clear-eyed about the steps we must take to get there,” he says. “People come to your town, they want to charge, they want to sort of kill two birds with one stone, they want to eat, shop, and they want to charge their vehicles at the same time.”

The key for all cities and towns going forward is going to be explaining to taxpayers the financial advantages of clean-energy investments such as police cars, he contends.

“There are going to be people who scream that that money could have been spent on police officer salaries or something. And that’s a great opportunity for education because the cost of ownership is going to be less. It’s important that police officers who drive EVs talk to other police officers and police departments about it. I don’t know that the clarion call of climate change has really resonated in a more conservative area, but in small towns like Waynesville, cost savings to the taxpayer is where you can really get the public at large on board.”


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15 thoughts on “Around the region: Weaverville, other towns plan for EV future

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    EV usage just plummeted greatly and Ford stopped making EV trucks…can’t give them away…Tesla stock crashed over night…EV is NOT the coming thing.

    • Keith Thomson

      None of those statements, from the EE commenter Bot above, about vehicle Electrification are true, EV sales are growing 57% year over year, Ford hasn’t quit making the #1 selling Electric Pickup truck, their F150 lightning, and Tesla stock prices go up and down, especially with their hyperactive CEO wanting to comment on everything. What else is he wrong about?

      Electric Vehicle use saves on cost of fuel and maintenance, and EV prices are declining faster than expected, causing used car prices on EVs to become increasingly inviting.

      • T100

        According to Car and Driver, EVs typically lose more than $5,700 per year, for the first five years on average, and will end up costing owners about $28,500 in five years. Compare this to a gas-powered car, which typically loses less than $3,200 per year or $16,000 over five years.

        • Dave Erb

          New car depreciation is a feature, not a bug. With the average new car (EV and ICV alike) costing in the vicinity of $50K, a massive segment of society can’t afford to buy new. That loss of value is one of the few places in society where trickle-down economics actually works the way its proponents claim it does. And, of course, you only see the depreciation C&D cites if you sell in five years. It’s a very different comparison for people who keep their cars for longer periods of time.

        • Dave Erb

          Actually, as Keith pointed out above, EV demand is quite solid, up 57% year over year. Prices are declining because of increased supply, a.k.a. market competition. And most car buyers consider lower prices to be a good thing.

  2. Ciara

    Well, though EV sounds good, I’m certainly concerned to learn that the buses that Asheville purchased aren’t really working out with the company they purchased from going belly-up, can’t get parts, can’t charge them easily, and then learning that cold weather really effects EVs – certainly not what you’d want for emergency vehicles.

  3. WNC

    “Jan 11 (Reuters) – Rental firm Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ.O), opens new tab is selling about 20,000 electric vehicles, including Teslas, from its U.S. fleet about two years after a deal with the automaker to offer its vehicles for rent, in another sign that EV demand has cooled.
    Hertz will instead opt for gas-powered vehicles, it said on Thursday, citing higher expenses related to collision and damage for EVs even though it had aimed to convert 25% of its fleet to electric by 2024 end.”
    Hertz expects to write off about 1/4 billion for the experiment. Sales plummeted on EV’s in the last quarter 2023 and production has been slated to plummet during 2024.

    • Dave Erb

      Hertz’s wound was mostly self-inflicted. A couple I met recently rented a Tesla from Hertz, partly because the price was attractive, partly because the husband was curious about EVs. Because the wife was leery, they contacted the Blue Ridge EV Club to see if anyone might give them a little intro before they took their trip, which is how we met. It was a good thing we did. When they arrived in Tucson, Hertz handed them the key to a partially charged car and shooed them away with almost zero information about charging or any of the other Tesla idiosyncracies. Not exactly a recipe for customer satisfaction.

      If anyone else is interested in getting a true understanding of EVs from people who actually know what they’re talking about, please contact the Blue Ridge EV Club. We’d love to hear from you.

      • WNC

        Lots of extra cost
        Higher repair cost
        Higher insurance cost
        Lower resale value
        It could be self inflicted if you consider not anticipating these extra cost self inflicted.

        This article doesn’t mention much shorter driving range if you want heat when it’s cold or air conditioning when it’s hot. Lack of charging stations. Greatly hampered ability to charge when it’s cold.

        If you aren’t on a schedule or drive shorter distances and return to your home charger at night . This might be worth considering if you can afford unanticipated expenses.

        This may be a viable options for the masses someday but not today. There are many other issues to over come, just ask Asheville about their $1,000,000 buses.

  4. Rudy Beharrysingh

    I commend the Weaverville PD for jumping into the 21st century and investing in EVs for their fleet. They are a beacon of light to other forces and to the public by making such a bold move! Since 2016, the EV sales only dropped between 2018 and 2019. Post pandemic EV sales have grown exponentially. All car sales are generally lower in winter, but in 2023 there were 1.6 million EV sales up from 1 million in 2022. That’s a 60% increase in EV sales in one year! Hertz is selling off 20,000 EVs, but car rental companies always sell off their older cars. That’s good news if you are in the market, since you might get a good deal on an EV from Hertz – so much for EVs being expensive! I am not sure where the above data for savings came from, but personally over the course of 10 years, I saved over $20,000 by driving electric: no gas, no oil changes, no muffler replacement, no timing belts, no spark plugs, no transmission to worry about. As the Weaverville Police may agree – you just push the button and go! Now, if you’ve ever driven a Mach-E you know that it is like warp speed, captain! Furthermore, there is something else that may concern us all and that is the environment which is a reason why townships are making this shift. EVs are much cleaner for the environment even if we plug into the grid. The data is quite clear on this issue. I hope other townships follow Weaverville PD’s leadership. Their story makes me proud to live in a region that chooses to move forward and not be afraid to do the right thing!

  5. Keith Thomson

    My 2020 Chevy Bolt is the best car I have owned in over forty eight years of driving. Charging, driving local, taking trips, and hauling a trailer it covers all of my personal and business driving needs, in all weather and driving conditions I have to address.

    I wonder what motivates the people who are desperately trying to gin up and declare failure of American technological innovations and growing manufacturing in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

  6. WNC

    Yes Rudy rental car companies sell their cars off. In this case they’re replacing them with gas burners because of the extra expenses incurred with EV’s. If they were braking even or making more with EV’s they would have not have replaced them with gas burners.

  7. John P.

    Asheville is now the laughing stock of the entire nation as the story of the buses is hitting the main stream news this week. I thought about this story that appeared on Mountain X. I’m unsure if it is wise to use EV’s for first responders.

  8. Rudy Beharrysingh

    1. Hertz is replacing with gas cars since the number of accidents and the cost of repairing Teslas after an accident was high. Firstly renters were probably abusing the 0 to 60 instantaneous torque of the car (showing off) and not be able to control it. Before you drive an EV too far, you should probably get some experience with it.

    2. Teslas will of course cost a few good dollars to repair.

    3. EV rentals are great from sites like Turo, where the patrons can interact with the owners and get to know the ins and outs before taking the car.

    4. Amazon is running Rivian EV trucks for delivery across the nation including this area.

    5. Walmart is using Ford Transit EVs for delivery. Maybe you’ve seen them around?

    6. Buncombe county might become laughing stock of nation by not allowing Electric School buses into their fleet. If it’s good enough for Miami-Dade, Decalb, and Cherokee county in the mountains, what’s up with us? Have you ever measured the particulate matter from diesel school buses? And we let our kids ride in them?

    6. EVs make great first responders – very fast and much better handling – with experience of course.

    7. As for money, yes upfront costs of EVs seem higher, but right now you can buy a used Chevrolet Bolt maybe around 15K to 20K (plus get a tax credit). That car would save you an average of $1200 per year in gas and maybe $400 in maintenance per year. You will never have to replace the muffler, change the oil, flush the radiator, replace the water pump, flush the transmission or even worse rebuild the transmission nor change any plugs, nor timing belt, to name a few things. By the time the range is reduced enough where you want something different, you would have saved enough money to buy a new battery or a new car. And that battery in the car is 95% recyclable. Have we been able to recapture burnt gasoline yet?
    Your emissions will be much lower than even a regular Prius. This is worth $$$ in health. You can read this report from the American Lung Association here:

    8. Everyone burning what took millions of years to create in the span of 300 years is a total waste of what was once an abundant inheritance. Keep the oil for when we really need it, not just to move our little selves around.

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