The news that Tesla is coming to New Hampshire – probably, at least – is the latest indication that life is changing for New Hampshire’s auto dealerships as electric vehicles take center stage. But it’s not the only one.
“Prepping for EVs (electric vehicles) has been weighing heavily on everybody’s mind – from training of existing technicians, also the upcoming technicians in New Hampshire’s community colleges or New Hampshire’s high schools … to what chargers they need,” said Pete McNamara, executive director of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association.
Electric vehicle sales are still small in the U.S. – roughly 1.8% of light vehicles sales were all-electric in 2021, although in California that number is closer to 10% – but buyer interest has soared, prompted by the surge in fuel prices. Some two dozen electric vehicle models will be rolling out this year including the highly anticipated Ford F-150 Lighting, a battery version of the nation’s best-selling vehicle, which is raising the stakes for dealerships.
Raising it even further is news that Tesla, the country’s biggest seller of electric vehicles, is apparently going to have a presence in New Hampshire.
Tesla has not confirmed that it is behind the electric vehicle showroom and service center coming to South River Road in Bedford, but the Union-Leader has reported that applications before the town point strongly in that direction. S cheduled to open next year, it would be the first in northern New England of what Tesla calls its “stores.” Tesla has five locations in Massachusetts.
Unlike established auto manufacturers Tesla has no franchise dealerships and argues that they are unnecessary and even counter-productive. It is fighting laws in many states that forbid it from selling directly to consumers.
New Hampshire law (RSA357-C) allows manufacturers to sell directly to consumers, but only if they don’t already have any franchise agreements with dealers in the state.
For the state’s 135 franchised auto dealerships, which have 89 different owners, a big financial question right now involves the cost of installing electric charging stations.
This is tough to pin down because nobody’s really sure how many are needed and how powerful they should be. Current practices aren’t much help because few dealers have their own gas tanks any more, McNamara said; environmental and cost issues led most to switch to off-site pumps long ago but there are virtually no off-site electric charging stations to use in New Hampshire.
“We’re working on providing educational materials in terms of vendors, the thought process they need to put in for installing chargers … but it’s complicated,” said McNamara.
Installing what are known as Level 3 chargers, which can “fill up” an electric vehicle or EV in as little as 15 minutes, costs tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars because they require electrical connections that few dealers possess.
Level 2 chargers, which use a 240-volt system of the sort found in most homes for large appliances like clothes dryers, cost only a few hundred dollars to install, but they take many hours to recharge the average electric car or truck.
The question is how much charging dealers will need as EVs become more popular. Maybe they can even get away with plugging their EVs into a wall socket, which involves no installation cost at all, but takes a day or more to recharge each vehicle. Nobody’s really sure.
For many dealerships, however, the decision is being made elsewhere as manufacturers demand upgrades that must come out of dealers’ pockets, McNamara said.
“Nothing is free for the dealers,” he said.
According to news reports about 150 Cadillac dealerships around the U.S. – more than one-sixth of the total – took buyouts because they didn’t want to spend upwards of $200,000 to meet GM’s demands for electrifying their facilities.