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STARTING FEBRUARY 1, 2013, the state of Washington will collect an additional $100 in annual registration fees from owners of road-going electric vehicles. This is seen as making EVs contribute to the highway infrastructure just as gasoline and diesel vehicles do through taxes on motor fuels.
Fees of some sort are inevitable, particularly with governmental and environmental pressures for increasing electrification of personal mobility. However, Washington state legislators have shown little appreciation of technical differences among EVs.
Recall, there are BEVs, battery electric vehicles that rely solely on electrical energy stored onboard. There are PHEVs, plug-in hybrids with both conventional engines and electric motors, the battery packs for the latter capable of utility grid charging. And there are HEVs, hybrids that generate their own electricity onboard, with no capability of—nor need for—plug-in.
An illogical aspect of the Washington law lies in the fact that all hybrids are exempt from the $100 fee. For HEVs, such as the traditional Toyota Prius, this exemption makes sense. For PHEVs, such as the Prius Plug-in or Chevrolet Volt, the situation is rather more complex.
An HEV relies entirely on taxed motor fuel. However, depending on its design—and even its usage—a PHEV can be increasingly independent of motor fuel taxation.
At one extreme, the Toyota Prius Plug-in has a relatively small battery pack and, commensurately, a modest electric range of only 11 miles. Also, this PHEV’s gasoline engine is designed to intervene, depending on power requirements, even when electric mode is selected. Logic suggests that a Prius Plug-in contributes non-trivially to the infrastructure by way of the gasoline it consumes.
In contrast, the Chevrolet Volt’s battery pack is larger (albeit more costly); its electric range is 35 miles. What’s more, the Volt is designed to have essentially no gasoline engine interaction until its battery pack is depleted. Thus, a Volt is closer to a BEV in operation and, as such, maybe doesn’t deserve complete EV fee exemption.
In fact even with a given PHEV, the situation isn’t straightforward. Suppose I have a Chevrolet Volt and drive less than 35 miles between plug-ins. In this case, my Volt is a close kin of my neighbor’s BEV Nissan Leaf. My neighbor gets charged an additional $100 a year; I don’t.
Yet, suppose I drive this same Volt rather a lot each day, thus frequently probing its EPA-estimated 37 mpg of (taxed) gasoline usage. In this case, some degree of EV fee exemption makes sense.
Some proponents say the EV fee should be based on actual miles driven, but this has two shortcomings: It doesn’t solve the PHEV quandary. Worse, it opens a can of worms with regard to monitoring the mileage. A yearly check has its complications of use and vehicle resale. Technology exists for real-time monitoring—indeed, some insurance companies offer differentiated rates depending on this. However, generally people dislike its Big Brother aspects.
Others propose EV fees that are based on battery size or weight of the vehicle. Still others say that EV societal benefits shouldn’t be compromised by any fees involving road use.
What do you think? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012
I agree that a all electric should be taxed. I like the idea of the battery pack size helping determine a prorated tax per year for those vehicles that can run with out fuel for certain distances.
Ironically, the State of Washington also exempts electric vehicles from the State sales tax. This immediately puts the State thousands of dollars in the hole. The $100/year fee is no burden to the car buyer who has reaped the benefit of the exemption.