Why the electric vehicle revolution may never happen in Kansas

Electric vehicles are displayed April 22, 2021, at Union Station near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., before a news conference with White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. David Clement is the North American affairs manager with the Consumer Choice Center. Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center.

One of the core components of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is adequately preparing the country for the electric vehicle revolution. The Biden Administration has earmarked $174 billion for transportation electrification, which has sparked a flurry of investment from auto manufacturers.

GM announced it will open a $2.3 billion plant in 2023 to manufacture 500,000 EV batteries, Honda has committed to only sell EVs by 2040, Hyundai will invest $7 billion for U.S. EV production, and Ford has announced that half of all Lincolns produced could soon be emissionless. Even here in Kansas, EV consumers in Olathe can now charge their vehicles for free at the Indian Creek Library.

But unfortunately for consumers in Kansas, poor policy at the state level is acting as a major hurdle. Kansas, which currently ranks tied for last in the U.S. Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index, is actively discouraging the purchase of EVs with its ban on direct-to-consumer sales, and its disproportionate licensing fee for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Under the guise of consumer protection, Kansas has made it illegal for electric vehicle manufacturers, like Tesla, to sell directly to consumers. Dealer franchise laws, which ban direct sale, are a decades-old policy implemented to protect consumers from vertical integration and monopolization. In today’s age of limitless information at your fingertips, and healthy competition in the auto industry, this restriction is far past its expiration date. It does nothing but impede consumer choice while providing no consumer protection value. 

That’s why many EV manufacturers have opted out of the dealership model entirely. Due to the innovative nature of electric vehicles, a traditional franchised dealership model may not be the most effective way to get these eco-friendly vehicles to market. Operating a standalone dealership increases costs and adds a middleman into the sale process, which can often inflate prices for consumers. This is why many electric vehicle companies, like Tesla, have operated outside of the traditional dealership model altogether. And, we know from the success of direct-to-consumer platforms in the used car market (where direct sale is legal), that online purchasing is on the rise.

Beyond the ban on direct sales, Kansas also punishes EV consumers with higher license and registration fees. The standard registration fee for vehicles in Kansas is between $30-40. For consumers making the eco-conscious choice to buy and register an EV, the registration cost is over 200% higher at $100. This is incredibly discriminatory, and a much better approach would be to simply treat EVs on par with standard passenger vehicles.

Unfortunately, some legislators have justified the additional fee to help recover lost gas tax revenue, but that runs counter to the purpose of gas taxes. The purpose of the gas tax, currently at 24 cents per gallon in Kansas, is to encourage consumers to reduce their emissions, which is exactly what EV consumers are doing when they purchase an EV. It’s strange that the reward EV consumers get for their eco-friendly decision is inflated fees exponentially higher than the alternative. It is unfair that these consumers now shoulder more of the financial burden when they are in fact responding to gas taxes as intended.

On top of being relatively easy to implement, these policy changes have the added benefit of encouraging EV purchases without taxpayer manufacturing subsidies, or complicated tax credits, which have rightfully been criticized for favoring the wealthy.

At the end of the day, the EV revolution is well on its way. By simply getting out of the way, legislators in Kansas could enhance consumer choice, lower costs, protect the environment, and do so without all of the logistical issues that come with corporate welfare and boutique tax credits.

As the famous idiom goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The tide is certainly rising for electric vehicles, but with misguided regulations handcuffing consumers, Kansans may end up watching from the shoreline.

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David Clement
David Clement

David Clement is the North American affairs manager with the Consumer Choice Center. He is a syndicated columnist with the Financial Post, co-host of Consumer Choice Radio, and is regularly featured in prominent outlets, such as the Miami Herald, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and the Washington Examiner. Previously he was the research assistant to the Canada Research Chair in international human rights.

Elizabeth Hicks
Elizabeth Hicks

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. affairs analyst with the Consumer Choice Center. Her work has been featured in the Detroit News, Des Moines Tribune, Birmingham News and the Herald Dispatch. She studied international relations and Arabic at the University of Iowa and graduated with a BA in political science.