Challenges Buying an Electric Vehicle (Part 1)

Buying An Electric Vehicle Turned Out To Be More Challenging That I Thought It Would
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There was a time when it seemed that buying an electric vehicle would be an easy first step to electrifying my life. We’re a fairly typical two-car family and one of those cars, a Lexus RX 400h, was over 13 years old. 

Replacing that aging, fossil fuel-burning machine with an electric car would seem to be a no-brainer, right? Exactly what this entire website is all about. 

But the journey I embarked on in the fall of 2021 to replace that Lexus with an electric car, turned out to be far more arduous than I expected, requiring some surprisingly awkward decisions to be made and with several unexpected twists and turns. 

I share the story here to give readers a glimpse into some of the challenges we’re all going to face as we transition to an all-electric future.

A Little Background

We are Karen and Michael, an empty-nest couple living on Cape Cod. I (Michael) am the committed environmentalist in the family, determined to electrify everything in our home over the next few years. 

Karen, while willing to go along with that plan, does not spend her life fighting climate change. Throughout this journey, an ongoing challenge for me is going to be selling her on the changes and disruptions this transition is going to bring.

She likes the Lexus because she likes being high up when she drives and feels much safer behind the wheel of an SUV. She also hates (and I mean, HATES) pumping gas. If she can’t get me to do it, she will drive miles out of her way to find a full-service gas station where someone will pump it for her.

So while she’s not a committed environmentalist, an electric vehicle, particularly an electric SUV, is probably one of the easier “sells” I’m going to have in this whole home electrification journey. 

One other thing to note is that we have long been fans of Volkswagens (except for that whole “Dieselgate” thing, of course). I’ve driven a VW Passat for over 10 years, we used to own a Jetta, and we have a pretty good relationship with our local VW dealership.

So the obvious choice for buying our first electric car would have to be a VW ID.4, the all-electric SUV that Volkswagen is pinning much of its North American EV future on. It’s electric, so it meets my criteria, it’s an SUV, so it meets hers, and it’s a VW, a brand we both already know, like and trust.

The plan was to get the ID.4 as soon as one was available and give the Lexus to our son, who lives in Boston and had barely ever owned a car before.

The VW iD.4 Waiting List – Oct, 2021

So in October of 2021, I signed on to the VW website and joined the waiting list for the next available ID.4. The website was reasonably easy to navigate and the requirement was a $100 fully-refundable deposit to hold my place in line, with a further $400 due a few weeks later when I finalized my order. It all seemed fairly reasonable. 

Here’s the thing, though. In addition to the $100 deposit, I was asked to choose which color and which features I wanted for my new car. First off, my preferred color of Dusk Blue wasn’t available so I had to choose white. Secondly, I really didn’t know what features I needed. 

An Image Of The Vw Id.4 Electric Vehicle Model.
My Preferred Color Of Dusk Blue Wasn’t Available So I Had To Choose White.

I’m not really a “car guy” so, outside of a steering wheel, a comfy drivers seat and a decent audio system, I’ve never really paid much attention to the various “features” that modern cars come with. So I made a note to stop by my local dealership the next time I was in the area, take a test drive and fill that part in later.

But you know how these things go. I got busy at work, life got in the way and before I knew it, a couple of months had gone by and I still hadn’t found the time to do that. 

What that meant was that 60 days after joining the waiting list, I was unceremoniously kicked off. My $100 deposit was returned and I was back to square one, more than a little irritated.

Another ID.4 Waiting List – Jan, 2022

I started the New Year by signing up again for the ID.4 waiting list. In spite of the fact that I’d done all this before (actually, because of it) this turned out to be a much more cumbersome process. 

That’s because the email I’d used to sign up before (you know, my actual email address that I check all the time) was now disqualified from signing up again. Their system wouldn’t let me use an email address that had been used before. 

Instead, I had to use an old GMail account I had from years ago, one that I hardly ever log into and that I now had to make a mental note to check from time to time, in case I missed an important notification and got kicked off again.

The waiting list by this time had grown by several months, which will become significant in due course.

The War In Ukraine – March 2022

On March 18, I got an email from Volkswagen of America explaining a delivery problem that they had.

Although the ID.4s that are exported to the US are manufactured in Germany, certain wiring harnesses – a kit containing wires, connectors and terminals to connect a car’s components – came from suppliers in Ukraine. When Russian troops invaded the country on February 24 those supply chains were interrupted and production at two VW in plants in Germany had to be halted.

People Protesting Against War In Ukraine.
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As you might expect, the email was unable to give any details at all as to when those supply chain issues might be resolved. And given the tragedy that was unfolding in Ukraine, it seemed churlish to complain too much about it from the safety of my home office in the US.

But I couldn’t help wondering, what if I hadn’t gotten kicked off the waiting list back in October?

And just as I was thinking that, a family-related diversion threw a different kind of wrench into our plans.

Stepping up the Schedule

Remember how I mentioned that the plan was to give the Lexus to our son as soon as we got into the new ID.4. Our son lives an urban life. He’s lived in Boston ever since he left for college and, therefore, uses the T to get around. He’s never had much need for a car.

That changed in the spring of 2022 when he started to look for a new job. While there are certainly plenty of jobs in his field in the downtown area, there are many more potential opportunities in the surrounding suburbs. 

Also, two months of lock down and the better part of two years working remotely from his apartment due to the pandemic, he was really keen to spread his wings and get out of the city a bit more.

So it was agreed that we would give him the car right away so that he could widen his job search, as well as his social circles. (And who knows, maybe even visit his parents a bit more often).

Trouble was that we were still several months away from taking delivery of the ID.4 and, as a working couple living on the Cape, getting by on one car wasn’t going to be practical. We needed a new car, and it wasn’t going to be an ID.4 after all.

And remember, this was the spring of 2022, the height of the global supply chain crisis. Getting any kind of EV at such short notice was going to be a challenge.

We stopped by our local VW dealer to explain the dilemma. It was agreed that we would buy a used ICE vehicle for Karen, keep our names on the waiting list for the ID.4 and, when it came in, trade in either the newer car or my older Passat for the new EV.

This was ostensibly going to be Karen’s car and, remember, she likes her SUVs. She’s also not one to make big decisions quickly, but we were on a bit of a deadline. So, with a little bit of prodding from me, she settled on a 2019 VW Tiguan. 

A Display Of Vw Tiguan Electric Car Vehicles.
The Tiguan Is The First Vw We’ve Ever Bought That We Didn’T Really Like.

She doesn’t love it, but it’s okay. Frankly, we paid a little more than we wanted to. It’s the first VW we’ve ever bought that we thought, “Meh”, but at least it gets us from point A to point B. 

(She now says that it was only due to my rushing her that she agreed to buy it, so it’s all my fault. And, of course, this whole electrification thing is my idea in the first place, so maybe she has a point).

Anyway, we’re back to being a two car family.

Oh, and by the way, our son got a terrific new job in, you guessed it, Downtown Boston. Even if he went into the office, he wouldn’t need a car to get there. And he doesn’t go into the office anyway, since it’s an almost 100% remote position. (And he still hardly ever visits his parents. Just sayin’)

My New Electric Car is On Its Way

By summertime, their supply chain issues presumably resolved, Volkswagen of America was starting to send me regular updates. 

On June 29, I received a link to a nice video of an ID.4 taking a cross country trip.  July 25, I received some updated pricing information (spoiler alert: the price has gone up). And on August 5, a notification that my ID.4 was finally built and was about to be shipped.

An Image Explaining How The Id.4 Electric Car Vehicles Arrived To The Dealer From A Cross The Country.
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Just a few days later, the US Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act. It was shaping up to be a pretty momentous week in my journey to EV ownership.

But not necessarily in the way you might expect.

Joe Manchin Ruins Everything

While it’s hard to argue that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is hugely significant and overwhelmingly good news in the fight against climate change, there is one wrinkle in it that was to prove disastrous in my quest to get an electric vehicle. 

There had long been on the books a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles. Prior to the IRA the credit was limited to the first 200,000 vehicles sold by any given auto manufacturer. 

For some manufacturers, notably Tesla and GM, this was a problem because they had already sold well over 200,000 electric cars each and, so, subsequent buyers of their particular models would no longer be eligible.

As a relative latecomer to the North American EV game, Volkswagen didn’t have this problem, since it had sold far fewer than 200,000 electric cars in the US. 

So I was all set to get a $7,500 tax credit once I finally took delivery of mine.

And then the IRA extended the tax credit. There would no longer be a 200,000 cap and henceforth, anyone who brought a new EV would be eligible regardless of how many others had been sold by that particular manufacturer. That was great news for Tesla and GM but pretty much irrelevant to VW.

Or was it?

The one caveat that the IRA threw into the mix was that, in order to qualify for any tax credit, the vehicle had to be manufactured in the US. My ID.4 was literally on a ship being imported from Germany, scheduled to arrive about a week after the bill was due to be signed.

Not for the first time I was left thinking, if only I hadn’t been kicked off that first waiting list I joined back in October.

Local Dealership Tries to Save the Deal

Once it became clear that the IRA was going to pass, and while my car was still making its way across the ocean, the guys at my local dealership figured out that there was going to be a problem. Their first step was to get me to sign a purchase and sale agreement dated prior to the date of the legislation passing.

The theory was that, if they could show that the sale was completed before the passage of the bill, maybe their buyers could still be eligible, even if they hadn’t taken delivery of the car until after the IRA had passed. 

Whether this would have passed muster with the IRS is unclear, even now, but within a day or two they seem to have abandoned that idea and were starting to work on Plan B.

A Person Holding His Platinum Card While Filling-Up A Tax Incentives Form In The Laptop.
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They called me up and told me to plan on NOT getting the $7,500 tax credit. Assume the worst and, if we somehow were able to qualify, it would be a bonus. Would I still be interested in the car under those circumstances?

Hmm. Not sure, let me check with the wife.

Now I should state here that I sell solar for a living, and I’m pretty good at it. A big part of my pitch to customers is to paint a picture of an all-electric future where the already-attractive savings that accrue from going solar will be compounded once the owner starts charging an EV or two at 24c/kWh instead of filling up an ICE car twice a week with $4/gallon gasoline.

Having the ability to walk the walk by showing up at my meetings in my very own EV is a big part of the reason I want to buy one in the first place. In other words, I think I can justify the premium cost of an EV with the sale of more and bigger solar systems. 

I think I can still do that, even if I don’t get the $7,500 tax credit. So at this point, I think we were still just about willing to buy the iD.4.

But there was still yet one more twist in the tale.

Remember That Tiguan That Neither of us Liked?

So after six months of driving that Tiguan around we both agreed that it was not a long-term car for us. We had the Passat, which I loved and had driven two different versions of it around for 10 years, and we had the Tiguan. It was a pretty easy choice. 

The Tiguan was the one we would trade in. But that gave us yet another hurdle to overcome.

While the tax credit thing had been a uniquely EV twist in the tale, this one was an age-old matter of trade-in value. Now, I get it. There’s probably not a single car owner in the history of automobiles who has ever traded in a car and got what they consider to be the fair value for it. We ALWAYS think our car is worth more than the dealer is willing to give us for it.

But this was a used car we had purchased just five months earlier and now they were offering us $7,000 less than we had paid for it.  That’s $1,400 a month, just for the privilege of owning a car we didn’t even like that much! And that’s not even counting $530/month car payment. 

Even for me, this was too much. In the ten months since we had first joined the waiting list we had seen the cost of the vehicle rise, the cost of the financing rise, the loss of a $7,500 tax credit thanks to the IRA and now the addition of a $7,000 make good to the overall financing package.

Taking all those factors into consideration, the dealer calculated that our car payment was going to fall somewhere between $990 and $1,040 a month. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sell that to the wife. I wasn’t even sold myself.

We decided not to buy it. 

I did put my name on the waiting list for a third time after learning that the 2023 edition of the iD.4 would be built in Chattanooga, TN. That would at least make it eligible for the new $7,500 tax credit. 

But I have to admit the whole experience has soured me a little on VW. Between getting unceremoniously dumped from the first waiting list (with all the consequences of the resulting delay) to “losing” $7,000 on the Tiguan.

While I wouldn’t say that my love affair with the VW brand is officially over, let’s just say they’ll be sleeping on the couch for a while. I’m reading some nice reviews of other electric vehicles, some of which are set up better for bidirectional charging than the iD.4 is right now.

I’ve also been doing some research on the pros and cons of leasing vs owning an electric car. I haven’t leased a car in 20 years. But it might be a better option for for my first EV.

Rest assured, I’ll keep looking, and there will be subsequent chapters in this story of electrification. Stay tuned.

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