EVs are becoming a big part of South Carolina’s economy. Few in the state are driving them.

Brent Young loves to talk about his cars. He’s the proud owner of two Teslas and a Chevy Volt; his family’s been all electric for years.

“It’s like driving down the road in a smartphone,” he said.

It started with test-driving a Tesla. Young said he was curious about the technology and when he tried it out, he had to get one of his own.

“I had a hard time calling that a car and what I’ve been driving a car because they’re so different,” he said.

Young is what’s called an “early adopter,” the first generation of EV drivers. As of 2023, about 1 percent of the cars on the road are electric vehicles and their drivers tend to be men in urban areas with a higher-than-average income.

He’s bucking the demographic trends in at least one significant way: he lives in South Carolina.

Ranking 40th in EVs per capita, the state has a much lower EV adoption rate compared to the rest of the country and even the rest of the southeast.

In fact, you can’t even buy cars from some of the biggest EV manufacturers in South Carolina. Tesla and Rivian operate on direct sale models that are banned in the state.

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At the same time, South Carolina is making a push to attract EV and battery manufacturers. The state launched a website for prospective businesses and Eddie Cogdill became the state’s EV coordinator in 2023.

“We’re not just about recruiting a company and having them here but we’re also about sticking with them and providing them the support they might need as they continue to grow and hopefully expand,” he said.

For him, the opportunity is simple. South Carolina already has a robust auto-manufacturing industry and EVs represent the next innovation in that sector.

“Make no mistake,” he said. “The future is electric.”

One of the biggest announcements in this sector has been a $2M investment from Scout Motors, a Volkswagen brand from the 50s. The company is relaunching as an electric SUV, and the project promises to bring 4,000 jobs with its Blythewood factory. Operations are slated to start in late 2026 or early 2027.

Cogdill sees investments like this as an opportunity to get more South Carolina drivers to consider electric cars.

“As Scout makes their rugged SUV and truck, as these are being built in South Carolina, South Carolinians take pride in what we make in our state,” he said. “Before BMW came to South Carolina you didn’t see a lot of BMWs on the road, now you see them everywhere.”

At the same time, Young isn’t sure that will make a difference.

“We’re a very independent demographic here in South Carolina,” he said. “We don’t want to be told what to do.”

With the number of incentives and tax credits associated with electric vehicles right now, Young said it can feel like consumers are being pushed towards EVs. On top of that, he said driving an EV can carry political baggage.

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“There’s too much of the climate, save the planet politics wrapped up in EVs and not enough people look at the technology and the safety and the convenience that they offer,” he said.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has been a vocal supporter of EV operations in the state and the jobs that come with the industry. Former president and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been a staunch critic of EVs, claiming electric cars will “kill” America’s automotive industry.

Young, who considers himself conservative, believes it should come down to personal choice. He said he doesn’t believe EVs are for everyone, but for him, they’ve been a better car for his lifestyle. He believes if more people looked at EVs objectively, they might come to same conclusion.

“If they looked at what it costs, and what it saves to own an EV, the convenience and the technology that’s there,” he said. “I think they would definitely consider it more.”

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