Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ A Tennessee Valley Authority Chevrolet Bolt charges outside the federal utility's Missionary Ridge office complex on Broad Street on February 14, 2019.

This story was updated Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, at 11 p.m. with more information.

Electric vehicles comprise less than 1% of all cars, trucks and motorcycles now on the road in the Chattanooga area, but battery-powered vehicles will be key to both Tennessee's environmental and economic future, according to the state's top environmental regulator.

With Nissan currently assembling electric-powered Leaf cars in Smyrna, Tennessee and Volkswagen is about to make battery-powered ID.4 sport utility vehicles in Chattanooga, Tennessee Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said Tennessee is emerging as a leader in the manufacturing of electric vehicles.

"We have a robust automotive sector in Tennessee that can benefit by the boon in EVs and the related parts manufacturing," Salyers told the East Tennessee Clean Fuels coalition meeting in Johnson City, Tennessee on Thursday. "Electric vehicles can support our communities by providing new energy opportunities in our communities, keeping more energy dollars in our state and reducing transportation costs for households and businesses."

Chattanooga was an early leader in testing out battery-powered vehicles at the electric vehicle test facility that the Tennessee Valley Authority built in the late 1970s and Chattanooga pioneered one of the first electric-powered downtown shuttle systems in the 1980s built in Chattanooga by Advanced Vehicle Systems (AVS). The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) also started an electric vehicle ride share program in 2016 to allow drivers to rent battery-powered Nissan Leafs by the hour.

But AVS later filed for bankruptcy, the TVA test track was idled for several years and CARTA suspended its electric car rental program at the end of last year due to limited usage.

Sales of electric vehicles have also remained limited in Tennessee, especially since other states like California have offered richer incentives or stricter regulations to propel electric vehicle usage. Bill Copeland, director of intelligence for EPB, estimates Hamilton County is home to about 650 electric vehicles.

Although EVs comprise a small fraction of the cars on the road today, that is likely to soon change as battery efficiency improves, consumer desires for EVs increase and more models are on the road, Copeland said.

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Volkswagen's ID.4 pure electric SUV

"Technology adoption moves much faster today and almost all car makers today are developing EVs," Copeland said. "The costs are going down for both the vehicle and its batteries and, unlike fluctuating gas prices, electricity prices are likely to remain stable here in the Tennessee Valley for the foreseeable future."

To spur sales of its new electric-powered SUV, Volkswagen announced this week that buyers of its 2021 ID.4 electric SUV will receive three years of free unlimited charging on Electrify America's nationwide network of ultra-fast chargers.

In Tennessee, TVA, EPB and the state are promoting programs to educate consumers about EVs and create more recharging stations for battery-powered vehicles. With more choices and cheaper prices, Copeland said he expects far more motorists will soon be driving EVs.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom is taking a far more aggressive approach to promoting electric vehicles. Newsom announced Wednesday that California will halt sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035 to help reduce carbon emissions Newsom said are causing global warming and helping to fuel wildfires in the Golden State.

In Tennessee, Salyers said the state has successfully cut its air pollution and smog emissions nearly in half over the past two decades, primarily by reductions from industries and other stationary sources. As a result, Tennessee came back into compliance with federal ozone standards in 2016 and the state began meeting particulate pollution standards in 2017.

TVA also has cut its carbon emissions by 60% over the past two decades.

But to make further improvements in air quality, Salyers said more must be done to limit pollution from cars, buses and other mobile sources, not just factories and mines. Salyers said electric vehicles are key to such environmental improvements.

"Our vision is for Tennessee to become a leader in electric vehicle transportation," he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.

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FILE- In this Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 file photo, workers complete an electric car ID.3 body at the assembly line during a press tour at the plant of the German manufacturer Volkswagen AG (VW) in Zwickau, Germany. The coronavirus has cancelled business plans all over the world but Europe's push into electric cars isn't one of them. Sales of battery-powered and hybrid cars have held up despite a deeply painful recession, mainly thanks to the action of governments.