California Continues To Pull More Than Its Weight In Plug-in Car Sales

People wanting petroleum independence, cleaner air, and who’d like to see more automotive electrification may want to thank the state that is second only to China in cumulative plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) sales.

That is, if California were its own country, only China would have purchased more PEVs within its borders. Alternately, if California was hypothetically not counted, and the rest of the U.S. were to be compared to other global markets, the U.S. would suddenly look like a relative laggard in the worldwide push toward electrification.

With its latest sales tally for the second quarter of 2016, the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA) reports overall sales are still up, and PEVs as well as regular hybrids continue to punch beyond their weight class compared to the rest of the U.S.

Year to date, despite the loss of green solo-access HOV stickers, plug-in hybrid sales growth continues with 14,737 registrations, or a “take rate” (market share) of 1.4 percent. By contrast, the U.S. as a whole including California has a PHEV take rate through June of 0.35 percent.

If one removed California’s contribution to what is yet a Lilliputian market, through June the U.S. total of 29,920 PHEVs according to the Dashboard, would decline to just 15,183.

And the same story goes for battery electric vehicles – in California, BEVs are at 17,182 or 1.6 percent take rate. As a whole, including California, the U.S. is at 0.42 percent.

The U.S. BEV total through June is 34,245. If California’s part were removed, the tally would be 17,063.


Who had the best-selling BEV? Did you have to ask? That would be home-grown Tesla, and its Model S which actually ranked second in its class after the BMW 5-series which only sold 60 more units. The Tesla S model’s 5,147 sales in California were 44 percent of the total 11,700 in the U.S. as a whole.

Regular hybrid electric vehicle sales are also substantial in the state that has spoken for more of them since before the newfangled cars with plugs became available.

The take rate in California is 4.5 percent, and volume is 47,002 registrations through June’s end. The U.S. has on the other hand, including California, purchased 194,005 for a 1.92 percent take rate. Subtract California’s total, and you have 147,003 or just 100,001 more.

Among hybrids, the Prius continues to do well, ranking behind the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla in the “sub-compact” class.

SEE ALSO: California Plug-in Sales Led The US Last Year With Nearly Five-Times Greater Market Share

One reason California does so well is by itself it is America’s largest car market, outpacing second-place Texas by a good bit. Last year the Golden State accounted for 2,052,750 passenger vehicle sales out of the U.S. total of 17.47 million.

2016 Toyota Prius hybrid.

2016 Toyota Prius hybrid.

This year through the first half, the state records 1,045,440 passenger vehicle sales – up from 1,017,198 for January-June 2015. Market growth however was stronger in Q1 when a 3.9-percent increase was measured, and Q2 saw just 1.8 percent uptick. The growth continues, but not at the pace of last year’s rise of 11.0 percent. The CNCDA predicts things may even flatten out or slightly decline in the next 6-12 months.

“But regardless of which direction sales head in, the preponderance of evidence indicates that the market should remain strong well into 2017,” says the CNCDA. “The combination of steady job growth, rising incomes, low fuel prices, attractive incentive offers, and low interest rates should help keep sales at healthy levels.”

California is also tracking similarly to the U.S. as a whole in its witness of declining car sales as consumers flock back to light trucks.

Specifically, passenger car sales declined 4.0 percent while light truck sales went up 12.8 percent in California. This compares to the U.S.’ 7.4-percent car sales decline and increase for light trucks by 10.3 percent.

Living In a European Frame of Mind

The other reason California has its outsized share of electrified cars is of course its Air Resources Board which sets rules alongside the U.S. EPA.

State regulators have won the right to set rules for their air quality, and with global developments, their concerns mirrors worldwide fretfulness now over not just smog and health-affecting air contaminants, but greenhouse emissions inducing climate change.

Toyota's new RAV4 Hybrid hit the ground running this year, and industry observers say there is a gaping void ready to be filled by PEV versions in this category.

Toyota’s new RAV4 Hybrid hit the ground running this year. The nearest thing in its price category to what people want in an electrified SUV, its sales declare loud and clear a market void for plug-in SUVs ready for automakers to fill sooner or later.

While automakers and other industry stakeholders contend at the moment over federal rules for 2022-2025, California is “not standing still,” according to one environmental advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Rather, it is looking beyond 2030 and even 2050 at which time the goal for zero emissions is to have been met.

This year lawmakers nervous that a previously announced target for one in seven PEVs be sold in state by 2025 will not be met have attempted to champion legislation meant to strengthen that mandate.

While much has to be decided, to date, automakers are building cars just for California’s arcane system of rules requiring such clean cars in state.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

As such, the large state of California has the highest concentration of PEVs per 1,000 people. Its 4.68 PEVs per 1,000 for 2015 eclipses Hawaii’s 2.94, Washington’s 2.32, Georgia’s 2.20, and Oregon’s 2.04. Actually, only five states had more than two plug-in vehicles registered per 1,000 people in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

This year, on a cumulative basis since the dawn of PEVs, California is up to 5.83 registrations per 1,000 people compared to the U.S. total average of 1.51 per 1,000.

Not quite Norway, which exceeds California by 3.69 times, California does narrowly outpace PEV-absorbing Netherlands by 1.04 times.

In all, California has accounted for as much as 55 percent of the U.S. purchase of PEVs, and since 2010 its 223,620 sales accounts for 47.6 percent of all U.S. sales.

Not satisfied that it will do enough to stave off global climate change, its legislators continue to push for more.

Thanks to sales tracker Mario R. Duran for help with data for this report.