Californians Bought More Plug-in Cars Than China Last Year

More than just America’s most ardent plug-in electrified vehicle adopters by a wide margin, last year Californians bought enough PEVs to rank their state second among all nations of the world.

That’s right, if California were its own country, its purchases of 29,935 plug-in hybrids, 29,536 battery electric cars (59,471 total) in 2014 would place it second to number-one United States’ 118,682, ahead of second-place China’s 53,082, and third-place Japan’s 30,390.

SEE ALSO: Top 6 Plug-In Vehicle Adopting Countries – 2014

On a percentage of market share basis, or “take rate,” California would rank third among the top half-dozen plug-in adopting countries in the world behind the Netherlands.

Or, sliced another way, if California’s sales were subtracted from the U.S. total and it really were “its own country,” the state of California would have led the world in PEV sales with 59,471 sales in 2014 versus an imaginary U.S.-minus California’s 59,211 taking second place.

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This information is based upon actual new car registrations through the fourth quarter of 2014 and comes via IHS Automotive as reported February by the California New Car Dealers Association.

What’s more, the data show a distinction that might further speak well for California, but perhaps not as much for the rest of the U.S. That is, as automakers report more truck, sport-utility vehicle and crossover utility vehicle sales nationwide for big-vehicle-loving Americans, Californians continue to increase the percentage by which the state leads the rest of the United States.

SEE ALSO: Americans Buy Their 250,000th Plug-In Car

This at least is the what the numbers and two analysts interviewed suggest is happening in the picture of America’s overall market which last year bought 16.4 million passenger vehicles.

Specifically, America’s total of 118,682 PEVs purchased during 2014 were significantly boosted carried by California’s 59,471 purchases – 50.1 percent of the U.S. total – and the gap appears to be widening.

Since reports in August 2014 of California contributing 40 percent of the volume of all PEVs bought in the U.S. since 2010, the state increased to 45.1 percent by year’s end with 129,470 total units out of 286,842 PEVs sold in America since 2010.

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As a state, California’s PEV market share is 3.2 percent. Compare that to the total U.S. market share of just 0.76 percent PEVs.

This 3.2 percent also means it buys more plug-in hybrids percentage wise than Americans buy non plug-in hybrids.

As fuel prices along with decline of the market-dominating but now-aging Prius’ sales dropped last year, the non-plug-in hybrid U.S. take rate declined from 3.19 percent in 2013 to 2.75 percent – less than California’s 3.2 percent of plug-in cars.

And while on the topic of regular hybrids, Californians like these too, and more than doubles the national market share. The state dipped from a peak of 6.8 percent in 2013 to 6.3 percent in 2014.

Unequivocal Leader

Any way you slice it, the state is all about alternative energy transportation and has been a leader in environmental advocacy for at least the last couple of decades, well before the current crop of plug-in cars came along.

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Actually, General Motors’ EV1 electric car was first developed in the late 90s for this market and California is unique in that its Air Resources Board established 1967 has since become a de facto rule-making body demanding automakers meet strict emissions requirements.

Automotive analyst Alan Baum suggests that just as the Left Coast state has been known to be a forerunner in other cultural trends, so it may also be in the realm of transportation in years to come.

SEE ALSO: HOV Access Is Key For California Plug-in Car Purchases

Baum notes also that as cheap(er) gas is pulling truck-loving Americans away from hybrids back to pickups and SUVs, California is bucking this trend to a higher degree.

Around a dozen other states do mirror California rules, but the Golden State has a few plug-in vehicles marketed exclusively in the state. These have pejoratively been called “compliance cars,” but that does not hurt Californians who have more plug-in cars from which to choose.

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But aside from compliance cars like the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Kia Soul EV selling just in California and maybe another state or two as the case may be, the real heavy lifting has been by the major PEVs by Tesla, Chevrolet and Nissan.

Namely, the Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf are the relative volume leaders month after month. Nationally they sell far higher volumes but percentage-wise it is still California that gobbles up more of these vehicles.

How things will go this year is an open question. Nationally, Nissan set sales records 18 straight months through to early this year, but its sales did flatten out in historically slow January and February.

SEE ALSO: California Wants More People Driving Electric Vehicles

Looking just at Tesla’s home turf and arguable bastion, it also did better in 2013 with 8,347 registrations in 2013 versus 6,110 in 2014 – a 26.8-percent decline. On a national level and international level, Tesla continues to increase sales.

The Volt also is well down on a national level, and well-documented is the car is advertised only in California. By summer this year, the Volt’s second generation will be launched, and shoppers waiting for that could see the Volt’s numbers increase again.

Unknown is how fuel prices may go but up for debate is how much they matter for some buyers who are “gas averse” as GM marketers describe Volt buyers and those who go for cars that can run without gas part-time or full time as the case may be.

2016 Volt.

2016 Volt.

That plug-in vehicles are taking off is clear. That the balance is overwhelmingly in California with its predominately battery friendly temperate climate is also. And, the balance appears to be tipping further as time goes on.

As for the entire country, Baum suggests 2015 may be a peak year with total 16.7-16.8 million passenger vehicles predicted.

Numerous variables could see the total decline in 2016 to an estimated 16.3 million, but proportionally, it appears California is pulling strong, and while other states will follow in its shadow, there appears to be no end to its dominance of plug-in acceptance in sight.

HC

Thanks to green car sales tracker Mario Duran for info contributed to this article.