Last year, with just under 60,000 sales, almost half of the country’s sales of electrified vehicles came from California alone.
Clearly, something is working within the Golden State. So how can other states glean from California’s success in order to increase EV numbers around the rest of the country?
Support Begins At The Top
Many of California’s policies have come from the state’s top leaders, setting a clear message that carbon emission reductions are a priority for the state. Governor Jerry has created some of the most stringent of the state’s orders. Three years ago, he set a goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) to be on California roads by 2025.
And last April, Governor Brown signed an executive order mandating that by 2030, the state cut its carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels.
“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations,” Brown said after signing the mandate, “but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come.”
Not all states are this fortunate. Residents in Arizona and Texas can’t buy Model S, where it’s illegal for Tesla to sell vehicles.
And Georgia has actually gone backwards with its state-support. Legislators removed a $5,000 tax incentive for all-electric vehicles last spring, replacing the credit instead with an annual road use fee for ZEVs.
The aggressive goals established within California couldn’t have been finalized without staunch support from elected officials. For other states to follow suit, support in creating and implementing pro-EV strategies will be required from both legislators and governors.
Beyond Tax Credits
Buyers in any state can take advantage of the federal government’s $7,500 EV tax credit (though the bonus is only applied towards taxes owed, and only redeemed when annual personal income taxes are filed).
But through the California Air Resources Board (CARB), residents can get up to an additional $5,000 in rebates for the purchase or lease of eligible plug-in or ZEVs. And a new policy gives low-income residents a $6,500 rebate for a fuel cell vehicle.
“Incentives have put California in a leadership position,” said Ethan Elkind, the Associate Director of the Climate Change and Business Program, with a joint appointment at UC Berkeley School of Law and UCLA School of Law.
“I don’t know if we’ve inspired other states, but certainly other states have looked at our incentives. By changing it now to be income-based, we’ll see if that’s an area that boosts adoption.”
Encouragement for residents to buy an electrified vehicle has also comes in other forms. For example, California has allocated 85,000 permits to allow approved EV models to drive in the highly desirable carpool lanes. For commuters in the Los Angeles area, these permits are often a top reason for picking an EV over a conventional car.
States facing budget reductions may be unable to set aside large sums for tax credits. But considering alternative perks instead, like carpool access, may be a more affordable way to boost EV sales.
“I think other states are getting there,” said Alexander Keros, General Motors manager for advanced vehicle and infrastructure policy, of EV adoption rates outside of California. “We just need to get creative. More plugs, non-financial incentives? Trust me, you give free parking to people in New York City and you’ll see a bump.”
Increasing Infrastructure Through Utility Companies
California is also asking its utility companies for help to create a solid charging infrastructure in the region. Much of the initial investment and management came from the government, and state officials are now ready for utility companies to start taking the lead.
Some of the utility-led projects currently in the works include a plan to build 25,000 level 2 charging stations by Pacific Gas & Electric, and a proposal from San Diego Gas & Electric for 5,500 charging stations.
“The investments that utilities make or that the ARB funds with cap-and-trade funds are going toward transforming the market for vehicles,” said Nancy Ryan, senior director of policy and strategy for the firm Energy and Environmental Economics.
“I envisioned we would reach a point where we would put the muscle and scale of the utilities behind it, but with understanding about what their role is,” she said. “That’s exactly where we are.”
Bringing It All Together
Many states already have mandates, goals or incentives in place. But few can post EV sales similar to California’s.
To reach such high numbers, California has used a multi-faceted approach. Tactics aren’t limited to just one issue but address the problem systematically, including carbon emission requirements for carmakers, support for utility companies to expand the charging network infrastructure and a series of incentives to prompt more consumers to buy EVs.
If more states want to emulate California’s EV adoption rates, state leaders need to implement more aggressive policies that reach beyond simple tax credits and bring together consumers, carmakers, utility companies.