Comparing the Top 10 Cities for Electric Vehicle Adoption

 In EV Industry

Since the emergence of modern electric vehicles more than five years ago, the rate of growth in plug-in adoption in the U.S. has outstripped the early market for hybrids—even as gas prices crater. Still, that growth has been extremely uneven and is concentrated mostly in and around cities in fewer than two-dozen states.

Looking at cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles or Atlanta, you might think the first battles in the plug-in vehicle revolution have already been won. At times, the percentage of new vehicles in some areas has exceeded 5 percent. In other major American cities, you can go days without spotting a plug-in on the road or a place to charge one.

So what conditions are necessary to spur more rapid plug-in adoption? High gas prices? Low electricity rates? Public charge infrastructure? Tax incentives? Special perks like carpool lane access?

These are questions public policymakers have been asking for years, but as of yet, it seems that there is no one answer: what works in Riverside may not work in Denver.

In an effort to better understand these factors and their relative importance, Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs created a detailed system ranking 36 American cities based on how favorable they are for plug-ins.

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These rankings don’t always necessarily match up with sales numbers. Here, we take a closer look at the top ten cities for electric vehicle sales and what makes them unique.

To rank the top plug-in vehicle markets, we rely on numbers from a 2015 study conducted by the International Coalition for Clean Transportation. Gas prices are from GasBuddy.com. All charging station maps are from Plugshare.com.

1. San Francisco

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in San Francisco

As the leader in electric vehicle sales, the San Francisco Bay Area lives up to its reputation as one of the nation’s most environmentally conscious cities. Several factors contribute to this success—not the least of which is the fact that San Francisco also happens to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country. But at both the state and local levels, San Francisco also offers some of the most EV-friendly incentives for drivers.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.18/kWh)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.12/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.85/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 10th

State Incentives:

  • Up to a $2500 rebate on new plug-in vehicles under California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. (Funding for the program is currently exhausted but may be renewed in the near future.)
  • Solo access to HOV lanes via for all certified zero-emissions vehicles.
  • California provides rebates of up to $10,000 for public entities purchasing plug-in vehicles.
  • The state offers a loan program and some rebates for small businesses installing charging equipment.

City Incentives:

2. Atlanta

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Atlanta

You might not expect a sprawling southern metropolis like Atlanta to be near the top in EV sales, but thanks to an aggressive state plug-in vehicle subsidy, it is. Before the subsidy was repealed last year, EV buyers in the Peach State were eligible for a $5,000 tax credit towards the purchase of qualifying plug-ins, which, paired with the $7,500 federal credit, brought the total discount to $12,500.

The law responsible for creating the credit actually dates back more than 15 years, to a time when Georgia’s state budget was swelling and its air quality was in severe violation of federal clean air standards. (The incentive was originally intended for businesses, not individuals.)

Still, the massive success of the law in spurring EV sales in an unlikely place goes to show just how powerful purchase credits can be in motivating consumer behavior—and gives other states an expensive but surefire model for boosting plug-in adoption.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.06/kWh)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.01/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.02/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 7th

State Incentives:

  • Until June 30, 2017, businesses purchasing medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles are eligible for Georgia’s Commercial Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit, which can reach as high as $250,000 depending upon the type of vehicle.
  • Businesses are eligible for a 10-percent tax credit of up to $2,500 towards the purchase of charging stations.
  • Solo access to High Occupancy Vehicle and High Occupancy Toll lanes via for all qualifying Alternative Fuel Vehicles.

City Incentives:

3. Los Angeles

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles

As the birthplace of clean air laws in the United States, Los Angeles is a natural fit for new environmentally-motivated innovations. In addition, LA’s city government has been proactive in encouraging the installation of public and private charge infrastructure. Due to the enormous size of the LA metro area, longer-range vehicles and more public and workplace charge infrastructure will still be necessary to make pure EVs feasible for many Angelenos, but so far, the city is off to a great start.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.21/kWh)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.14/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.70/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 15th

State Incentives:

  • Up to a $2500 rebate on new plug-in vehicles under California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. (Funding for the program is currently exhausted but may be renewed in the near future.)
  • Solo access to HOV lanes via for all certified zero-emissions vehicles.
  • California provides rebates of up to $10,000 for public entities purchasing plug-in vehicles.
  • The state offers a loan program and some rebates for small businesses installing charging equipment.

City Incentives:

  • Residential drivers can receive a rebate of up to $500 toward EVSE purchase and installation through the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s “Charge Up L.A.!” program
  • Businesses can receive a rebate of up to $4,000 toward EVSE purchase and installation through the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
  • Electric vehicle charging equipment installations are eligible to use LA’s Express Permit system.

4. San Diego

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in San Diego

In January 2014, San Diego finalized its PEV Readiness Plan, which is geared at identifying barriers to plug-in adoption and taking the first steps toward removing them. The city has since partnered with NRG to strategically deploy public charge infrastructure, including DC fast-chargers. Because of San Diego’s steeply tiered electricity costs—which rise dramatically after a certain level of monthly use—signing up for a time-of-use rate with SDG&E is a must if you really want to take advantage of monthly gasoline savings.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.18/kWh baseline, escalating up to $0.39/kWh)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.19/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.67/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 15th

State Incentives:

  • Up to a $2500 rebate on new plug-in vehicles under California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. (Funding for the program is currently exhausted but may be renewed in the near future.)
  • Solo access to HOV lanes via for all certified zero-emissions vehicles.

City Incentives:

5. Seattle

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Seattle

Thanks to Washington’s clean and abundant hydroelectric power, Seattle is one of the best cities in the country for plug-ins. (From an environmental standpoint, anyway.) The city’s publically-owned utility, Seattle City Light, gets almost 90 percent of its power from renewable sources—and purchases emissions offsets for the other 10 percent. That means driving an EV in Seattle is more or less carbon neutral.

Still, local incentives and infrastructure are towards the middle of the pack of American cities. Seattle City Light also doesn’t offer any time-of-use rates or other special packages for EVs. But come on, how can you pass up a chance to drive emissions free?

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.13/kWh)

Time of Use Rate? No.

Gasoline Price: ($2.66/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 16th

State Incentives:

  • Eligible plug-in vehicles that cost less than $42,500 are exempt from paying state sales and use tax up to the first $32,000 of vehicle purchases. This can add up to a discount of up to more than $3,000 per vehicle.
  • Businesses are eligible for state tax credits of up to 50 percent of the incremental cost of a plug-in. This is capped at $5,000 for light duty vehicles and $20,000 for heavy duty vehicles.
  • Land used for public electric vehicle charging infrastructure is exempt from state excise taxes. Purchase and installation of charging equipment are also exempt.
  • Utilities get incentives to install electric vehicle charging equipment that benefits ratepayers.

City Incentives:

  • Expedited permitting for charging infrastructure.

6. Portland

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Portland

According to Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Portland ranks as the most EV-friendly city in the country. More than 70 percent of Oregon’s electricity comes from clean renewable sources, and at less than a nickel per kWh during off-peak hours under Portland General Electric’s time-of-use rate, electricity is dirt cheap compared to other major West Coast cities.

If you end up having to charge outside of the home, Portland also has you covered. According to a 2015 International Council on Clean Transportation survey, Portland has the highest per-capita concentration of charging stations among the 25 largest U.S. cities. What’s more, Oregon has the best DC fast-charging infrastructure in the country, with roughly four-dozen quick-charge sites spread along 10 different highways.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.07/kWh baseline)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.04/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.45/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 1st

State Incentives:

  • Oregon offers a credit of up to $750 on residential charging stations and installation.
  • Businesses are eligible for tax credits of up to 35 percent of charging station purchases and installations.
  • Oregon offers a loan program for public and private entities toward the incremental cost of replacing or converting vehicles to plug-ins.
  • Oregon has a state law prohibiting conventional vehicles from parking in spaces designated for plug-in vehicle charging.

City Incentives:

  • The Portland City Council has adopted a policy to replace city vehicles with plug-ins “when feasible.”

7. Riverside

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Riverside

Riverside isn’t even one of California’s ten biggest cities, but that hasn’t stopped its residents and government from making impressive strides toward building a high concentration of plug-in vehicles. The city takes its environmentalism seriously, and has been cited several times for the active role it plays in sustainable city planning and attracting green businesses. Last year, plug-in vehicle startup Fisker Automotive announced its intent to restart production in Riverside after emerging from bankruptcy.

Perhaps most importantly for consumers, Riverside’s publically owned utility keeps electricity prices lower-than-average for California, and also offers time-of-use rates well below other major cities in the state.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.14/kWh baseline)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.09/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.67/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: N/A

State Incentives:

  • Up to a $2500 rebate on new plug-in vehicles under California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. (Funding for the program is currently exhausted but may be renewed in the near future.)
  • Solo access to HOV lanes via for all certified zero-emissions vehicles.
  • California provides rebates of up to $10,000 for public entities purchasing plug-in vehicles.
  • The state offers a loan program and some rebates for small businesses installing charging equipment.

City Incentives:

8. Detroit

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Detroit

During winter in Detroit, plug-in vehicles are forced to spend a lot of battery storage just heating the cabin. This can cause significant losses in electric range. Detroit’s public charging infrastructure coverage is nothing spectacular either. What’s more, there are no significant city or state incentives to encourage the purchase of plug-ins. (The state actually moved in the opposite direction recently, imposing an additional registration fee to offset lost gas tax revenue.)

So if the popularity of electric vehicles in the Motor City doesn’t stem from efforts on the part of city or state government, why does it rank eighth in sales? One contributing factor is likely that General Motors—which is heavily invested in its electric vehicle program—is based in Detroit. Another motivating factor may be electricity prices, which can run as low as a third of the national average. With local gas prices generally about 10 percent above the national average, you can save significantly more on a per-mile basis driving electric in Detroit than in most other cities.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.07/kWh baseline)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.04/kWh Average Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.30/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 32

State Incentives: None

City Incentives: None

9. Phoenix

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Phoenix

Where cold weather is an adverse factor for plug-in vehicle adoption in Detroit, Phoenix has the opposite problem: heat. Electric vehicles—particularly those without active thermal management systems—can suffer severe range loss if left out in the heat during the day. Luckily, only early models of the Nissan LEAF have shown drastic range loss so far. (Nissan says it’s since fixed the issue.)

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.11/kWh Average Baseline)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.06/kWh Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.01/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 19th

State Incentives:

  • Solo access to HOV lanes via for all certified zero-emissions vehicles and parking in designated carpool operator parking spaces.
  • Reduced Vehicle Licensing Tax
  • $75 tax credit for home EV chargers.

City Incentives: None.

10. Washington D.C.

Map of electric vehicle charging stations in Washington D.C.

With more than 800 public charging stations in the DC-Baltimore area, the Beltway is ready to support electric vehicles. What’s more, qualifying plug-ins receive single occupancy carpool access, which comes in handy during those famous DC traffic jams.

Basic Electricity Rate: ($0.11/kWh Average Baseline)

Time of Use Rate? Yes ($0.06/kWh Off-Peak)

Gasoline Price: ($2.01/gallon)

Indiana University Study Ranking: 2nd

City Incentives:

  • Exemption from excise tax imposed on original certificate of title.
  • Reduced vehicle registration fee of $36.
  • Fleet electric vehicles exempt from certain time-of-day, day-of-week and commercial vehicle bans.
  • Single-occupancy HOV lane access. 

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  • windsorsean

    I must say I am shocked that Detroit made this list, even with GM being located there. Michigan is one of the most anti-Tesla states in addition to having mediocre charging infrastructure and a difficult economy with no incentives for EVs. As a Nissan Leaf driver across the border in Windsor, I know that it has only been in the last year that DCFC infrastructure has started to show up from NRG EVgo. Employee pricing from GM (and maybe Ford) must be a major factor.