5 Ways to Jumpstart the Electric Vehicle Market Outside California

 In EV Industry

Whatever way you analyze it, California is North America’s capital of electric vehicles. Over half the plug-ins registered in the U.S. drive on California roads, and the state’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has policies to nudge automakers into developing EVs or buy credits from automakers that do.

It’s not only volume, either. If you wanted to rate states by percentage of new car sales, the Golden State wins there as well. An EIA map showed only Hawaii and Washington – states with a fraction of California’s population – boasting more than three electric cars per 1,000 registered vehicles.

Electric cars per 1,000 registered vehiclesPolitically progressive states on the East Coast, some of which have electric vehicle incentives available, lag way behind the pace in both volume and concentration. The same goes for places considered ‘car country,’ including Florida, Texas, and Michigan.

The eternal question is how to change the situation. Policy makers, environmental advocates and the automakers themselves have offered solutions in recent years. Here are five ways to jumpstart the EV market outside California.

1) Make Electric Cars Available

toyota-rav4-ev-whiteToyota RAV4 EV.

Honda Fit EV.

Chevy Spark EV.

Many consumers are familiar with the gasoline versions of these vehicles, but the electric models came (and mostly went) with hardly anyone outside California knowing they existed. These models dubbed “compliance cars” because they appeased regulators from CARB but were never factors on the U.S. market at large.

An EV shopping study conducted by The Sierra Club in 2016 showed consumers were 2 ½ times more likely to find an EV at a California dealership than elsewhere. By simply making plug-ins available in more markets, car manufacturers would see higher sales across the country.

Volunteers were 2 1/2 times more likely to find no EV on a dealership lot in the nine other ZEV states than they were in California. Among the dealerships our volunteers visited that had at least one EV, the average number of EVs on lots in California was nearly twice the average number on lots in the nine other ZEV states. Of the visits to dealerships with at least one EV on the lot, volunteers found that 42% of the time EVs were either “not prominently displayed” or were only “somewhat prominently displayed.”

Excerpts from The Sierra Club study.

2) Offer – and Publicize – Incentives

State of Georgia EV Registrations 2010-2015 AugustElectric vehicle incentives generally do their job. In the EIA map of EVs per 1,000 vehicles from late 2014, Georgia might be considered a surprise state, but it was no coincidence. For several years, residents of the Peach State enjoyed one of the most attractive purchase incentives in the United States. Consumers could deduct as much as $12,500 off the cost of an electric model once the state and federal tax credits were counted.

When lawmakers pulled the plug in Georgia, sales plunged accordingly. Yet offering incentives is only part of the solution. Lawmakers must promote tax breaks, purchase rebates and incentives (like single-occupancy HOV lane access) in order for consumers to know they exist. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2016 showed how much of an issue outreach was when it came to incentives.

According to the survey, 82% of people in the Northeastern U.S. were unaware of the federal tax credit, while 84% were had no idea whether their home states offered incentives. In California, the numbers were almost identical. Without spreading the word, consumers will not take advantage of these deals.

3) Improve EV Charging Infrastructure

EVs charging in Santa Clara garageWe have covered the state of electric vehicle charging and how it can improve in several posts. This factor is so important because gas stations are everywhere while EV charging is hard to find or nonexistent in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. Consumers are unsure when and how to charge a plug-in vehicle, and this lack of information steers them away from EVs.

Visitors to California find EV chargers in supermarket parking lots and other places (including beach parking facilities) where they tend to spend long periods of time. This reinforcement does wonders for confidence in the technology. Likewise, the amount of charging station signage has an impact on the market. Consumers need available public chargers and the means to know where they are.

4) More Information for Consumers

Tesla in showroomBetter information and greater outreach might be the biggest hurdle of all for auto consumers outside California. The Sierra Club study about the Northeast market showed how difficult it was for consumers to get information about plug-ins from the automakers selling them. In some cases, only one salesperson per dealership was trained in the technology. At other times, no one knew how EVs worked or the cars did not have enough charge to take a test drive.

Meanwhile, information about charging was hard to come by and (outside of Tesla and BMW sales teams) the EVs themselves were often hidden away at dealerships. Naturally, this disconnect leads to misconceptions around range anxiety and other problems. That’s a shame, because a study by MIT said nearly 90% of driving trips in America could be done by an EV. If only the people knew.

Of our respondents who asked to test drive an EV, they were told at 14% of the dealerships that the car was not sufficiently charged, including at 22% of the Chevy dealerships and at 21% of the Ford dealerships visited. Of the visits to dealerships with at least one EV on the lot, volunteers indicated that about 33% of the time the salesperson did not discuss the federal and state tax credits and rebates available to lower the cost of an EV. Of the visits to dealerships with at least one EV on the lot, volunteers indicated that only about 50% of the salespeople they spoke with provided information on how to fuel the EV while traveling.

Excerpts from The Sierra Club study.

5) Strong Clean-Air & Fuel-Economy Policy

United States Environmental Protection AgencyThe carrot approach of offering credits to automakers who sell zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) has done relatively little to accelerate the growth of plug-ins, even in California. It’s becoming clear that stronger fuel economy standards must be in place for automakers to treat clean vehicle technology with any measure of seriousness.

In fact, automakers are actively challenging the CAFE standards in place for 2025, despite evidence they are capable of meeting them. It will take wide deployment of ZEVs to push the mpg standard over the top in the next decades, and that’s a good thing. Rather than weakening the goals automakers can meet, the EPA should maintain or increase goals.

After all, criticisms about fuel economy regulations killing jobs are largely unfounded. Meanwhile, we know what a lack of clean air regulations kills: people.

Passenger vehicle health and climate costsAccording to a study released by the American Lung Association, the 10 states currently following California’s ZEV mandate could save $21 billion in health costs in the coming decades by phasing out gasoline cars in favor of electric vehicles. The shift away from vehicles powered by fossil fuels could save 2,246 premature deaths by air pollution every year in the ZEV states alone.

To make sure the source of electricity generation to EVs is clean, regulations on power plants must become stronger. This policy would encourage states to target transportation emissions as aggressively as California has.

There is no magic bullet for boosting the EV market outside of California, but there are many policies that have proven effective. The coming generation of long-range vehicles under $37,500 deserves a real shot at changing the transportation industry.

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