Electric drive ownership stagnates in California

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Despite incentives, higher availability of vehicles, most green vehicles are sold to those who already own one.

May 7, 2018

By Ken Kurani and Scott Hardman

Adobe Stock

In 2017, several automakers and policymakers announced commitments to transition to electric vehicles (EVs) – Toyota, 1 million EVs by 2030; Volvo, 1 million EVs by 2025; Volkswagen, 25% of vehicle sales to be EVs by 2025. Norway has called for all new cars to be electric by 2025; France, the United Kingdom, and California aim to achieve the same by 2040.

Meanwhile actual sales are tiny. A total of 780,000 on-road plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have been sold in the U.S., representing 0.3% of the nation’s 243 million passenger cars and light-duty trucks. In California, less than 1% are PEVs. PEVs accounted for only 1.1% of U.S. vehicle sales in 2017 and were on track to be less than 5% of sales in California. Many of these are repeat sales to the same households, so an even smaller percent of households are adopting these vehicles.

There are no paths to meet the PEV commitments unless consumers are engaged in the transition to electric drive. Evidence from California says consumers are not. The number of car-owning households that are paying attention to PEVs is not growing.

In five surveys conducted from June 2014 to June 2017, the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies assessed Californian attitudes on electric drive. In 2014, 5% already owned a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) or had actively shopped for one. About another 13% said they had gathered some information about BEVs but were not seriously considering one. Those figures are not higher to any significant degree for 2017.

What about the increasing number of makes and models of PEVs offered for sale between 2014 and 2017? According to the California Air Resources Board’s Drive Clean website, this nearly doubled between 2014 and 2017. However, in 2017, fewer Californians were able to name a PEV for sale compared to 2014. Awareness of incentives? Not higher in 2017 than in 2014. Percentage of car-owners who understand how hybrid, PHEV, and BEVs vehicles are fuelled? Not higher.

Californians are not deciding against PEVs, but they remain unaware of PEVs and anything about them. Millions of California households are simply not engaged in any transition to PEVs.

Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center/ UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies https://phev.ucdavis.edu

Dr. Ken Kurani is an associate researcher, and Dr. Scott Hardman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at ITS-Davis.