Update: California's electric vehicle market

Published Wed, 2017.05.31 | By

Nic Lutsey


Summarizes the status of electric vehicle market in California through 2016, quantifying electric vehicle market growth across California cities and metropolitan areas.

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This briefing summarizes data on the development of the electric vehicle market in California through 2016. It quantifies electric vehicle market growth across California cities and metropolitan areas and provides broader context. The briefing concludes with four major findings:

California is home to several of the world’s electric vehicle capitals. The San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles metropolitan areas have some of the highest electric vehicle sales and market shares in the world. Along with other global electric vehicle capitals such as Oslo, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and Beijing, California’s leading markets for electric vehicles are pursuing comprehensive programs to spur the market. These include charging infrastructure, state policies, and strong model availability. Within the three leading California metropolitan areas, 16 cities had electric vehicle market shares of more than 10%; six, more than 15%; and three, more than 20%.

Metropolitan Los Angeles is simultaneously an electric vehicle success and an opportunity for much greater growth. The Los Angeles metropolitan area already has more than 100,000 electric vehicles on the road, including 30,000 within the city of Los Angeles. At the same time, electric vehicle sales in 2016 amounted to about 4% of the new-vehicle market, considerably less than in many northern California cities and other world-leading markets. Sales of electric vehicles will have to rise substantially over the next decade to meet air quality and climate goals. Authorities and automakers can encourage greater awareness of buying incentives, more use of electric vehicles in carsharing, and expanded educational campaigns. Charging infrastructure and consumer incentives will need to be steered toward disadvantaged and low-income communities.

The electric vehicle market needs to broaden beyond the early adopters. Even the relatively large vehicle markets of Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Riverside, Sacramento, and Stockton record electric vehicle shares below the statewide average. They tend to have less-extensive charging infrastructure and more limited electric vehicle model availability than the bigger, wealthier markets. These cities and metropolitan areas have a greater percentage of lower and middle income households. Policymakers, electric utilities, and auto dealers will need to strengthen and expand on the successful strategies in the top electric vehicle markets. New initiatives such as consumer purchasing incentives and utility infrastructure deployment appear to be headed in this direction, including support for disadvantaged communities and low-income households.

Sustained electric vehicle growth is not guaranteed. California’s long-term plans for climate stabilization call for a complete transition to ZEVs by 2050. To reach that goal, California will need to sustain comprehensive incentive and enabling policies beyond 2025. These include continued clean fuel policies, strengthened ZEV regulation, buildout of the public charging infrastructure network, sustained consumer incentives, low electricity rates, and greater consumer outreach. Setting emissions standards to 2030 would capitalize on declining battery costs while providing long-lead regulatory time for technology investments in a mainstream electric vehicle market.