Assessment of leading electric vehicle promotion activities in United States cities (2015)

Published: 2015.07.29

Nic Lutsey, Stephanie Searle, Sarah Chambliss, Anup Bandivadekar

Cities, with their urban driving patterns, high concentration of vehicles, and dense infrastructure, are keys to the development of a robust electric vehicle market. They are also an increasingly rich laboratory for public policies intended to promote the transition toward an electric-drive vehicle fleet.

This paper surveys actions being taken by state and local governments and public utilities to facilitate electric vehicle deployment in the 25 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas, which together represent more than 42% of the population, 46% of auto sales, 67% of new electric vehicle registrations, and 53% of the public electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the U.S. as of 2014. The paper includes city-specific analysis of benefits to consumers, and seeks to discern links between policies aimed at promoting electric vehicles and the market uptake.

Several key findings contribute to advancing understanding of how policy is influencing electric vehicle markets. Across the 25 cities studied, which featured on average a dozen activities to promote EVs, plug-in electric vehicles accounted for 1.1% of new automobile sales in 2014, about 40% more than the nationwide electric vehicle share. The seven cities with the highest electric vehicle share in 2014—San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and Riverside—had two to seven times the average U.S. electric vehicle share. The top metropolitan markets tended to be characterized by a combination of relatively progressive promotional activities, more extensive charging infrastructure per capita, greater consumer incentives, and a broader range of available models.

The study offers four main conclusions:

  1. Policy is driving accelerated electric vehicle deployment in several cities. Manufacturers are targeting these markets, a wider range of EV models are available, and sales are up as a result.
  2. Cities and regions are leading on electric vehicles in diverse ways, varying their emphasis according to local conditions and needs—from investment in charging infrastructure and outreach (Portland) to consumer incentives and carpool lane access (Atlanta) to a broad array of many electric vehicle promotion actions (California cities).
  3. Best practices are beginning to emerge. This analysis quantitatively supports the conventional wisdom of the “ecosystem approach,” where many stakeholders—state and local, public and private—have key, high-impact roles in enabling the growth of the early electric vehicle market.
  4. Cities are focal points for collaboration among governments, the auto industry, utilities, and advocates on electric vehicles. Continued and increased collaboration among local actors and state and federal agencies (for increased and prioritized public funding), non-profit groups (to leverage outreach and advocate for improved policy), utilities (to co-promote and incentivize electric vehicles), local businesses (to install workplace charging infrastructure), and automakers (to increase model availability and enhance marketing and outreach) is needed.

This analysis has implications beyond the United States. Cities around the world, especially in Europe, China, and Japan, are also innovating with, and learning from, policies to promote electric vehicle uptake and use. Constant refinement of the mix of policy, technology, and consumer engagement will be needed to help chart a sustainable path toward an electrified global passenger vehicle fleet.