Cars

Published on May 4th, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan

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US Electric Car Sales By State — Who’s #1, Ohio Or California?

May 4th, 2017 by  

Our friends over at EV Volumes — a Silver Sponsor of our upcoming Cleantech Revolution Tour conference in Berlin+Wroclaw — recently shared some interesting state-specific electric car sales data with us. The most notable finding is clear enough in the following chart:

Here are the data in another format:

Yep, California dominates.

But hey, California is a huge state with a huge population and economy. How does it compare on a relative basis? How does it compare when you look at per capita EV sales?

Indeed, it’s still #1, with a per capita percentage of 0.7%, far more than #2 Hawaii (0.4%) or #3 Washington (0.3%).

You could also break things down by car sales, GDP, etc., but California still shines, shines, shines. We know this, but perhaps we take it for granted and neglect to genuinely dive into why California is such a leader.

The topic reminds me of a 2013 presentation about Norway’s EV leadership. At the time, the country was hitting a stunning ~13% of new car sales being electric. Today, the figure is up to ~30%, and Oslo rose to 50% in January. The 2013 presentation I’m referring to was provided by a Nissan exec. The aim was to tease out why Norway was so far ahead (even today, I don’t think another country has risen to 5% market share, let alone 30%). The answer was a bit surprising.

→ Yes, Norway offers some nice financial incentives for going electric … but a lot of places do.

→ Yes, Norway has a fairly wealthy populace … but a lot of places do.

→ Yes, Norway has some decent charging infrastructure … but several places do.

… And none of these places have nearly the EV uptake of Norway.

The answer, according to the Nissan exec, is that the biggest factor was awareness. Norway had spent decades raising awareness about EVs. It had (and still has) a variety of incentives in place to stimulate EV purchases, but one of the biggest and most under-acknowledged benefits of that full menu is a “soft” benefit — the breadth and depth of approaches helped to raise awareness about electric cars and heighten their status in the cultural consciousness.

It’s a similar story with California, but there are also some obvious other factors at play. First of all, let’s check off a few boxes before commenters shoot me for ignoring them:

→ California has long offered a decent EV rebate (typically, $2,500).

→ California’s population is heavily “eco oriented,” Democratic, pro-cleantech, and pro-innovation.

→ California’s residents are richer than the norm, on average.

→ The state has provided or required other measures to boost EV infrastructure and business.

→ On traffic-clogged highways, plug-in vehicles have been permitted to coast along in the HOV lanes.

All of these factors together — as well as Tesla’s manufacturing presence in the state — certainly produce a much higher cultural awareness of EVs. Additionally, as the market grows, word of mouth gets around, and growth speeds up. It’s an exponential thing.

But the big daddy when it comes to California is really the state’s ZEV mandates. California “requires” that automakers sell zero-emissions cars within its borders if they want to sell dirty cars. There are indeed some loopholes, and EV fans and leaders (like Elon Musk) have criticized the state policy for ZEV credits as being far too soft and ineffectual, but the overall mandate has been one of the biggest reasons why California dominates US electric car sales.

But wait, didn’t 9 or so other states follow California and also adopt ZEV mandates? Sort of.

Fiat 500e grey 1 enhancedThe Fiat 500e is hardly sold outside of California, but it moves in nice volumes in The Golden State. Photo by Kyle Field.

Yes, 9 other states adopted ZEV mandates, but they implemented the laws in such a way that automakers could meet the requirements for all states via ZEV sales in just one of those states (ahem, California). This is due to a “travel provision” rule, but the loophole actually closes at the end of this year. That happens to be interesting timing, given that, aside from the Tesla Model 3 arriving, second-gen versions of the Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, and perhaps other models should be arriving then. We’ll see what happens in these other states then.

The lessons to take away from this, in my humble opinion, are:

  1. A broad approach to EV incentives — and especially with an aim to raise overall awareness — is key.
  2. But yeah, a ZEV mandate goes a long way.

It’s hard to have any idea what the state of the EV market would be in the US today if it weren’t for California’s ZEV mandate, but I’d assume the market would be much, much, much smaller. Think Tesla dominates the market right now? The situation could be much worse.

Other states should adopt ZEV mandates, if for no other reason than to dramatically reduce premature deaths from air pollution, an obvious epidemic if we weren’t so accustomed to the story.

Either way, the EV market should get a lot more interesting within the coming year. EV sales in 9 states other than California should pick up considerably thanks to the ZEV mandate changes, and the broadly competitive + “affordable” Tesla Model 3 should have a similar effect.

Chart comes from our brand spankin’ new 93-page EV report, with responses collected from 2,324 completed surveys.

What can you do to help usher in a new wave of EV growth? These are 6 key suggestions from CleanTechnica:

  1. Push for a ZEV mandate in your country, state, or province.
  2. Convince your city to launch and electric carsharing program.
  3. Convince your city to build out world-class EV charging — destination charging and DC fast charging along key corridors.
  4. Launch your own electric taxi company or electric carsharing company (or a combination system).
  5. Convince your state and/or city to offer financial incentives for EVs, access to priority lanes like HOV lanes, and/or free priority parking.
  6. Host big ride & drive EVents.

See more ideas here:

10 Cleantech Solutions Your City Should Implement

10 More Cleantech Solutions For Your City

10 More Cleantech City Solutions (#21–30)

Again, thanks to EV Volumes for sharing the new data.


Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



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