As they say on the public radio show "Marketplace," let’s do the numbers. According to forecaster IHS, 2014 could be a big year for car sales in the U.S. Sales are expected to reach 16.4 million this year (the best results since 2006). And 2015 could top 17 million. Against that backdrop, the 260,000 plug-in cars sold to date doesn’t sound like a big number, but there’s been plenty of growth.
EV sales doubled from 2012 to 2013, from 50,000 to 100,000. This year to date we’re at around 106,000. That obviously means we won't see a doubling again — this time from last year's 100,000 — but sales are relatively vibrant. If you’ve seen headlines reporting big drops in “green car sales,” that’s because they fold in regular hybrids, which are selling slowly.
Teslas in a California store. They're big in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Photo: Don McCullough/flickr)
So, that's a lot of cars, but where are they going? If you guessed California, you’d be right. Of the 260,000, at least 100,000 are in that one state. It’s not surprising, because California has great incentives, including a $2,500 rebate for zero-emission cars and free solo travel in the HOV lanes. Plus the weather is conducive, and the state is full of early adopters. An official goal is 1.5 million zero-emission cars by 2025 (some of which will be hydrogen powered).
But that’s not the whole story. Seven other states joined with California and adopted what’s called the “Multi-State ZEV Action Plan,” and together they account for another 135,000 of the sales. The states are Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut (which has chargers at most highway rest stops), New York, Oregon (with its own chief EV officer and coastal fast charging network), Rhode Island and Vermont.
A Fisker Karma cools off in Greenwich, Connecticut. (Photo: Rivitography/flickr)
The states offer various incentives, including a new $2,500 subsidy (yes, equal to California’s) in Massachusetts (which has subsidies budgeted at $4 million, with $1.5 million already claimed). EV registrations are up 132 percent this year. Connecticut doesn’t provide financial incentives for EV owners (the motto is “the land of steady habits”), but it is big on providing free public charging. My own town in the state has 11 public chargers.
In 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative to put 40,000 plug-in vehicles on state roads in the next five years, backed up with 3,000 public and workplace chargers.
Maryland is putting $1 million into charging infrastructure, and has seen plug-in registrations double in the past year. In the Peach State, a lot of the action is from utilities such as Georgia Power, which is launching a $12 million pilot program to increase the number of public chargers.
A plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt gets free public electrons in Marietta, Georgia. The cities, state and utilities are stepping up. (Photo: Marietta Public Information Office/flickr)
Georgia has respectable green car numbers, driven in part by a $5,000 state income tax credit — one of the best in the country. Clean Cities-Georgia says that 1,000 new plug-in cars are registered every month, with 80 percent of them in metro Atlanta. According to IHS Automotive, electrics now account for one out of 60 new car registrations.
Georgia Power is planning 50 new public charging locations through 2016. It’s working with both Nissan and Tesla to erase “range anxiety” and make plugging in a no-brainer. Next year, the utility will offer commercial landlords $500 to install 240-volt Level II chargers. Residential customers will get $250 incentives. Later next year, GP will also start installing public chargers, including 480-volt Level III units (which can charge and EV in half an hour). Tesla has its own similar Supercharger network, which is free to owners.
The new chargers are welcome. Even in EV-centric Atlanta, there’s still only one workplace or public charger for every 25 cars. The good news is that some commercial developers are now putting chargers in their new buildings, including several office complexes in Atlanta’s downtown.
Is the vast middle of the country an EV desert? Not totally, but it lags behind. The action so far is on the coasts, but the good news is that there is action.
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