After years of steady progress to reduce car emissions and bring cleaner vehicles to the road, California is now facing an uncertain future.
With the potential rollback in federal clean air rules, the state’s pioneering Zero-Emission Vehicle program is more important than ever. When the California Air Resources Board holds a hearing on the program this week, it should focus on affirming the ZEV standards and its long-term support for cleaner cars.
It’s clear that electric vehicles are moving from curiosity to commonplace. In the last year, electric vehicle sales jumped 37 percent nationally and sales continue to accelerate, even as gas prices remain relatively low. In January, EV sales were 70 percent higher that the previous January, and rose 68 percent this past February compared to 2016.
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Nine states have followed California’s lead and committed to the joint ZEV target of 3.3 million ZEVs by 2025. In these states (home to more than 91 million people), EV sales jumped nearly twice the national average – 65 percent from 2015 to 2016.
As California invests in expanding electric charging infrastructure and ZEV targets come into force, more models and types of EVs will come to market. As people learn more about the performance, tech features, and lower operating and maintenance costs of EVs, sales are likely to continue to rise.
The remarkable thing is that EV sales are growing with very little marketing behind them. Car companies spend far less advertising their electric models compared to their other offerings. In 2015, the gas-powered Ford Focus was featured in 4,750 ads, while the electric version starred in about 200. The Nissan Sentra showed up in 3,500 ads, while the electric Leaf had less than half that. If automakers and dealers made a consistent effort across the nation to promote them, EV sales could be even higher.
Automakers are missing out on a great opportunity: Consumers want EVs. A survey by Consumers Union found more than 65 percent of California drivers want to see more electric options across vehicle classes. About 55 percent say they are likely to consider an electric car or truck for their next vehicle.
EVs also insulate families, businesses and institutions from swings in gas prices. And drivers simply like these cars: Electric vehicles earn some of the highest owner-satisfaction ratings in Consumers Reports, with Tesla Model S scoring 94 percent and the Chevy Volt, 90 percent.
The ZEV program has helped spur innovation, drive down costs and shape the electric vehicle market across the nation. In California, the ZEV program has put more than 250,000 electric vehicles on the road. Thanks to clean car standards, there are more than 20 different EV options for consumers to choose from.
This is an exciting moment for electric vehicles and the consumers who want them. Relatively affordable vehicles that go over 200 miles on a single charge – like the 2017 Chevy Bolt, Tesla 3 and next-generation Nissan LEAF – represent a new generation of electric transportation that is more practical and more affordable than ever. EV technology continues to improve quickly, and the states’ clean cars program is a major reason why.
Shannon Baker-Branstetter is energy policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. She can be contacted at SBaker-Branstetter@consumer.org.