Plug-in electric vehicles are setting the pace

UC Davis professor and longtime green-car advocate Andy Frank talks to the media about his new Chevrolet Volt plug in hybrid car he leased at Hanlees Chevrolet in Davis.
UC Davis professor and longtime green-car advocate Andy Frank talks to the media about his new Chevrolet Volt plug in hybrid car he leased at Hanlees Chevrolet in Davis.

This month marks a new milestone. With global sales set to reach 1 million vehicles this month, zero emission vehicles are becoming the new normal. In particular, plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs – with their cost effectiveness, competitive performance and increasing convenience – are lining up at dealerships and traffic signals around the world.

As with most trends, California is leading the way. As the world’s No. 1 PEV market, California is the pace car for this week’s National Drive Electric Week. With almost 150,000 plug-in electric vehicles sold in the state in the past five years, California represents 45 percent of the nation’s plug-in electric vehicle sales. This acceptance is true in Sacramento as well. For example, when asked this summer about the most popular vehicle on the lot, a local Fiat dealer didn’t hesitate: the Fiat 500e is out-selling its gasoline-powered counterpart.

This isn’t surprising. PEVs offer another choice to consumers in the car market that is often times competitive with new gasoline or diesel cars. The average selling price of a new EV in 2014 was $32,618, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. This means the sticker price of many plug-in electric vehicles is even lower.

Then take that sticker price, and drop it by up to $10,000. That is how much the state and federal incentives can slash upfront purchase prices. By the time you add in the savings you get from less expensive fuel, you get one of the most cost-competitive new cars you can find. Further, PEVs are beginning to make their way into the used car market, opening the market to Californians that typically purchase used cars.

In addition, the state is making it even more attractive to drive electric in California. California PEV drivers can get carpool lane access stickers, and free parking and charging opportunities in many locations. Also, many utilities offer discounted electricity rates to electric vehicle drivers.

Once behind the wheel, drivers are experiencing how increased torque, smoother acceleration and a quiet ride translate into a drive like no other. In fact, in August, Consumer Reports magazine had to recalibrate its rating system to account for the unprecedented performance of Tesla’s new all-wheel-drive version of its battery-powered Model S. This exceptional performance is just a preview of what we can expect from electric vehicle technology.

While it is convenient to charge at home, there are more than 7,300 (and counting) public charging outlets across the state located at grocery stores, malls, parking garages, public buildings and offices – helping to integrate PEV charging seamlessly into drivers’ daily lives. In addition, the state is helping to fund completion of the California portion of the West Coast Electric Highway. The West Coast Electric Highway will allow EV drivers to travel from Canada to Mexico with confidence in their ability to charge along the way.

Because there is no tailpipe pollution, plug-in electric vehicles eliminate one more air pollution source and help California fight climate change. They can also help reduce our dependence on oil.

As National Drive Electric Week continues, we invite you to visit an event in your area and experience for yourself why there are a million zero emission vehicles already on the road. PEVs are setting the pace.

Janea A. Scott is a commissioner with the California Energy Commission. Christine Kehoe is the executive director of the California Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative.