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Politics : Rat's Nest - Chronicles of Collapse

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From: Wharf Rat2/1/2023 5:38:12 PM
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Will California start to see even more electric vehicles? Experts say sales are at ‘tipping point’

Dustin Gardiner
Jan. 24, 2023Updated: Jan. 28, 2023 12:18 p.m.

Sales of electric vehicles in California soared to a record high last year. Tesla remains the dominant player in the market, with 72.7% of the sales of fully electric vehicles, but its market share dipped over the past two years, according to Energy Commission data.

Samantha Laurey, Freelance Photographer / Special to the Chronicle

Sales of electric vehicles in California soared to a record high last year, accounting for 18.8% of all new cars sold in the state and leading some analysts to suggest exponential growth could lie ahead.

More than 345,000 cars sold in the state were fully or partially electric models, a dramatic jump from about 145,000 cars two years ago, or less than 8% of the new car market, according to data from the state Energy Commission.

The dramatic increase has been attributed to a host of factors, including sky-high gasoline prices, more variety in electric models, strong government subsidies for buyers and less consumer hesitancy.

California has long dominated the electric car market in the United States due to aggressive tailpipe regulations designed to phase out emissions that are known to harm human health and drive global climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

But other states are starting to follow suit. Nationwide, fully electric models made up a record 5.8% of new cars sold last year, according to Cox Automotive, an industry research group.

An analysis released last year by Bloomberg concluded that 5% is the crucial tipping point that likely indicates the start of mass adoption, based on global sales data for countries where electric cars are more common.

Environmentalists and industry analysts cheered California’s new high-point for electric vehicle sales, though they cautioned that it’s a fraction of the shift needed to meet the state’s climate goals.

“We are starting to get to that tipping point where we’re getting beyond the early adopters. Five, 10 years ago, it was more people who were actively seeking out an electric vehicle,” said David Reichmuth, a senior clean transportation engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This is a good start.”

The state electric vehicle sales data for 2022 includes battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicles. Excluding plug-in hybrids, which run on a short-range battery and a gas engine, about 16% of new cars sold in California last year were fully electric.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of the state’s most vocal electric vehicle champions, touted the sales record in a tweet, boasting, “California continues to lead the zero-emission vehicle revolution.”

The number of clean cars sold in the state is likely to accelerate due to stringent new emissions rules that air-quality regulators adopted last year.

Under the new rules, which Newsom spearheaded via an executive order, most new cars sold in California must be zero-emission by 2035. The rules include interim benchmarks: 35% of new vehicles must be fully electric or plug-in hybrid by model year 2026, though credits purchased from other automakers can be used to offset a sizable portion of those targets in earlier years.

That mandate ramps up to 68% by 2030, and 94% by 2034. When the rules take full effect, the state will allow about a fifth of new vehicles to be plug-in hybrids, which it characterizes as zero-emission.

Reichmuth said this year’s sales figures are likely just the start of a rapid transition. He said many more electric vehicles likely could have been sold this year if not for long manufacturer waiting lists to receive the most popular models, such as for Ford’s F-150 Lightning or Tesla’s Model X.

“With what we know about climate science, we really can’t move fast enough,” Reichmuth said.

Tesla remained, by far, the dominant player in the market, with 72.7% of the sales of fully electric vehicles. Its market share dipped slightly, however, down from 78.8% two years ago, according to Energy Commission data.

At the same time, analysts and advocates warn that California and other vehicle markets in the U.S. face significant hurdles in making a broader transition to electric cars.

Many gaps in charging infrastructure remain, and the state has a long way to go to ensure that it can generate enough clean energy — and store it for extended periods of time — to power a grid with millions of electric vehicles.

Moreover, the typical sticker price for a vehicle remains over $30,000 — about $8,000 more expensive than a gas-powered economy sedan, discouraging middle- and lower-income buyers.

To deal with those hurdles, Newsom and state legislators set aside a record $10 billion in the state’s budget to speed up the transition, including billions for buyer subsidies and charging infrastructure. He has proposed to cut about $1.1 billion of that spending this year due to a projected budget deficit.

Ron Cogan, publisher of and an analyst who has tracked the industry for over 30 years, said that while last year’s sales record is a point for optimism, it’s unlikely to hold.

He said high prices at the pump — the average per gallon price of gas in California peaked at $6.43 last summer — probably motivated many consumers to consider electric vehicles and hybrids.

“If history tells us anything, it’s that there are spurts in interest in more environmentally positive vehicles,” Cogan said. “So, I think we should all kind of hold our breath and see if that continues as gas prices drop.”
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