It's official: California leads in electric vehicle adoption

BMW i3 Concept at IAA Frankfurt 2011.
BMW i3 Concept at IAA Frankfurt 2011.

This article originally appeared at Smart Grid News.

It may not come as a complete surprise, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration has confirmed that California leads the country in electric vehicle adoption. However, all-electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles still represent a small percentage of new vehicle sales.

Roughly 174,000 EVs and PHEVs were on the road in 2013 compared to roughly 226 million registered vehicles in the country. EVs and PHEVs got off to a disappointingly slow start when they were first introduced. Although their numbers have grown and adoption has accelerated, they still account for a very small percentage of total vehicle sales, less than 1 percent.

The cost of the vehicles, much of it the cost of the batteries to power them, remains high, although improved technologies are making their way to the marketplace that are expected to reduce costs and extend the range of the cars. The range of most current batteries and the availability of charging stations continues to discourage broader adoption.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Federal Highway Administration data and R.L. Polk & Company

Still, while only five of every 1,000 vehicles registered in California is a plug-in vehicle, the state still has just a little less than half of the country's EVs and PHEVs. To be fair, some sources say Georgia could overtake California as the leader in adoption.

Tax incentives offered by several states are helping to boost EV and PHEV adoption because they lower the upfront expense of buying one, and those are in addition to federal tax credits — which vary depending on battery capacity and vehicle weight.

State incentives for EVs and PHEVs differ widely in how the dollar amount is determined. In California, rebates of $2,500 for EVs and $1,500 for PHEVs are available. In Georgia, buyers can get a zero-emission vehicle tax credit of 20 percent of the cost, up to a ceiling of $5,000. Zero-emission vehicles are considered those powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells.

Also, some utilities provide incentives in their own way, in the form of rate structures specifically for EV and PHEV owners willing to charge their cars during off-peak times.

California also enacted a requirement for car makers to offer a percentage of zero-emission vehicles such as electric- and fuel cell-powered. The state also requires that by 2025 about 15 percent of all new light-duty vehicles sold in the state must be electric- or fuel cell-powered. Nine states are following suit and have agreed to adopt the California zero-emission vehicles requirement.