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Elaine Thompson - Associated Press

California must offer more to reach electric vehicle goals

The following article appeared in The Sacramento Bee on July 4, 2016.

Californians who want to drive a zero-emission vehicle have never had it better. Consumers have more choices from more manufacturers than ever before. They can choose battery power, a plug-in hybrid or a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. ZEVs come in all sizes and cost less than $30,000 or more than $100,000.

But of the more than 2 million new vehicles that will be registered in California this year, less than 3 percent will be ZEVs. We need to fill that gap between hope and reality.

Automakers are making huge investments to meet California’s mandate that 15 percent of new vehicles sold in the state by 2025 be ZEVs. Nine other states have also adopted that requirement. Gov. Jerry Brown and the governors of Oregon and six Northeastern states committed in 2013 to a goal of 3.3 million ZEVs on their roads by 2025.

Regardless of market conditions, infrastructure availability, technological advances or comparable greenhouse gas reductions from non-ZEVs, automakers will have to sell approximately 340,000 ZEVs each year from now until 2025 to meet this ambitious goal.

While 2015 was a record year for auto sales in the U.S., ZEV sales nationwide amounted to just 67,000 vehicles and actually decreased 8 percent in California.

The underlying problem is that there is no purchasing mandate for consumers. Although the number of people who placed deposits on Tesla’s forthcoming “affordable” sedan is an encouraging sign, keep in mind that the deposits are a small fraction of the sticker price and are fully refundable if the customers change their mind. These cars will be delivered over several years; the number of deposits is barely one-third of the annual sales of the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. – a Ford pickup truck.

Analysts point to a number of reasons why consumers aren’t racing to embrace ZEVs: low gasoline prices, worries about their range and the length of time it takes to recharge.

Still, there are a number of things we can do in order to build the ZEV market. We can all do a better job of spreading the word, including about incentives and tax credits that can be worth as much as $10,000. The Union of Concerned Scientists has noted that more than 75 percent of California drivers don’t know the state offers plug-in electric vehicle incentives, and almost 80 percent aren’t aware of the federal tax credit.

All stakeholders need to help sweeten the deal. That requires consistent and sustained support from both automakers and state governments.

Automakers are working hard to produce vehicles that meet consumers’ needs on price and usability. They are supporting charging and refueling infrastructure and training their dealers. Unfortunately, that alone will not be enough to build a sustainable ZEV market.

States also play a critical role. California and other states must increase vehicle rebates and tax credits, invest in infrastructure development and offer perks such as access to car-pool lanes.

John Bozzella is the President and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers.