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I Want My EV: Why Some States Are Failing With Electric Vehicles


Shopping for an electric vehicle (EV)? If you don’t live in California, you may have a tough time finding one.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that most drivers, especially those outside of California, have a harder time locating an electric vehicle than if they were shopping for a similar gasoline vehicle.

Automakers Coming Up Short

The report discovered sales and model data showing that leading automakers have hugely different histories in bringing EVs to the U.S. market. The leaders in making EVs available? BMW, General Motors, Nissan and Tesla. The guys with some work to do include Honda, Chrysler and Toyota.

The UCS research says that between 2010 and 2016, carmakers debuted more than 24 electric models and sold over 400,000 new EVs in the United States. Most sales came from just three models — the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan LEAF and the Tesla Model S — and roughly half of the sales occurred in California.

Cali Reigns Supreme

The Golden State rules the EV world thanks to its Zero Emission Vehicle program, which requires automakers to sell EVs and incentivizes the sales through rebates, an expanding battery-charging infrastructure and access to carpool lanes. Because of this, carmakers have made more electric models and filled more sales lots in California than anywhere else in the nation.

EV selection and sales in other states is pretty grim, however. In 2015, Californians could choose from over 20 models; no other state had more than 14, and many offered no EVs at all.

Perhaps folks not living in California just aren’t interested in EVs. It turns out that’s not entirely the case: According to a 2016 survey by UCS and the Consumers Union, drivers in the Northeast as well as California said they would consider an EV for their next car.

The survey also revealed that 86 percent of drivers won’t buy cars that they can’t take for a spin. So even when drivers are interested, finding and test-driving an electric vehicle is harder than it should be.

Here’s a rundown of how the automakers stack up in how they approach, market and sell electric vehicles.

  • BMW: BMW is a major heavyweight when it comes to EVs. According to the UCS, it leads all major automakers in electric sales as a proportion of its total sales, thanks to its i3 and i8, which account for more than 3 percent of BMW sales across the country and a hefty 7 percent in California.
  • GM: General Motors is a leader, too, with the Chevrolet Volt being the top-selling plug-in hybrid EV in the U.S.
  • Nissan: Nissan is also a major player. The automaker’s Leaf has been the top-selling battery-electric car since 2010.
  • Tesla: Tesla is different from other automakers in that is only sells electric vehicles. It builds them on demand, thus sidestepping the traditional dealership model. Tesla was the top-selling EV automaker in 2015.
  • Honda: Honda currently offers no plug-in electric vehicle in the United States. It plans to debut the Clarity Electric, a battery-electric car, in 2018.
  • Toyota: Toyota is a champion in hybrid vehicle technology, but the company falls way behind in deploying plug-in electric cars. That may change with the Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid version of its insanely popular Prius.

It’s hard to say what may change the nationwide landscape for EVs. Perhaps more incentives are needed for carmakers to take the electric plunge.

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