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California Faces New Obstacles in Electric Car Adoption and Sales

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【Summary】According to a ZEV market report, 15 percent of cars on the road in the Golden State should be hybrid or electric cars by 2025. Currently, this figure is stuck at three percent. Closing the 12-percent gap within nine years is no easy task. Without major changes to the current EV program, the Natural Resources Defense Council (in a July 2016 report) expects adoption rates to reach roughly 7.5 percent by 2025.

Original Michael Cheng    Oct 16, 2016 5:30 PM PT
California Faces New Obstacles in Electric Car Adoption and Sales
Michael Cheng

By Michael Cheng

Emerging sectors, like genetic editing, cryptocurrency and augmented reality, come with obstacles and challenges that have a tendency to present themselves in the later stages of growth. In the electric vehicle (EV) industry, with focus on California, some of these issues are hindering consumer adoption rates and disrupting analytical projections. 

According to a ZEV market report, 15 percent of cars on the road in the Golden State should be hybrid or electric cars by 2025. Currently, this figure is stuck at three percent. Closing the 12-percent gap within nine years is no easy task. Without major changes to the current EV program, the Natural Resources Defense Council (in a July 2016 report) expects adoption rates to reach roughly 7.5 percent by 2025.

"We are way behind, we are really way behind," said Michael Schneider, Chief Environmental Officer at San Diego Gas & Electric.

Creating the Perfect Storm

Meeting the state's EV goals is not impossible. However, as mentioned earlier, big changes have to made to regulations, policies and outdated processes that govern the nascent sector in order to meet such objectives. For instance, funding for the state's EV rebate program has not been consistent. The Legislature has delayed such actions and overlooked a powerful bill that would have streamlined its 2025 goals. Furthermore, some lawmakers backed by the struggling oil sector have placed the needs of its contributors ahead of the EV program. 

California policymakers are not the only individuals responsible for the problems currently plaguing the EV industry. Carmakers have also failed to deliver a product that can supersede the capabilities of fuel-dependent cars. In particular, EVs with limited range and heftier price tags are not attractive for local car buyers – even with lucrative incentives. Taking Brian Feeney's experience with buying a new Nissan Leaf at a Palm Springs dealership as an example: he was unable to drive the car back to his house in Pasadena (over 100 miles away) due to car battery range limitations. Instead, he was forced to have the vehicle delivered via tow truck.

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Planning for the Future

Although the state is lagging behind in meeting their goals, it does not mean that they will never reach them. Analysts expect gas prices to normalize in the future; and this could be a great opportunity for lawmakers to ease EV regulations for carmakers and consumers. With focus on the latter group, officials are now starting to target buyers who can greatly benefit from driving a low-emission car, i.e., individuals in low-income neighborhoods. 

"We're not meeting the goals right now of reaching the middle class and poor people," said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove). "People who are wealthy buy electric cars to drive in carpool lane and get to work quicker. Meanwhile, poor people are in their old clunkers. It's crazy."

To accommodate local EV owners, the state has introduced new building codes that emphasizes the establishment of "EV Ready" charging stations. This may help win over undecided consumers who are concerned about getting stranded on the side of the road due to battery constraints. 


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