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Promoting Electric Vehicles in U.S. Cities

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, September 9th, 2015


Executive Summary

Governments around the world are promoting electric vehicles to reduce oil consumption, climate-related emissions, and local air pollution. Efforts in the U.S. are especially diverse, with many state and local governments, civil society, and companies promoting awareness and sales of electric vehicles, as well as campaigning for policy, charging infrastructure, and financial support. Cities could represent an important focal point in the transition toward a robust electric vehicle market due to urban driving patterns and cities’ concentration of vehicle ownership and charging networks. Although it is early in what is likely a decades-long transition toward an electric-drive vehicle fleet, the current diversity of electric-drive promotion actions provides a rich laboratory for what is working.

This original research analyzes the actions that are impacting electric vehicle deployment across major U.S. metropolitan areas. The 25 most-populous U.S. metropolitan areas analyzed in this paper represent more than 42% of the population, 46% of auto sales, 67% of new electric vehicle registrations, and 53% of the public electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the U.S. as of 2014. This research comprehensively catalogues the state, local, infrastructure, and utility actions that are spurring electric vehicle deployment and includes city-specific analysis of policy benefits to prospective electric vehicle consumers across the 25 urban areas. This analysis also seeks to discern the link between the promotion actions and the uptake of electric vehicles.

Figure ES-1 illustrates the share of new 2014 light-duty vehicles that are plug-in electric vehicles, across 25 major U.S. metropolitan areas. The figure compares the areas’ new electric vehicle share (on the vertical axis) with the electric vehicle promotion activities (horizontal axis) and the public charger infrastructure (the size of the circles). The colors link cities that are in the same region of the country. The figure is based on the analysis of 30 state, city, and utility actions taken to promote electric vehicles and the per capita charging infrastructure in each area. As shown, there is great variation across the metropolitan areas, and San Francisco exhibits the most electric vehicle promotion actions and the highest share of new vehicles that are plug-in electric.

The research reveals several key findings that could be helpful in understanding electric vehicle policy actions and deployment patterns. Across these 25 cities, there was an average of a dozen electric vehicle promotion activities, and plug-in electric vehicles accounted for 1.1% of new automobiles in 2014, which is about 40% greater than the nationwide electric vehicle share. The seven cities with the highest electric vehicle share in 2014 — San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and Riverside—had 2 to 7 times the average U.S. electric vehicle share. The top electric-vehicle adoption cities tended to have some combination of more electric vehicle promotion action, greater charging infrastructure per capita, greater consumer incentives, and greater model availability. Along with highlighting the leaders, this analysis also helps identify gaps in the promotion actions across various cities. For example, cities like New York have adopted many promotion actions and have high electric vehicle model availability, but have less charging infrastructure and state subsidies; on the other hand, cities like Denver have high incentives but low model availability. Many cities’ electric vehicle markets appear to be held back by limited electric vehicle model availability.

Based on the findings, we draw the following four conclusions:

  • Policy is driving accelerated electric vehicle deployment in several cities. Among the seven leading electric vehicle-deployment cities, five are in states that have adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program, and six have attractive consumer incentives. Manufacturers are targeting these markets and making more electric vehicles more readily available, and electric vehicle sales are up as a result.
  • Cities are leading on electric vehicles in diverse ways. Various cities across the U.S. are showing commitment and early success in developing the electric vehicle market. California cities’ electric vehicle consumers are benefiting from state vehicle and fuel policy, long-term commitment to consumer incentives, and implementation of city-level promotion actions, and their electric vehicle uptake is consistently higher than the U.S. average. Seattle has a mix of incentives, utility action, and charging infrastructure and has 3 times the U.S. average electric vehicle deployment. Atlanta’s electric vehicle market has benefited from subsidies and carpool lane access; its battery electric vehicle sales were more than 8 times the U.S. average. Portland, with the most extensive electric charging network and extensive planning and outreach, is seeing 3 times the average U.S. battery electric vehicle sales, without subsidies.
  • Best practices for driving electric vehicles into the fleet are beginning to emerge. Consumer incentives, electric charging infrastructure, model availability, and city-level actions to promote awareness of electric vehicles are all positively linked with higher electric vehicle deployment. This analysis quantitatively supports the conventional wisdom of the “ecosystem approach,” where many stakeholders — state and local, public and private — have key, high-impact roles in enabling the growth of the early electric vehicle market.
  • Cities are an important focal point for collaboration among governments, the auto industry, utilities, and advocacy. The 25 cities analyzed here represent about two-thirds of the U.S. electric vehicle market, and the leading cities have a lot of actors moving in the same direction. Continued and increased collaboration among local actors and state and federal agencies (for increased and prioritized public funding), non-profit groups (to leverage outreach and advocate for improved policy), utilities (to co-promote and incentivize electric vehicles), local businesses (to install workplace charging infrastructure), and automakers (to increase model availability and enhance marketing and outreach) could help align the various groups’ efforts.

Figure ES-1. Electric vehicle promotion actions, charging infrastructure, and electric vehicle share of new vehicles in 2014 in the 25 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas (2014 electric vehicle registration data provided by IHS Automotive)

Download full version (PDF): Assessment of leading electric vehicle promotion activities in United States cities

About the International Council on Clean Transportation
The International Council on Clean Transportation is an independent nonprofit organization founded to provide first-rate, unbiased research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators. Our mission is to improve the environmental performance and energy efficiency of road, marine, and air transportation, in order to benefit public health and mitigate climate change.

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