California has been at the forefront of electric vehicle (EV) adoption in the US and it shows. Looking at a chart of all-electric vehicle registration data from the US Department of Energy, last updated in June 2021, it is easy to see how large the lead is between California and all other states.
This is also true when it comes to cumulative EV registrations including all electric vehicles: hybrid and plug-in, too. As of September 2021, there are 930,811 battery and plug-in EVs in California, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Sales Dashboard. This is just shy of the official number used by California, which is 980,225 as of Q3 2021.
This positive growth trend is expected to continue as initiatives continue to be adopted. For example, in late 2020, Governor Newsom set a new target through executive order to make 100% of new in-state light-duty passenger vehicle sales be zero-emissions by 2035. Short distance shipping (drayage) must also be electrified by 2035. Medium and heavy duty vehicles have until 2045. Coupled with the momentum that EVs have felt worldwide this year, EV adoption in California promises to continue growing.
What incentives and programs does California have to aid EV adoption?
While it may seem that electric car adoption in California is largely driven by the state’s Air Resources Board (CARB), in fact, the entire state government is working together. CARB is the lead on the Vehicles and End Users strategy, which may be the most widely known branch of the state’s plan, but the California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are the leads on the Infrastructure Pillar, which is key to EV adoption. Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and Workforce Development Board (CWDB) are also closely involved in implementing all programs and initiatives.
The reason that CARB is well known is because many states in the country have adopted tougher clean air standards under the guidance (and name) of CARB to fight air pollution, emissions, and set zero-emissions sales quotas. The state offers car shoppers a comprehensive set of incentives to encourage EV adoption, including need-based rebates, a point-of-sale reward for new EV customers, and vehicle retirement programs that offer financial support for owners who retire polluting vehicles. Many municipalities also offer used EV purchase support and many plans are income-based to encourage low and medium income access to clean vehicles. Details and specific incentives can be found by entering your zip code here.
In addition, there are locality-based programs to offset the cost of home chargers, discount electricity for EV charging, and offer the added perk of getting to use the HOV lanes while driving a low emissions vehicle! Other infrastructure regulations prohibit public charging station providers to charge a membership or subscription fee, and certain public parking is reserved for EV charging. A great resource to search for local incentives is the state’s Drive Clean program site.
What is the Zero-Emission Vehicle Program?
California has manufacturer-side quotas for clean vehicles, regulated by CARB’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. The ZEV is of a broader initiative to improve air quality in the state and curb greenhouse gas emissions by creating a credit system for emission-free driving range, in which automotive manufacturers must meet a minimum number of zero emissions miles to remain compliant. This program also created a marketplace to buy, save, or sell surplus credits to meet the quotas. Followers of Tesla’s financial success in recent years may recall the sale of regulatory credits as a key revenue generator.
Consumer EV Incentives
Under the Clean Cars 4 All program, lower income shoppers in certain CARB air pollution districts can cash in on up to $9,500. The Clean Vehicle Rebate Program provides rebates to other income restricted shoppers. Other low income financial support includes a down payment, prepaid charge credits, and money to install a level 2 charger at home.
The Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive makes it easier for fleet owners to buy clean vehicles with point-of-sale vouchers on a first come, first served basis.
Is California’s weather good for electric vehicles?
While there are many things that are unknown about battery health and long term EV use, one thing is for sure: temperature and terrain make a big difference for EV performance and longevity. Going up a mountain will take more energy than going down one, and city driving with low speeds and lots of braking will always be more efficient in an EV than highway driving.
California is a large state with several different climates, ranging from the hot summers in Death Valley to the cold ski mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. Other than unseasonable extremes, however, both Northern California and Southern California tend to fall within a comfortable zone for electric vehicles, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.
The ideal temperature range to charge, drive, and store an EV is around 70-75 degrees fahrenheit (21-24 C) so many California drivers have a climate great for their vehicles.You can read more about how temperature affects long and short term battery health here. While cold temperatures generally have only short term effects on EV range, prolonged heat can degrade a battery faster than usual. During peak SoCal temperatures, consider finding a climate controlled or shady place to park and charge.
Another consideration is what sort of driving you’re doing and where you live. If your EV will be used mostly for weekend trips hiking or skiing, consider that you may see lower ranges than if you are planning to run errands and get groceries around town. Unlike in an ICE car, EVs are most efficient on local roads with lots of stop and go - this capitalizes on regenerative braking and lower speeds. The different efficiencies are nothing to worry about, but a good thing to keep in mind.
What is EV infrastructure like in California?
Since California has been such an EV leader, it is no surprise that it has the most EV chargers of any state in the country. As of September 2021, EVadoption.com says that there are 34,185 total charging ports, not including multiple individual plugs that each port may offer: 280 Level 1 chargers, 27,762 Level 2 charges, and 6,143 DC fast chargers.
However, with the anticipated growth of EV ownership in California, the California Energy Commission estimates that 1.2 million chargers will be needed by 2030 to support 7.5 million EVs. There are plans to build out 125,000 chargers by 2025, which is still fewer than the target of 250,000 by the same commission.
California has an incentive plan to build out EV infrastructure, called the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project, which offers financial assistance to install and build chargers at public sites. There is more interest and commitment than available funding, which signals the strong growth potential of EV infrastructure in California. There are also mandates to streamline approval and building processes for chargers.
Is California a good place to buy a used EV?
California has established itself as a top-10 market for used electric vehicles in 2021 with two used EVs for sale today per 100 EVs on the road in 2018. That figure is especially impressive given the number of EVs on California roads in 2018. As of April 2022, California had the highest number of used EVs in inventory out of any state - almost 3,000. The inventory number has been roughly consistent over the year with dips during the summer and early fall.. Across the US, Texas has the next highest inventory - around 2,000 used EVs, followed by Florida with around 1,100.
As a snapshot in time, on April 15, 2022, there are around 5,000 used EVs listed for sale online with California-based dealers, including conventional hybrids (not plug-ins). However, EVs are moving fast these days, so the number of listings on any given day differs from the number of cars in inventory. With 9 EV models under $20,000 and an additional 2 under $25,000, there are used EVs for every Californian who wants one. Half of the state’s used EVs are under $35K.
However, there are a lot of expensive used EVs on the market, which hikes the average price in California up to $41,000. This is compared to the average new EV price of $56,000 and the average used ICE price of $27,500, as of December 2021. However, compared to other states with robust used EV markets, California’s average EV price is very low. The average price for a used in EV in other states with high used inventory are below:
The most expensive used listing in California is currently a 2021 Tesla Model S for $170,000, while the least expensive is a 2014 Volt for just under $8,000. Other inexpensive all-electric models for sale in California are older LEAFS, BMW i3s, Fiat 500e’s, Toyota Prius Plug-ins, and Ford hybrids. Most of these do have more limited range than newer models, but for short commutes, they can offer strong savings on gasoline and maintenance.
Like in other states, 2021 saw a big increase in California used EV prices. The average California used EV price in June 2021 was $31,500 - almost $10,000 less than in April. National details can be found in our quarterly used EV buying report.
The top used EVs for sale in California are fairly representative of nationwide inventory, but overall, there are 28 models with used listings. The Hyundai Kona EV is the least popular listing as of December 2021.
The breakdown of used EVs by model year also mirrors national trends. This is interesting to track because average range increases with 2019 models.
Recurrent tracks 1,911 EVs in CA as a part of our research fleet and an additional 176 plug-in electrics. Most are used but there are a few current model year vehicles, too.
Here are some of the trends we’ve seen so far, restricted to only the full battery electric models. We exclude the plug-ins for these calculations since the range estimates are so different.
- 63% of our CA vehicles are Teslas. They have slightly longer average daily mileage and slightly longer average range
- Chevy Bolts and Volts are the next most common make at 16%
- Average miles per day in CA is 27mi (with a standard deviation, or “spread” of 17 mi). This means that 68% of cars drive between 10 and 44 miles each day. Almost any EV on the market can easily handle this sort of daily drive.
- The average EPA rated range for CA vehicles is 252 mi, while average current range is around 236.3 - meaning the average CA vehicle is in great shape compared to when purchased and generally have around 94% of their original range.
If you look at the data with Teslas excluded, we see that the numbers change a bit.
- Number of total electric vehicles: 883
- Number of battery electric: 705
- Number of PHEVs: 176
- Average miles per day: 22.2
- Average standard deviation of miles per day: 16.6
This means that 68% of drivers go between 5.6 and 38.8 miles each day. Again, well within the range for a used EV.
- Average EPA rated range in miles: 195.9
- Average BMS rated range in miles: 185.0
Again - California EVs are in pretty good shape, with on average 94% of their original range. However, the average non-Tesla EV in California is newer than the average Tesla.