Which States Have the Most Electric Cars—and Why

By: Bridget Clerkin July 20, 2018
States with electric vehicle rebates—like California—tend to have more of the vehicles on their roads.
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California has always been known for its star power, but even the state’s cars are especially high-wattage.

The Golden State is leading the charge to get more electric vehicles on the road, thanks to a number of financial programs and outreach efforts. That’s according to the ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicles) State Policy Scoreboard, a report compiled by the non-profit Electrification Coalition to track the adoption of plug-in vehicles across the country.

As of last year, 356,241 electric cars were registered in California—comprising just slightly more than 5% of the total autos found on the state’s freeways. That number also represents nearly half of the more than 700,000 EVs in the entire country.

But California isn’t alone in its electrifying efforts.

More than 2% of vehicles in Oregon and Vermont were electric as of last year. As for raw numbers, New York’s vehicle registration rolls included 30,645 plug-ins in 2017—about 1% of the state’s total cars—while Massachusetts counted 13,834 in its electric fleet. (The numbers track a marked growth since 2011, when virtually no electric vehicles were on the road.)

Driving the battery-powered success is a number of incentives and efforts designed to tip the invisible hand of the market.

Nationally, a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of a plug-in has been particularly effective, according to the report. The federal offer stands for the first 200,000 units sold by any one manufacturer, and while no automaker has yet hit that threshold, a number are expected to surpass it this year. (Tesla, in particular, is closest to the benchmark, with an estimated 194,021 units sold as of June.)

Many states offer additional tax credits for such purchases—which has also proven successful in moving the needle, according to the report.

California’s $2,500 state tax credit was a noted factor in the state’s success. The report also highlights efforts in Maryland and Connecticut, which, together with California, were designated as the “top tier” of states leading the plug-in campaign.

Maryland offers $3,000 back on tax day for anyone who made an e-vehicle purchase, plus generous compensation for wall charging units. And in Connecticut, a $3,000 tax rebate is buoyed by additional savings on vehicle registration.

Regulators have also flexed their muscles to get more e-cars on the road.

For years, California has maintained the Zero Emissions Program (ZEP), which requires automakers to create and deliver a certain percentage of plug-in and hybrid vehicles to the state every year. And things are likely to ratchet up soon, with the percentage set to jump a significant amount by 2025.

The plan is part of California Governor Jerry Brown’s stated mission to get 5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. And at least nine other states have adopted similar ZEP plans for their own streets.

Still, the states have a long way to go. As of 2017, electric cars represented less than 1% of light-duty vehicle sales nationwide.

To create cleaner energy, the country must find greater synergy.

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