A new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation proves statistically what everyone knows to be true anecdotally — there are more electric car owners in California is than almost the whole rest of America combined. Why is that? Much of it has to do with culture. The Golden State has always attracted dreamers and seekers. It began with the Gold Rush. People from around the world flocked to California to stake their claim and begin a new life.
Route 66 became synonymous with the American Dream. Horace Greeley offered this advice to anyone looking to leave the past behind: “Go west, young man,” and millions did. California was the frontier, the place where the bonds of polite society were thrown off. Virtually every cultural innovation of the past 50 years has begun in California and spread slowly back across the continent. From the Beach Boys and surfing to free love and Haight Ashbury — the latest thinking, for better or worse began in California.
The computer revolution began in California. Digital innovation turned sleepy San Jose from a backwater at the bottom of San Francisco Bay into the nucleus of Silicon Valley. The electric car revolution began in California, pushed along by the California Air Resources Board. That group of treehuggers and putative socialists got its start trying to control smog in the Los Angeles basin, then graduated to schemes for lowering carbon emissions throughout the state by promoting the use of electric vehicles. It is no accident that Elon Musk, that peripatetic free thinker from South Africa, found his way to California where his ideas could find fertile soil in which to grow.
California today has one of the greenest electrical grids in the world, making electric car ownership even more attractive. Utility companies are under constant pressure from state regulators to add more renewable power to the mix. They have responded by building solar farms and wind turbines faster than anywhere else in the nation. California is ripe for the electric car revolution, which is why its cities have between 3 and 18 times more electric cars on their streets than anywhere else in America.
The ICCT crunched a ton of numbers to find out why that is true. You can find all the fancy charts and graphs in their report, but the findings in the executive study pretty much explain the obvious. There are more electric cars in California because Californians want electric cars. Once again, the state is at the leading edge of a coming revolution that will sweep back over the rest of the country — eventually. Here’s what the researchers found out.
- “Comprehensive policy support is helping support the electric vehicle market. Consumers in California benefit from federal and state electric vehicle incentives, as well as from persistent local action and extensive charging infrastructure. The Zero-Emission Vehicle program has increased model availability and provided relative certainty about vehicle deployment that local stakeholders can bank on. The major metropolitan areas in California had 3 to 13 times the average US electric vehicle uptake in 2015.”
- “Local promotion activities are encouraging the electric vehicle market. The 30 cities in California with the highest electric vehicle uptake — with 8 to 25 times the US electric vehicle uptake — have seen the implementation of abundant, wide-ranging electric vehicle promotion programs involving parking, permitting, fleets, utilities, education, and workplace charging. These cities tend to be smaller, but Oakland and San Jose are also within the high electric vehicle uptake cities. There were twelve cities with electric vehicle market shares of new vehicles from 10% to 18% in 2015 including Berkeley, Manhattan Beach, and many throughout Silicon Valley.”
- “The electric vehicle market grows with its charging infrastructure. The 30 California cities with the highest electric vehicle uptake have, on average, 5 times the public charging infrastructure per capita than the US average. In addition, workplace charging availability in the San Jose metropolitan area is far higher than elsewhere. Increasingly, major public electric power utilities and workplaces are expanding the public charging network to further address consumer confidence and convenience.”
To sum it up, California has shown the political will to make the electric car revolution happen. The closest analogy elsewhere in the world is Norway, where more than a quarter of new car sales are electrics. Some general conclusions can be highlighted.
- More chargers mean more electric cars.
- Monetary incentives are useful, but people also respond to other perks, like car pool lane access, preferential parking in cities, and access to chargers at work.
- The more electric cars on the road, the more people feel comfortable buying an electric car.
Conservatives will howl about the crushing burden that government regulations place on free enterprise and they have a point. The mandates from CARB have made industry leaders uncomfortable. Sergio Macchionne, head of Fiat Chrysler, famously begged people not to buy the Fiat 500e because he said his company lost $14,000 on every car sold.
But the same arguments can be applied to the whole global warming debate. There is no question that reducing carbon and methane emissions will place a financial burden on some established industries. The contrary view is that these people have made trillions in profits over the decades while foisting off the costs of their endeavors onto the shoulders of others. Also pure, unadulterated, Ayn Rand style capitalism will consume the very earth that sustains us if left unfettered by some social constraints. In the long term, business and profit will cease to exist if humanity destroys the earth.
California is a perfect example of how government policy shapes business decisions. So far, the voters in the Golden State are content with the radical agenda being advances by CARB and the rest of the state’s government bureaucracy. No doubt, these rules and regulations have had a significant economic cost, but the people of California seem content to bear those costs. And high tech companies continue to flock to California, despite the burdens it places on businesses. To the people of California, the costs may seem high, but the alternative is unthinkable.