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ICCT study assesses EV promotion and uptake in top 25 metropolitan areas in US

A new study by a team at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has found that the top metropolitan markets in the US for electric vehicles tend to be characterized by a combination of relatively progressive promotional activities; more extensive charging infrastructure per capita; greater consumer incentives; and a broader range of available models.

The newly published white paper—Assessment of Leading Electric Vehicle Promotion Activities in United States Cities, surveys actions being taken by state and local governments and public utilities to facilitate electric vehicle deployment in the 25 most populous US metropolitan areas, which together 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 US as of 2014.

EV promotion actions, charging infrastructure, and EV share of new vehicles in 2014 in the 25 most populous US 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. As shown, there is great variation across the metropolitan areas. San Francisco exhibits the most electric vehicle promotion actions and the highest share of new vehicles that are plug-in electric.

Source: The ICCT. Click to enlarge.

The paper also includes city-specific analysis of benefits to consumers, and seeks to discern links between policies aimed at promoting electric vehicles and the market uptake.

Across the 25 cities studied—which featured on average a dozen activities to promote EVs—plug-in electric vehicles accounted for 1.1% of new automobile sales in 2014, about 40% more 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 two to seven times the average US electric vehicle share.

The top metropolitan markets tended to be characterized by a combination of relatively progressive promotional activities, more extensive charging infrastructure per capita, greater consumer incentives, and a broader range of available models.

The study offers four main conclusions:

  1. Policy is driving accelerated electric vehicle deployment in several cities. Manufacturers are targeting these markets, a wider range of EV models are available, and sales are up as a result.

  2. Cities and regions are leading on electric vehicles in diverse ways, varying their emphasis according to local conditions and needs—from investment in charging infrastructure and outreach (Portland) to consumer incentives and carpool lane access (Atlanta) to a broad array of many electric vehicle promotion actions (California cities).

  3. Best practices are beginning to emerge. 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.

  4. Cities are focal points for collaboration among governments, the auto industry, utilities, and advocates on electric vehicles. 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) is needed.

This assessment points toward many unanswered questions that warrant further investigation. Many cities in this report have been implementing substantial new policies, but without yet seeing electric vehicle deployment. Future sales data will reveal whether there are key missing policy ingredients, or whether what remains is a more widespread electric vehicle rollout by automakers. While some of the primary factors that are driving electric vehicle growth are becoming clearer, many are not.

The roles of automaker marketing efforts, dealer actions, and utility action to promote electric vehicles seem clearly important and deserve greater study. Cases like Atlanta, where there has been success that is built almost exclusively upon one particular model (i.e., the Nissan LEAF), point to the need for further analysis of the underlying causes. Also, smaller and mid-sized cities that are outside this study’s scope are innovating with electric-drive policies and have greater electric vehicle shares; these cities could be an important source of further lessons.

Electric vehicle and battery technologies are improving rapidly, so increased range and cost reductions in next-generation electric vehicle models could be an important factor in future assessments. Furthermore, rigorous analysis of the relative value of home, workplace, and public charging could be especially important to steer public investments. Going forward, city-specific total cost of ownership analysis that sums up the above factors would be an important follow-on to this study.

—Lutsey et al.



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