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EV Experts, Advocates Optimistic in Spite of 2019 Sales Dip

California has ambitious plans to have 5 million vehicles on the roads by 2030. But in 2019, the momentum slowed slightly with sales dipping just more than 12 percent. Experts aren’t concerned.

by / March 4, 2020
From left: Analisa Bevan, assistant division chief of the Sustainable Transportation and Communities Division, California Air Resources Board; David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission; Yuliya Shmidt, advisor to Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, California Public Utilities Commission; during a panel discussion at the Veloz electric vehicle forum March 4, 2020 in Sacramento, Calif. Skip Descant/ Government Technology

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Even though California has established itself as the national leader in electric vehicle adoption, the state saw sales decline more than a dozen percentage points in 2019.

Electric car sales in California were down 12.4 percent in 2019, compared to the year before, according to Veloz, an EV information and advocacy group based in Sacramento. Nationwide, sales were down just slightly in 2019, falling 0.18 percent.

Whether or not this reflects a cooling of the EV market remains to be seen, since overall car sales were down in 2019 in California, and nationwide. However, EV sales fell more than conventional fossil-fuel burning cars, according to Veloz statistics.

“From a market share perspective we’re seeing EVs kind of remain steady,” said Josh Boone, executive director of Veloz, considering overall car sales in California were down 5.5 percent in California last year. Overall car sales nationwide fell 1.3 percent in 2019.

“What we’re hearing from our members — which include government, automakers, charging providers, NGOs and environmental groups — folks remain really optimistic,” Boone told Government Technology.

Electric cars are still more expensive than their fossil fuel counterparts. But experts say that by about 2025, EVs will be on price parity with gas-burning cars.

“We know that that’s an opportunity for folks in this space to work on, is up-front costs, but we’re seeing those costs come down significantly,” said Boone.

An increase in the number of makes and models — particularly in the SUV and truck styles — is another reason to be optimistic about the future.

That optimism was echoed Wednesday at the annual Veloz forum in downtown Sacramento titled, Electric Transportation 2030: Policy, Power and Plugs, which brings together EV industry, public, nonprofit and other officials to discuss the growth of EVs in California.

Caroline Choi, senior vice president of corporate affairs with Southern California Edison, and chair of the Veloz Board of Directors, called 2020 the “decade of action,” as she recounted a statewide goal of seeing 5 million EVs on California roadways by 2030. There are about 700,000 today.

Part of this strategy is to make it easier for consumers to learn about electric cars, ranging from the number of makes and models and pricing, as well as demystifying arcane topics like electric rates.

“We’ve actually learned that not a lot of people know a lot about their electric rates,” Yuliya Shmidt, an advisor to Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen on the California Public Utilities Commission, said in comments during a panel discussion at the Veloz forum.

Part of this education effort has been the ElectricForAll website, where consumers can get information around makes and models available as well, as ZIP code specific data related to utility providers and incentives available.

“Setting aside upfront costs, setting aside the conversation around charging infrastructure, setting aside the conversation around awareness, we know once people know about these cars and they either drive one or kick the tires or ride in one, that’s really a conversion moment,” said Boone. “And then most people, once they drive electric, they don’t really go back to a fossil fuel car because they realize that these are just a better way to drive.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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