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Is California on track to sell 5 million electric vehicles by 2030?


Governor Jerry Brown last week declared that California should have 5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. He signed an executive order Friday, upping his earlier goal of just 1.5 million EVs by 2025.

It's a tall order no matter how you slice it, but a new report out today from the nonpartisan think tank Next 10 says the state's on track to at least meet Brown's first goal.

"We should be able to hit that target and possibly exceed it," said Next 10's founder Noel Perry. "Our research has found that zero emissions vehicles may be following an S curve development instead of being linear in their growth and adoption."

In other words, electric vehicles are expected to hit a tipping a point, possibly even before 2025.


"What's changing is battery technology more than anything else," said Joel Levin, executive director of Plug In America, an electric vehicle advocacy group.

"Most people are estimating that sometime in the next five to eight years, electric cars are expected to be less expensive than regular cars and at that point things are really going to take off… around 2022, 2023, 2024, somewhere around there."

At that point, buying an electric vehicle won't be a question of why but why not because the advantages will be too difficult to ignore.

Aston Martin

"It's not like eating your broccoli," Levin said. "They're more convenient to fuel and maintain. They're cheaper when you look at the whole lifetime cost of ownership. It's good for the economy because you keep fuel dollars local. It's good for the climate and local air quality They're just a lot of fun to drive."

But until more people agree, a few things need to happen, Levin said. For one, the $7,500 federal tax credit and $2,500 California Clean Vehicle Rebate need to remain in place to help interested buyers offset the cost. The average cost of an EV right now is about $48,000, compared with about $35,000 for a gas-powered car.

There also needs to be more variety in the types of vehicles, like pickups and SUVs, that are offered in electric versions – especially long-range electrics that can travel more than 200 or 300 miles per charge, like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. That will be happening soon. 


"Every manufacturer is coming out with some electrification," said Rebecca Lindland, an automotive industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

Those manufacturers include General Motors, which says it will have 18 new electric models by 2023, and Ford, which has said it will have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles even sooner. Kia, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes – even Aston Martin -  are among the companies ramping up electric vehicle offerings in the very near future.

"What California really needs to do is accelerate the pace of adoption for electric vehicles. And by that I mean they need to sell more. They need to see consumers demanding more," Lindland said.

Right now EVs account for about one percent of sales every year across the entire country, or about 170,000 units. About a third of those are in California.

"All that demand across the country would have to translate into California just on its own, so that's a big challenge for them," Lindland said.

Part of the problem in increasing EV sales is a lack of currently available models. But there's also the not so small issue of where to charge them.

"One of the specific challenges for EVs in California will be this question of infrastructure relative to making sure that we have enough charging stations," said Noel Perry, with Next 10.

California has about 16,500 public outlets and some studies have shown it will likely need at least 10 times as many -- both private and public -- to support the level of EV adoption the state is targeting… 

That's a lot of chargers, especially compared to the number of gasoline stations that exist in California, which is about 9,000.

Photo by mithrildesigns via Flickr Creative Commons

And that points to another of the issues with EV adoption – being able to charge a car, and do it quickly.

Already, France, the United Kingdom and China have committed to phasing out vehicles that run on fossil fuels. And many auto makers, like Volvo,  have named a specific end date to such cars. California is considering something similar – banning the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2040.

"Transportation not only in California but around the world is one of the greater producers of carbon dioxide, and if we're going to reduce our carbon dioxide, we're going to have to make a difference in the transportation arena and EVs are a good vehicle for doing that," Perry said.

That target is important because transportation is the state's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the California Air Resources Board -- about 37%.

 So can California reach 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025, or even 5 million EVs by 2030? It depends who you ask.

"Absolutely. In fact I think the number is way too conservative," said Plug In America's Joel Levin.

"Last year the market grew by 27% and previous years saw something similar, so if you multiply that forward, by 2025, we're looking at maybe 2.5 million vehicles sold."