Are hybrid and electric vehicles losing their juice in California, far and away the nation’s leading market for those auto segments?
On the surface, the answer is yes. Up the road, experts believe that electric vehicles in particular are due to take off.
“Sales of alternative-powered vehicles have not kept pace with the rest of the new vehicle market,” the California New Car Dealers Association noted in its recently released report on statewide new motor vehicle registrations recorded in the first half of 2016.
Through six months this year, CNCDA said sales of new, conventional hybrids accounted for about 4.5 percent of all new-vehicle sales statewide. That’s down from nearly 7 percent in 2013. The CNCDA report showed that California sales of new, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs for short) have remained basically flat since 2014, with each segment accounting for about 1.5 percent of all new-vehicle registrations statewide. Between 2010 and 2014, plug-in and EV sales were rising.
That might not seem like cause for alarm, considering that overall new-vehicle registrations statewide in the first half of 2016 totaled more than 1.04 million. The CNCDA is projecting 2.1 million registrations by the end of this year, which would approach the all-time record of 2.15 million set in 2005.
However, the recent hybrid/EV slump is significant in a state that has consistently led the nation touting the virtues of alternative-powered vehicles, a state where Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.
What’s going on? Industry experts cite multiple factors affecting sales of hybrids and electrics in California.
“It’s a combination of things for consumers,” said Brian Maas, president of the CNCDA. “There is a correlation between (consumer) interest in alternative-power technologies and the price of gasoline … which has been low this year. … Combine that with the fact that conventional internal combustion engines are getting much better gas mileage than they were five to 10 years ago.
“(EV/hybrid) technology costs more on a vehicle-to-vehicle basis, and some consumers are looking at (less expensive) internal combustion engines and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m not sacrificing a lot.’ ”
Maas also believes that pent-up consumer demand for sport-utility vehicles and crossover vehicles that get good fuel mileage has diverted some attention away from hybrids and EVs. He’s also confident that attention ultimately will swing back toward hybrids and electrics: “Things change when gas prices go the other direction. Someday, that will happen, and when it does the market will reflect that.”
Bill Elrick, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, noted that hydrogen fuel stations continue to be built throughout California – more than 20 now, compared with just a couple in 2015.
The infrastructure for electric vehicles is much further advanced, with EV charging stations being built on both coasts.
Last week, Campbell-based ChargePoint Inc., which bills itself as the world’s largest EV charging network, said U.S. motorists can now travel the most heavily trafficked corridors on the East and West coasts with the installation of 95 new DC fast charging stations. Fast chargers can power an EV battery to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. The West Coast chargers stretch from San Diego to Portland, Ore., along the Interstate 5 and Highway 101 corridors.