Should High-Income People Qualify For Electric Car Rebates?

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A Tesla car being assembled at the new Tesla Motors car factory in Tilburg, the Netherlands. (Guus Schoonewille/AFP/Getty Images)
A Tesla electric vehicle being assembled at the Tesla Motors car factory in Tilburg, the Netherlands. (Guus Schoonewille/AFP/Getty Images)

California has set a lofty goal for itself: putting 1.5 million zero-emission cars on the road by 2025.

But to reach that target, a lot more people are going to have to buy electric vehicles, which typically cost more and travel far shorter distances on a single charge than traditional cars do on a tank of gas. The state does have a rebate program to entice more Californians to go electric, but it has been underfunded and many of those subsidies are going to the state’s wealthiest residents. Now a bill working its way through the Legislature would establish a  limit on income for those qualifying for an electric-vehicle rebate.

Jerry Hirsch is a reporter with the L.A. Times who wrote an extensive story on the issue Thursday. KQED's Tara Siler spoke with him yesterday. Listen here:

Hirsch said only roughly 150,000 zero-emission vehicles have been sold in the state to date, over many years. Nine times that amount would have to be sold in the next 11 years in order to meet the state's target.


California currently offers a $2,500 subsidy per electric vehicle, and the federal government also offers a $7,500 tax credit. There is currently a waiting list of 13,500 people who have filed for the rebate but have yet to receive it, because the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project ran out of funds this year. Hirsch said most of the rebates have gone to individuals who make more than $100,000 per year, which, he said, raises the question of whether taxpayers should be "subsidizing wealthy people to purchases Teslas. .... Tesla's such a cool vehicle, maybe it would sell just as well to these affluent people without a rebate, and then the state can channel that money into providing rebates for, let's say, used electric vehicles or less expensive electric vehicles that low and middle-income people may be able to get into easier. "

To that end, SB1275 would instruct the California Air Resources Board to set a cap on income in order to qualify for the electric vehicle rebate; the exact cutoff would be determined by the board.  The bill would also allow low-income households to bundle various types of incentives into purchasing an electric car, potentially bringing the cost of a vehicle down by thousands of dollars more.