California Joins Eight-State Roadmap To More Electric Cars

An electric car "fuels up" at a public charger in Sacramento. (Craig Miller/KQED)
An electric car "fuels up" at a public charger in Sacramento. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Transportation wonks prefer to call them ZEVs, or zero-emission-vehicles. Eight governors, including California Governor Jerry Brown want more of them on the road. So the group has signed a "memorandum" in which they pledge to "join forces to revolutionize the automobile market by promoting zero-emission vehicles." In a joint statement, Brown called the move, "a serious and profoundly important commitment."

The goal is to get 3.3 million of them on the road by 2025 and along the way, "to help build a robust national market for electric and hydrogen-powered cars," according to the multi-state news release. Exactly how they'll go about that will be mapped out over the next six months. Specific actions are likely to include revamping building codes to standardize vehicle charging stations, and "developing streamlined metering options for homes equipped with electric vehicle chargers."

It could also mean more rebates or other perks for those who buy ZEVs, though it's up to each state to:

"...evaluate the need for, and effectiveness of, monetary incentives to reduce the upfront purchase price of ZEVs and non-monetary incentives, such as HOV lane access, reduced tolls and preferential parking, and to pursue such incentives as appropriate."

California already has a rebate program in place, freshly re-funded by lawmakers. California also has the majority of ZEVs already on the road -- about 50,000, compared to 15,000 for all of the other states in the pact combined. Most of the other states are back east -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. But combined, the eight states represent about a quarter of the US car market. All of them have adopted targets for 15% of new car sales to be ZEVs by 2025.

Broadly defined, zero-emission vehicles can be battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electrics, or hydrogen fuel-cell-electric vehicles. But hydrogen models and infrastructure are running far behind electrics in ramping up.

The states argue that they're not rushing the technology, citing the 16 zero-emission vehicle models currently available from eight manufacturers. They also point to recent sales figures showing that "U.S. electric car sales in 2012 more than tripled to about 52,000 from 17,000 in 2011," and that 40,000 plug-ins were sold in the first half of this year.

"I know that electric cars are being sold at about three times the rate of where I understand the Prius was at this point in its rollout," says Dave Clegern of the California Air Resources Board. "The market is definitely taking off. It's just a question of getting it in place in a way that makes it easier for expansion."