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Is The ‘Greening’ of California’s New Car Sales Slowing Down?

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The number of zero-emission cars on California roadways keeps growing. (Shutterstock)
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A recent study by iseecars.com found that California is among the states with the lowest growth for hybrid and electric vehicle share of the market.

Iseecars.com, a car search engine that also produces industry reports, analyzed the market share of alternative-fuel cars between 2017-18 and 2022-23 and determined that market growth appears to have slowed in some of the nation’s “greenest” states, including California.

Based on that, analyst Karl Brauer concluded that “there may be a market threshold for alternative fuel vehicle share, above which it gets much more difficult to grow.”

A chart produced by Veloz, a public-private nonprofit that campaigns for zero-emission vehicles, does show a steeper growth curve for electric vehicle sales from 2010 through the first quarter of 2023 for the entire U.S. as compared to California.

However, the same chart shows that Californians have bought 42% of all EVs sold in the U.S. thus far.

More Models to Choose

And that’s bound to keep climbing as more car makers add models to the EV market, said Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association.

A few years ago consumers were somewhat limited in their choices, buying the lower-cost and smaller Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf and the upscale Tesla models, Maas said.

But today there are many more options for EV buyers, which Maas said has put competitive pressure on Tesla, which continues to lead the nation in EV vehicle sales.

“They used to sell every one that they made, and now they’re having a more difficult time selling every one that’s produced,” he said. “That, of course, is part of the reason why they’re doing such severe discounting of their models to try and get rid of the excess inventory.”

Based on California vehicle registrations, new EVs were 5% of the market share in 2019, 6% in 2020, 9.5% in 2021, 17% in 2022, and are already 19.5% of the market share in the first quarter of this year, Maas said.

Top EVs in Fresno

According to iseecars.com, the top 5 most popular alternative fuel vehicles in the Fresno-Visalia market are the Tesla Model 3, with 14.1% of the market share, followed by the Toyota RAV4 hybrid with 6.9%, the Toyota Camry hybrid with 5%, the Ford Fusion hybrid with 4.3%, and the Tesla Model Y with 4.1%.

The region’s market share of alternative-fuel vehicles is 5.1%, slightly higher than the national average of 4.1% but well below other California regions, according to iseecars.com: San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose is at 15.2%, and Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo is at 12.9%.

And what of Brauer’s prediction of a possible “market threshold” in California? It appears unlikely given the requirement set by the California Air Resources Board that all new vehicles sold in California by 2035 will need to be zero emission.

CARB also established a schedule for manufacturers to deliver zero-emission vehicles, starting with 35% in 2026 and increasing each year through 2035.

Maas said that given the number of new models under development and in production, “the competition in this space has never been as intense as it is now and will be.”

But even if 2035 marks the start of all zero-emission vehicle sales, there will still be plenty of gas-powered vehicles on the state’s roadways, he said. Right now there are 25 million registered vehicles in the state, of which only about 6% are electric vehicles.

Out-of-State Sales Skirt Rules?

The question that California hasn’t yet addressed is out-of-state vehicle sales and what will happen if Californians cross the border into Nevada or Arizona to buy a car or light truck and then drive it back home. Neither state has adopted emission standards similar to CARB’s, Maas said.

“I think cross-border sales of vehicles is going to be a challenge,” he said. “California’s a very big state. We don’t have very many neighboring states, but because we’re a big state, there’s a lot of folks moving in and out of the state. And our vehicle market is the largest in the country. So, if there’s a market here, people are going to try and figure out a way to get those cars to customers that want them right now, notwithstanding what the new vehicle sales or production for sale mandate is that the Air Resources Board has adopted. …

“Rules are going to have to be discussed and worked out to try and deal with that very situation. My understanding is we don’t know what those rules are going to be right now. But as we get closer to the deadline, this is going to be a much more significant issue.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email