Simplifying incentives for electric vehicles could boost adoption in California
As electric vehicles become more common in California, consumers, dealers and even policy makers are looking for incentive programs that present equity as the North Star.
“We have heard from community groups that incentives are currently not enough to help low-income people get into [zero-emission vehicles]. So that means we need to increase their support, at all levels,” said Lauren Sanchez, senior climate adviser in the office of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“We also need to make sure the incentives are available at the point of purchase, or as close to the point of purchase as possible,” she added at the Veloz Summit on March 9. Veloz is a Sacramento-based EV policy and advocacy group. The theme of this summit was “Consumers, Dealers and Incentives: Getting People into Electric Vehicles”.
California is easily the national leader in electric vehicle sales. More than one million have been sold in the state since 2011. In 2021 alone, more than 250,000 electric vehicles were sold, or more than 12% of cars sold, according to Veloz statistics.
The Golden State also offers some of the best incentives, many of which are structured to help low-income drivers acquire an electric car. And clearly, the most popular incentives among buyers and dealers are those that can be taken at the time of purchase, often referred to as “over the hood” by professionals.
“The incentive should be available from the start or some consumers will always be left out,” said Quinta Warren, associate director of sustainability policy at Consumer Reports, calling attention to shoppers who must lower the list price and can’t always wait to apply. for a rebate or tax credit later.
In the case of tax credits, like the much-vaunted $7,500 federal incentive, to get the full credit, the buyer must first owe at least $7,500 in federal tax.
“If a household has $4,500 in federal income tax, if they buy a qualifying electric vehicle, that household only gets a tax credit of $4,500. So the unused $3,000 portion of the full credit is forfeited and cannot be applied to next year’s taxes,” Warren explained.
It’s also worth pointing out that the $7,500 federal tax credit is a benefit that doesn’t come at the time of purchase, but comes later when the car owner files their taxes.
Some of the incentives available to California buyers include the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, which offers rebates of $1,000 to $7,000 for the purchase or lease of new zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). These can include electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles. Since 2010, the program has issued more than 450,000 rebates totaling more than $1 billion, representing nearly 43 percent of light ZEVs sold in the state, officials said.
Ninety-seven percent of program participants said “the discount was important to them in making the decision to acquire a ZEV,” Sanchez said.
The Clean Vehicle Assistance Program provides low-interest loans, vehicle purchase subsidies and vehicle charging incentives for car owners with qualifying income. More than 80% of participants have a family income at or below the federal poverty level.
Another program, run by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), is the Clean Cars 4 All, which provides income-qualified participants with vouchers to use toward the purchase or lease of a ZEV or hybrid. new or used in exchange for scrapping. an old gasoline car. The program also offers incentives for transit passes and micromobility.
The California Clean Fuel Reward Program is a sales time program, also funded by CARB and administered by Southern California Edison. This program can be included in financing, “making it easier for dealers to apply and gives immediate customer gratification,” said Les Swizer, staff attorney for the California New Car Dealers Association.
The clean fuel reward program was initially offered as an instant hood rebate. By the end of 2021, nearly 200,000 customers had received this rebate, and 21% of customers were in underserved communities, and 72% of customers had replaced an internal combustion engine vehicle.
“Dealers love this program because it has allowed them to move more electric vehicles, providing instant savings,” Swizer said.
However, when the rules are confusing or funding is uncertain, dealers can find these programs frustrating, Swizer added.
“Dealers want, and are required by law, to be transparent with their customers about vehicle pricing and discounts,” Swizer said.
The governor has proposed a $38 billion climate budget, which includes incentives for electric vehicles but also efforts to streamline the application and approval process.
“We recognize that incentive programs can be a little confusing, and that’s why we spend a lot of time improving the programs,” Sanchez said.