May 3, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Report: Electric vehicle subsidies going to the wrong drivers

Electric vehicles' share of new light-duty registrations, 2021
Adapted from DOE; Note: Includes fully electric and plug-in hybrid models; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

EV sales growth is highly uneven, and an analysis argues this badly limits the climate benefits of federal purchase subsidies.

The big picture: EVs were over 12% of new light-duty vehicles registered in California last year, and Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and D.C. were all over 7%, per the Energy Department.

  • Uptake is way slower in many other states, including huge interior areas where people drive long distances.

Why it matters: Check out this new analysis by the nonprofit Niskanen Center (h/t Matt Yglesias).

  • It notes EVs aren't yet catching on among drivers who use the most gasoline.
  • They're often in rural, suburban, or exurban areas and drive pickups and SUVs.

Zoom in: It draws on work by the clean transport group Coltura, which looked at "super users" — the top 10% of drivers who account for a third of gas use.

  • Niskanen sets this against the target of ramping up EVs to 50% of sales by 2030, which is shared by the White House and several automakers.
  • It models two scenarios: uptake continuing among "super progressives" — wealthier, more urban buyers who tend to drive efficient cars anyway — and "super users."

What they found: If all those new EVs went to "super users," it would displace 170 billion gallons of gas by 2030. That's 10 times the same uptake among "super progressives."

What's next: It suggests changing purchase incentives by linking them to miles driven to provide more climate bang for the buck.

  • "Reforming EV subsidies to target Super-Users would make them more equitable, helping less well-off Americans, and particularly those hit hardest by big payments at the pump."

Go deeper: Read the analysis

Go deeper