California Zooms Past 200,000 Electric Cars

March 31, 2016 | 10:02 am
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

Electric vehicles hit another milestone in California last month. We can’t know for sure, but over Presidents Day weekend the 200,000th EV was likely sold in the state, meaning California is on its way to hitting the state’s goal of 1 .5 million electric drive cars and trucks on the road by 2025. Meeting this goal is important to reduce oil use and climate changing emissions, as well as improving air quality.

But the benefits of EVs aren’t just far off in the future. Electric vehicles are saving gasoline and making significant reductions in emissions right now.


56 million gallons of gasoline saved per year

That’s how much gasoline we estimate that the 200,000 battery electric and plug-in hybrids avoid burning each year in California. That’s the equivalent to 7,000 tanker trucks worth of gasoline unused each year as drivers avoid gasoline stations for the convenience of plugging in at home or at work. At an average gasoline price over the past year of $3.09 gallon vs. $0.17 per kWh for electricity, it’s also about $81,000,000 per year that drivers save by recharging their EVs versus paying at the pump. That’s a lot of money each year that is staying in California drivers’ pockets and not going out of state and country.

Lower emissions too

Those 200,000 electric cars are also helping reduce global warming emissions.

Burning a gallon of gasoline produces almost 20 pounds of CO2, and all of the other steps between crude oil and the gasoline pump (like refining and delivering gasoline) add another 5 pounds per gallon for a total of about 24 pounds of CO2 for each gallon used. Electric motors are emissions free, but making electricity can also produce CO2. However, California has some of the cleanest electricity in the nation, with the average electric vehicle producing emissions equal to 87 mpg gasoline car, even when we account for all the emissions produced in generating electricity.

Altogether, California’s fleet of 200,000 EVs will reduce carbon emissions by about 425,000 metric tons of CO2 this year. That’s equal to the CO2 from burning 2,300 railcars worth of coal!

The savings will only grow

The amount of gasoline and emissions saved in the state will only grow over time.  These reductions will get larger as both the number of EVs grow and the electricity in the state gets cleaner.

The rate of EV sales in California is likely to continue to increase as charging infrastructure grows and also with the over 20 models of plug-in vehicles now available. New models like GM’s Bolt, Tesla’s Model 3 and the new plug-in Prius Prime should also keep the number of EVs growing. Strong EV policies, like the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the Zero Emission Vehicles program are also key to continuing the growth of EV sales in the state.

California’s electricity will also get cleaner in the future, making the gap in emissions between EVs and conventional vehicles only wider. With 50% of electricity set to come from renewable sources by 2030, the gap between driving on gasoline and electricity will only grow.

California’s 200,000 EVs is a great start, but it’s just the beginning of the transformation of our transportation system away from using oil to ensure a healthier and more prosperous future. To learn more about how electric vehicles are an important part of plans to cut California’s oil use in half, take a look at our recent analysis : “Half the Oil: Pathways to Reduce Petroleum Use on the West Coast”.

Featured photo: Steve Jurvetson