Understanding Clean Car Incentives: Lessons for California (Part 3)

Julian Barragan and Lisette Jones

Date: 12/15/2022

Hello again! It’s Julian and Lisette, research interns for the Romero Institute, here once again with the final part of our blog series on Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) incentives.

In this final blog we’ll dive into what we can do to improve California’s clean car incentive programs based on what we’ve learned so far.

California has made incredible progress in incentivizing the purchase of clean cars over the past decade thanks to its many incentive programs, but as we have seen in taking a trip around the world, there is still much California can do to build upon its existing programs. The first thing California can do is make its incentive grants available at the point-of-purchase – a change our newly passed law SB 1230 will implement beginning in 2024. From an equity standpoint, grants are more optimal than delayed rebates, but these grants will not be effective if a long back-and-forth application process between the consumer, the dealership, and the incentive program administrator delays the time it takes for a driver to receive their clean car.

This was another key ingredient of our law SB 1230: to streamline and speed up the application and turnaround process for people applying for grants. Low-income drivers who have scrapped their old car cannot afford to wait days to weeks for a new vehicle. Transportation, for work, family, or food, is often an immediate priority. The remaining barriers for clean car adoption in California stem from a lack of funds for incentive programs, and sparse and inequitable charging infrastructure that is lagging behind the demand for clean cars.

A lack of funds are the main challenges for the Clean Cars 4 All (CC4A) and Clean Vehicle Assistance Program (CVAP), which limits the programs’ capacities to serve vulnerable communities in need of less-polluting vehicles and restricts the number of qualified applicants to elect. That’s why LGCA and other climate equity advocates continue lobbying in coalition for increased clean vehicle program funding. In November, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced $2.6 billion in clean vehicle investments, with 70% of that funding going to disadvantaged and low income communities.

At the end of the day, clean cars will not single handedly solve the climate crisis — no one solution can do that. We need innovative, holistic approaches from governments all over the world, such as doubling public transit use by 2030, which could reduce transportation pollution by up to 45%. Expanding and improving clean car incentives to increase adoption will be a key part of this solution.

As you have seen in this 3-part series, effective clean car incentive designs can and do play a critical role in the adoption rates of clean cars across the globe. We know now what a blueprint for success looks like, and we’re seeing more and more countries take action based on what we’ve learned.

This is Lisette and Julian, signing off. We hope this series has helped you understand some of the groundwork needed for the clean car revolution, and has given you the optimism that we can make it happen!

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