As Gas Prices Rise, Are More Fresno Drivers Going Electric? What the sales figures say

A row of Tesla electric vehicle chargers stand like sentries in part of the Market parking lot at the El Paseo mall on Riverside Drive in northwest Fresno.  Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have surged in Fresno and across the country in recent years.

A row of Tesla electric vehicle chargers stand like sentries in part of the Market parking lot at the El Paseo mall on Riverside Drive in northwest Fresno. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have surged in Fresno and across the country in recent years.

The Fresno Bee

For more than a decade, sales of zero-emission vehicles have surged in Fresno County as residents grapple with the idea of ​​ditching gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.

Many were conflicted by doubts about battery life and range, or the cost difference between gasoline and electric vehicles.

But while plug-in hybrids and battery-electric cars, pickup trucks and SUVs remain mostly a miss among the more than 705,000 light-duty vehicles on the road in Fresno County — just about 7,700, or 1.4 percent – demand for them increased in 2021 and throughout the first half of 2022, as gasoline prices hit record highs.

“There is absolutely a correlation” between rising gasoline prices and demand for hybrid and plug-in vehicles, said Stephen Prince, sales manager at Blackstone Toyota in North Fresno. “Customers were like, ‘I will never, ever, ever buy a hybrid. Now… people are begging to buy a hybrid.

Two years ago, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Fresno was about $3.08 per gallon, according to Six weeks ago, in mid-June, the Fresno average hit its highest price of $6.33, before stabilizing this week below $5.40 a gallon.

During that same two-year period, Fresno County also broke sales records for zero-emission light-duty vehicles, or ZEVs — cars, pickups, SUVs and vans — that are powered entirely by electricity, or primarily by electricity. electricity instead of gasoline. , or that use hydrogen fuel cells to power the engine.

In 2020, data from the California Energy Commission indicates that 1,172 such vehicles were sold in Fresno County in 2020 – a figure that was a new record at that time.

But that mark was short-lived, as 2021 sales more than doubled from 2020, reaching 2,364 ZEVs sold in the county — an average of 197 per month.

And so far, 2022 looks set to break that record. In the first six months of the year, the state reports 1,616 ZEVs were sold in Fresno County, an average of 269 per month.

These numbers only count vehicles considered zero-emissions by the California Energy Commission. They don’t include the more “traditional” gasoline hybrid vehicles – like earlier versions of the venerable Toyota Prius that have been on the market since the late 1990s – which run on both gasoline and electric motors. no socket to recharge the batteries. But gas-powered hybrids accounted for more than 17,520, or about 2.5 percent, of all light-duty vehicles registered in Fresno County at the end of 2021.

Still, experts say they expect ZEV sales to continue to rise as gas prices remain high, environmental concerns rise and vehicle performance and mileage range increase. with the improvement of technology. “We absolutely see more demand every year, especially with greater fuel economy,” Prince said, adding that he has been driving a hybrid car since 2016.

“Before, the goal of marketing was to go green. “, did he declare. “Now it’s more about performance. It’s not just better fuel economy, but more power and better performance” from electric motors.

Among Fresno County ZEVs, the market is dominated by Tesla, the cars produced by high-profile tech billionaire Elon Musk. Of the ZEVs sold to Fresno County buyers in the first half of 2022, nearly 1,000 are various Tesla-badged models — more than 10 times the second most popular brand, Toyota.

Jeep, Kia, Hyundai, Ford, BMW, Chevrolet, Volvo and Audi rounded out the top 10 ZEV brands in Fresno County.

Nationally, the US Department of Energy reported that sales of new light-duty plug-in electric vehicles, including all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, nearly doubled from 308,000 in 2020 to 608,000 in 2021 Electric vehicle sales from 2020 to 2021 are remarkable in the context of overall light vehicle sales, which grew only 3% over the same period,” wrote Scott Minos of the Office of the energy efficiency and renewable energy from the federal agency.

Prince said local demand is at a point where it’s difficult to keep hybrid or electric vehicles in stock. While a global shortage of chips has crippled overall production by automakers, this is amplified in high-tech electric vehicles in which “everything you touch in the car has a chip on it,” he said.

The supply chain has been further restricted over the past two years by COVID-19 pandemic protocols which have limited the number of truck drivers available to transport cars from the factories where they are built to the ports of where they are shipped and then on to customers or dealers, Prince added.

“The majority of my vehicles coming in already have a deposit from a customer who is just waiting for the vehicle to land in the (dealer’s) lot,” he said.

Overall, far more electric vehicles are sold in China and Europe than in the United States, according to the International Energy Administration. Last year marked “an impressive comeback” for the U.S. electric car market following the economic upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the organization reported. “The overall U.S. auto market also recovered, but electric cars doubled their share to 4.5%,” IEA analysts reported.

“The U.S. electric car market is still overwhelmingly dominated by Tesla, which accounts for more than half of all electric units sold,” added Leonardo Paoli, clean energy analyst at the IEA, and Timur Gül, head of energy technology policy. But, the pair wrote, “Tesla’s market share nonetheless declined by 65% ​​in 2020 as new electric models were offered by other automakers.”

Depending on the make or model, an electric vehicle can cost between $5,000 and $20,000 more than a comparable gas-powered vehicle, said Loren McDonald, who runs the vehicle data analytics and research firm electrical EVAoption.

“One of the biggest barriers to EV adoption in the United States is the oft-cited issue that EVs simply cost more than similar gas-powered vehicles,” McDonald wrote in June. “But assuming you can get your hands on one, about two dozen (battery and plug-in electric vehicles) available for sale in the United States this summer have a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price… of less of $45,000.”

“Does the price of electric vehicles need to come down to make them more attractive and affordable for American households? Absolutely,” McDonald added. “But with less than 1% of vehicles on the road in the United States being electric and more than 10% of households with an annual income of $200,000 or more, affordability is not yet what is holding back sales. of EV.”

However, this observation is not necessarily the case in Fresno and surrounding counties in the central San Joaquin Valley. The median household income in Fresno County, according to U.S. Census Bureau data for 2020, was just over $57,000 a year, and about one in six families have incomes low enough to put them on the level or below the official poverty line.

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked as a reporter and editor in the area since 1986 and has worked for The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and also covers the California High Speed ​​Rail Project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a degree in journalism from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.
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