Sales of Electric Plug-In Vehicles Surge, Though Infrastructure Still Lags

Tom Johnson | August 14, 2017 | Energy & Environment
With more than 10,000 plug-ins on the road in New Jersey, sales grew by 79 percent over prior year

electric vehicle charging station
It might be a tad unnerving trying to find a charging station at times, but that hasn’t prevented over 10,000 drivers in New Jersey from buying electric vehicles.

Even with fewer than a thousand public charging stations in the state, the sale of electric plug-in vehicles is growing rapidly, according to an analysis by ChargEVC, a coalition supporting the growth of the market for electric vehicles.

Consider the numbers: Sales of model year 2016 electric vehicles grew by 79 percent over the prior year in New Jersey. Sixty percent of those 10,000 cars were sold in the past two years, the coalition analysis found.

“Interest in these cars is growing,’’ said Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC. “We expect this trend will continue as more affordable vehicles with longer range become available in the next 24-36 months.’’

Surprising trend

The trend is surprising given the frustration vented by clean-energy advocates over what they view as the state’s lackluster efforts to build the infrastructure for electric vehicles. By most accounts, the number of charging stations in New Jersey is in the hundreds.

“There’s a lot more that we could have done in New Jersey over the last seven years,’’ lamented Chuck Feinberg, president of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, an organization that promotes the use of alternative-fueled vehicles.

The transformation of the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, is widely seen as crucial to New Jersey’s efforts to improve its air quality and curb climate-warming pollution. At a legislative hearing last week on climate change, several speakers addressed the need to accelerate the use of electric vehicles.

Compared to neighboring states, New Jersey offers fewer incentives to build the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, a step that can ease range anxiety of motorists fearful their car will run out of power before they can charge the battery.

‘Out of juice’

“We need to catalyze EVs by building out an infrastructure so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice when you are out on the road,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

With concern mounting about climate change, a number of countries, including Britain and France, have announced targets in the past couple of months for eliminating gas and diesel cars, relying on electric vehicles by as soon as 2040.

The announcements mirror forecasts from others. ExxonMobil just increased its plug-in vehicle forecast by 50 percent, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance now projects plug-in electric vehicles will account for nearly a third of new car sales by 2040.

ChargEVC worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which provided the raw data on vehicle registrations, to complete its analysis. These statistics include full-scale vehicles with a plug (plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles) and do not include smaller neighborhood electric vehicles, natural-gas-fueled vehicles, or traditional hybrids without a plug.

The coalition plans to release a report next month, outlining a road map of policies that the state can take to strengthen the electric vehicle market in New Jersey, including expanding the infrastructure for the vehicles.

“Government can accelerate it, but it is happening already,’’ Feinberg said.