California’s clean vehicle transition is not so equitable (yet)

LCI research team finds gaps in incentive uptake and electric vehicle registration rates in disadvantaged communities

California’s clean vehicle transition is not so equitable (yet)

Credit: Unsplash / Michael Marais

California has an ambitious climate goal: no new gas-powered cars will be sold in the state starting in 2035. To achieve this goal, it must increase the adoption of electric vehicles. That is the purpose of California’s suite of clean vehicle incentive programs, which provide financial support for electric vehicle purchases, often through replacing an older, gasoline-powered car.

In a new report, researchers from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) evaluate how effectively six of these programs have supported electric vehicle uptake, especially among disadvantaged communities. 

The study produced stark findings about where these programs have incentivized clean vehicle adoption:

  • Since 2010, nearly a million clean vehicle incentives, totaling close to $2 billion, have been distributed to California drivers through these six programs. 
  • Only about 15% of those funds have been delivered to households in disadvantaged communities.
  • Statewide clean vehicle programs have been skewed toward providing incentives to households in non-disadvantaged communities, while regional programs, such as Clean Cars for All, have been more successful at serving those most in need. 

The authors also evaluated patterns of clean vehicle registration rates. They found that the number of clean vehicles on the road has increased over time throughout most regions in the state— but adoption rates are persistently low in rural areas, the urban core of Los Angeles, and lower-income and disadvantaged communities. Projections suggest that these disproportionate adoption trends will continue through 2035. Even in optimistic scenarios, the most marginalized communities remain far behind, particularly with the present lack of affordable electric vehicle options.

 “There is more work to be done to actively support a just transition to clean energy in California,” said Rachel Connolly, LCI’s project director for air quality and environmental equity research and the study’s lead author. “The state needs to prioritize investing in the programs that reach the most disadvantaged communities.”

To help California meet its 2035 targets equitably, the authors make several policy recommendations:

  • Increase funding for targeted electric vehicle equity programs that limit eligibility to the most in-need populations
  • Improve vehicle financing options; for example, revolving loan funds can potentially be used to leverage the limited available dollars more effectively
  • Increase the availability of used clean vehicles for incentives
  • Increase charging infrastructure in disadvantaged and low-income communities
  • Reprioritize the state’s “one-stop shop” platforms from advertising to delivering financial savings 

To learn more about LCI’s transportation research, visit our website.