Half Of All Electric Cars Are Sold In 5 Cities; Can You Name Them?

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Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Marin County, California

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Different vehicles appeal to different markets. More than half of all Chevrolet Suburban extra-long full-size sport utility vehicles, for instance, are sold in the state of Texas.

So where do plug-in electric cars tend to cluster?

Not surprisingly, in progressive regions with activist governments that provide incentives for their adoption, whether purchase rebates and carpool-lane access or widespread public charging networks.

The latest data comes from R.L. Polk, which analyzed national sales of all vehicles with plugs.

Those include both battery-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, and the wide variety of vehicles with both plug-in battery packs and engines, including the Chevrolet Volt and many different plug-in hybrids from Ford, Honda, and Toyota.

An article in Ward's that noted the average age of U.S. vehicles is now 11.4 years also contained some comments on the distribution of electric cars.

The data tracked by Polk showed that more than half of all plug-in electric vehicles are now registered in just five metropolitan regions.

They are, in order: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, and Atlanta.

By comparison, roughly one-third of the nation's hybrids are registered in the same cities.

It's not surprising that California has the number-one and -two slots; the state has been at the forefront of reducing vehicle emissions for half a century.

And starting in 2012, it enacted rules that required the six top-selling automakers to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles each year.

Almost two years ago, when fewer electric cars were found on U.S. roads, sales data on hybrids and plug-in electric cars combined showed that their penetration was greatest in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But beyond San Francisco, are these the locations where you would have expected to find plug-in electric vehicles?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (47)
  1. Would have thought that San Diego was in the top five. Guess not.

  2. I guessed both San Diego and Portland would be.

  3. in pure #'s they may not make the top 5 but on a per capita basis, pretty sure Portland ranks #1

  4. Although San Diego has the first Democratic mayor (at least for the short-term) since 1988, it has traditionally been a conservative area. While no longer an Orange County, San Diego still has a non-progressive attitude that no doubt inhibits EV sales to a degree.

  5. I hope this is referencing Metropolitan Areas and not actual cities. San Jose and its surrounding county has more electric cars than the City and County of San Francisco, but for some reason it always gets lumped in with San Francisco.

  6. I hear you. We live in Fort Worth and always get buried under "Dallas" data -- never mind that the cities are separated by 30 miles of Interstate.

  7. @John Kent:I feel like I have met you in Ft Worth. I live in the Northeast part of the county. Send me e-mail at

  8. It would be more useful to show number of EVs relative to ICE/Hybrids sold.

  9. It would be more useful to have a map based on density of EVs or even based upon percentage of population.

  10. LEAF leasing just exploded overnight in ATL (thanks to the word spread about the $5K state credit.) We don't even wave to each other anymore (plus the Indian people don't really care for this stuff I guess, so I just gave up...)

  11. Ha Ha. That reminds me of a Curb Your Enthusiasm sketch a number of years back where Larry David got really pissed at a Prius owner for not waving back at him. It was sooo funny.

  12. Yikes! Are we supposed to be waving at each other? I'm such an asshole.

  13. Last I checked, there were over 200 Model S's sold in the Atlanta area so far, so that seems highly believable. I see multiple LEAFs on the road every day.

  14. How are you able to check/determine this?

  15. Why not a Top-10 list with data?

    This Top-5 list lacks context beyond being biased towards metro areas with large populations. Lacking is data on number of vehicles, and a time frame to gage adoption rate. Having context would indicate if list is based on PEVs sold in last quarter, last year, based on total registered PEVs, based on latest dealer data, … .

    Odds are high that these Top-5 PEV Cities also rank as Top-5 Coffee Cities. ;)

  16. @Brian: Here's more detail from Polk which I hadn't found when I wrote the piece ...


  17. On a "per capita" basis, I would suspect Sacramento is right up there, but our overall population base is too small to compete with LA/SF-Silicon Valley.

  18. Oslo?

  19. i sure hope other states adopt a percentage rule, like california.

    that will help get them in other places.

  20. the rebate simply gives some people an advantage over other people. it does not put any new cars on the road.

    a percentage rule forces more cars to be sold. and the evs sold would be financed by those who buy non-evs.

    a basically perfect system to move our society from ice to ev.

    we reward those who buy evs. we punish those who dont. thereby giving all of us some incentive to make our next new purchase an ev.

  21. @EV Enthusiast: I'd like to see an analysis that looks at the question of whether the Federal income-tax credit and local rebates and other incentives actually do put more electric cars on the road.

    Strong anecdotal evidence from California suggests that the lower prices and HOV-Lane access *definitely* are the tipping point for some people to buy or lease these cars. But I've never seen any studies.

    Have you?

  22. hi john,

    i havent seen any studies, but frankly, i dont use studies much in life about anything that has the ability to change people's financial behavior.

    i think all we need to do is use basic economics to realize that rebates do not do anything regarding putting evs on the road. they simply just determine who gets them, not how many are sold.

    i will pick a number - 1000.

    this is the number of evs that are manufactured, and then need to be sold.

    with a supply of 1000, the demand is such that they will be sold at some given price.

    if one tries to artificially lower that price (i.e. rebates), it just means that the manufacturer can up his sales price accordingly. and will do so, since he is gonna charge as much as he can.

  23. what rebates do accomplish, is giving those people who can take the most advantage of it, a better chance of buying them.

    because then the sales price is actually different for different individuals.

    on the flip side of the coin, when quotas are applied, as in california, this forces a number of evs to be sold, cuz the manufacturer needs to be able to sell all his other vehicles.

    what ends up occurring is that whatever losses are incurred by the manufacturer in forced ev sales are made up for, by increases in the rest of the cars (non-evs) that are sold.

    and quite obviously, quotas absolutely put cars on the road - that is just mathematics.

  24. i generally dislike govt intervention, and wish they would discontinue rebates.

    but there is no doubt whatsoever that quotas do put evs on the road. so as much as i hate it, i want this sort of govt intervention, FOR THE PRESENT.

    there will come a time when it is no longer needed.

    that will be when the majors want to sell evs.

    right now, it is only nissan. if we just got one other major who decided to really try to compete with nissan, it would bring the remainder of the majors into the game much more quickly.

    and then we could eliminate the govt intervention, and simply let competition take over.

  25. hov-lane access is a reason why someone might buy an ev, when they otherwise would not.

    however, it is not gonna put more evs on the road, when there is a limited supply being manufactured.

    it, along with anything else seen in a positive light, will have an effect of being able to raise the price that people will pay for an item with limited supply.

    when we get to the point where supply is matched up with demand, the situation changes some. and when that point arrives, we can have a brand new discussion about it.

    gosh, i sure hope that happens sooner rather than later.

    from what i can tell, the spark and the focus are both accepted cars that could compete with the leaf. we simply need them to become uncomplianced.

  26. I have had two Toyota Prius and found it to be everything advertised. I just got 62.5 miles on a trip around town and 59.5 on a trip trip to Florida. I am six foot three inches 260 pounds and the car rides like a 7 series of which I also owned. Plenty of head room and with the back seats down (hatch back model) you could not believe the things we carried.

    I highly recommend this car.

  27. Portland OR

  28. Surprised Baltimore isn't on the list. We have a HUGE number of free public charges. In all the City owned garages (and only $3 to park) and Harris Teeter and Mom's Organic Market.

  29. Just got back from 10 day trip to West Coast. My observations concur with Polk's report. San Fran has LOTS of EV's compared to any other city we visited(San Francisco,San Diego & all the cities in between). Stopped counting Teslas, there were so many,it was rare to not see one on the highway during a trip. Several times saw more than one in the immediate vicinity. Also, saw almost as many Volts,nearly as many LEAFs.To a lesser extent,there were the odds and ends:Spark EV's, Fiat 500EV's, some Smart Car EV's. Not a single IMiEV, not even in S.California, surprised me. Billboards did tout the Volt and LEAF, proclaimed benefits of EV & fact that HOV lanes available. Much different here in PA. Lots of chargers out there too.

  30. I live in the SF Bay Area. And that statement is pretty accurate. Model S, Volt and Leaf are just everywhere and they aren't special here. i-Miev is rare, but I have seen few. SparkEV is getting more popular. e-Fit and eRav4 are both rare but you will see one about every other month. Ford FFE is a "myth" here and Energi models are about as rare as the i-Miev. Prius Plugin is fairly easy to spot especially during commute hours but rare otherwise. I Only saw 1 Accord Plugin so far and 1 Fiat 500e.

    I guess it does reflect the sales...

  31. Oh, also saw few Fisker Karma last year, but the sighting becomes difficult since then. I have never seen a CODA or a smart EV.

    Saw a guy riding the Zero the other day. Pretty cool... Didn't get a chance to chat with him.

  32. First of all I want to thank the writers of Green Cars Reports for their tireless journalistic efforts. Thanks, and great job. Hmmmmmmmmm. I wonder why Phoenix isn't a top city. Oops I digress. Again, thanks for the wonderful articles.

  33. But anything beside Leaf should "fulfill" the climate requirement of the heat in AZ. So, there is no reason why people can't just buy a Focus Electric or a Volt or a Tesla in AZ...

  34. and Portland.

  35. Ha Ha Portland. OK so Stop now!!!! I thought of Portland, and DC - Baltimore, And if you could squeeze Houston and Austin together that might be a good one too!

  36. I am surprised that Atlanta made the list, but Austin, TX didn't or any city in the Colorado since their state incentives matches what GA gives out...

  37. I laugh at the "progressive" gloat in this article. A bunch of city dwellers in high-tax liberal areas get incentives (someone else's tax money) to buy a car, and commute in their artificial environment to work in their little cubicle all day, and think they are progressive. I wish you could be "progressive" enough to give incentives to Californians to actually want to stay and live in your state, instead of fleeing to ours. By the way, I own a Leaf (without incentives or a charging network), and I live in Texas - and not in a city. I am "progressive" enough to pay my own way in this world without relyiny upon government.

  38. @Charles: Your point that people buy plug-in electric cars for a variety of reasons is entirely accurate, as we write about fairly often and which is laid out here:

    As for your opening rant ... good thing that "someone else's tax money" doesn't EVER go toward subsidies & tax breaks to the hugely profitable oil & gas industry--including that in your state--whose products have driven atmospheric carbon levels toward 400 ppm, producing a gigantic experiment in carbon saturation whose long-term effects we don't really understand.

  39. I'm kinda with Charles regarding the labeling thing on this one. I bet there are EV's in those areas satisfying the needs of conservatives, moderates and liberals. When the Bush Admin, signed the law for the EV tax credits, written by a Republican senator from Tennessee and approved by a Republican congress, were we looking at a fine piece of progressive legislation or what? So why don't we drop the labels we'd put on our neighbors until there is something of importance in their use, or at least a nexus to stories about green cars. Just IMO.

  40. John you are so right about those "subsidies" for oil and gas. Which probably go a long way in makingthe oil industry the most profitable in history. These Earth atmosphereic destroyers are creating short term envirnonmental disasters, super hurricans, floods, snowstorms and super droughts, like we are experiencing now in Calif. But the worst is yet to come.

    When senior climate scieentists start useing words like catastrophic, desasterose, climate-atmospheric disrupjtions, the world better wake up. And do it quickly, because once the CO2 reach a certain point the global destruction becomes a chain reaction, that we can't stop.

    the tundra and the methane onthe ocean bottom well release enough methane to entirely melt the ice caps.

  41. A sudden release of some much methane, might result in an "atmospheric collapse." Humans won't be able to breath the air, let alone grow food.

  42. I disagree with "(someone else's tax money)" as I've read the IRS tax form for the $7500 Federal Tax credit. The credit is up to $7500 IF you have $7500 or more in tax liability. If you don't, too bad. The credit does not carry forward. Let me thank you for paying your own way and for buying a Nissan Leaf. If you leased it, the leasing agency got the tax benefit and would have passed it along to you in the value of the lease and residual value. So you told them to keep the money? Or when you filed your Federal tax return, you did not fill out this form so you could allow the government to keep the money and perhaps pay down the deficit? I'm not as benevalent, I want the credit I am entitled to.

  43. There is a lot to be proud about in Texas; great corporate welfare, albeit with poor schools, poor healthcare, poor senior care, and elevated obesity; yup, lot to be proud about with so little.

  44. There are more comments in this thread
  45. I can speak for the northern suburbs of Atlanta, at least. I see more and more Nissan LEAFs around both my neighborhood and my workplace. There are a few Tesla Model S cars that I'm starting to see on a regular basis as well. The tax credit, combined with terrible commutes have to contribute to this. I'd consider a LEAF if I had convenient places to plug it in. It would be a perfect commuter car for me.

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