It's clear that incentives to buy specific cars work best when they can be applied directly at the time of sale.
That's why purchase rebates are widely preferred by electric-car advocates to tax credits, which may take up to 15 months to be usable, depending on the timing of the purchase and tax filing.
While the federal electric-car incentive is an income-tax credit and likely to stay that way, California offers a Clean Vehicle purchase rebate in the form of a check mailed to buyers several weeks after the purchase.
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Only about seven out of 10 electric-car buyers use the incentive, according to data covering the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.
Now, according to an exclusive story on CarsDirect, the state will test a "point of purchase" rebate that can be applied directly to the price of the car during the purchase itself.
The program will be piloted in San Diego later this year to test its effectiveness.
Chevrolet Spark EV at CCS fast charging station in San Diego.Enlarge Photo
The area was chosen, according to a spokesperson for the California Air Resources Board, because it has dealers for all brands that sell plug-in vehicles.
Also, the Center for Sustainable Energy—which administers the rebate program—is headquartered there, allowing staff to assist in person or monitor transactions if required.
California has made several changes to the rebate program over the years, most recently adding income caps on eligibility and boosting the amounts for low-income buyers.
The proposed point-of-purchase system would allow buyers interested in purchasing a zero-emission vehicle to apply online ahead of any visits to dealers.
2017 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
Under one draft scenario being considered, the Center would review and approve the application and supporting documents, and send an approval e-mail to the buyer.
Once that person had visited the dealership, the salesperson would confirm their eligibility for the rebate and apply the amount to reduce the purchase price.
The Center would then reimburse the dealer, rather than the buyer, once the appropriate forms had been completed.
The proposal is still under consideration, CARB stressed, and nothing has been finalized yet.
Still, if the San Diego test moves forward, and if it proves to increase participation and boost electric-car sales, it would likely be rolled out statewide at some point.
As all car dealers know, "cash on the hood" sells cars—whether it's a discount from the carmaker or, in this case, a state government working to reduce vehicle emissions.