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SD posts strongest quarter in rebate project

The statewide Clean Vehicle Rebate Project continues to facilitate a number of low- or zero-emission vehicles in San Diego, as a tally of rebates issued suggested more qualified vehicles were added to county roads in 2012's final quarter than in any other quarter since the program’s 2010 inception.

The data that is gathered by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, which administers the rebate program on behalf of the California Air Resources Board, isn’t an exact count of the sales of clean vehicles -- some factors may keep newer, not-yet-qualified vehicle models out of the counts. And the numbers are dependent on the state’s receipt of a rebate from a new vehicle owner.

But according to CCSE, the numbers generally follow trends in statewide clean vehicle sales.

Colin Santulli, CCSE’s program manager, said the trends indicate a continued, healthy demand for qualified clean vehicles in the state, and in San Diego County.

“One of the more striking things that pops out is the real big jump in October, November sales,” Santulli said of the San Diego County numbers. “We really saw a trend from April through August, about six months there, and then October [and] November really jumped.”

That was likely the result of manufacturers trying to push 2012 models through competitive sales, he added.

But even as 2012 model inventories likely shrank or ran out as December progressed, the numbers remained high through the year's end, he added.

In the county, the number of rebates issued progressively rose in 2012 from June through November. In September, 96 rebates were issued in the county.

December saw a drop-off from November’s yearly high of 143 rebates. But still, enough rebates were issued in December — 113 — to complete a three-month streak of at least 100 issued in a single month.

That was a first for the region. By comparison, only 22 rebates were issued in San Diego County in December 2011 after a 2011 high of 321 in November, and just 35 in October 2011.

CCSE has begun illustrating the rebate data on its website, hoping to paint a picture of the growth of electric vehicle adoption in the state for those already a part of the trend, and those considering becoming a part of it.

The information is updated every two weeks. The most recent update just about completed the picture for 2012, showing figures through Dec. 28.

All qualifying models included, the project has so far resulted in nearly $4.83 million in rebate checks going to San Diego County consumers.

Rebates for zero-emission vehicles alone account for nearly $4.14 million of that total.

CCSE was motivated in large part to publish the information after receiving numerous requests for such data from public agencies looking to assess electric vehicle infrastructure needs, Santulli said.

Included in the biweekly report is information on the number of rebates issued and the value of those rebates.

“Our goal is just to push data out into the public space,” Santulli said.

A total of $45.2 million has been appropriated by the state for fiscal years 2009-2013 for the program, and rebate values range from $2,500 for certain zero-emission vehicles to $900 for zero-emission motorcycles and what are known as "neighborhood electric vehicles," including certain compact utility vehicles and golf cart-type vehicles.

Qualifying hybrid electric vehicles are eligible for a $1,500 rebate.

More than $33.5 million in rebates have been issued under the program to date.

With several months to go in fiscal year 2012-2013, about $6.44 million of the funds allocated for the project for 2012-2013 remain, while more than $7.5 million in checks have already been mailed to the year’s applicants.

Along with the raw numbers, CCSE has published a full list of the qualifying vehicles on its website.

A look at the data backs the idea that the San Diego region has a strong interest in clean technology.

But looking beyond the surface — which shows that San Diego County has been the origin of nearly 11.4 percent of the statewide rebates since the program began — one finds that not only have San Diego drivers shown high interest, but also a specific preference in the type of clean vehicles they drive.

The CCSE numbers suggest that San Diego drivers have turned to the really clean cars (the all-electric, zero-emission cars) when choosing to go with a qualifying model -- by a wider margin than in any other metropolitan region in the state.

Santulli said that demonstrates the difference between San Diego and areas such as Los Angeles, which has seen more rebates for plug-in hybrids than all-electric vehicles.

San Diego’s early adoption of clean vehicles is part of the reason for the trend, he said, as is the difference between the two cities’ driving cultures.

Being such a populous region, Los Angeles helps tilt the scales between all-electric and hybrid vehicles to a more balanced outcome in statewide numbers.

“That speaks to the fact that people in San Diego don’t have to sit in traffic as long, and there’s just not as many HOV lanes to access,” Santulli said.

The latest report showed that statewide, 15,750 rebates had been issued since March 2010.

The vast majority of them were for either zero-emission vehicles like the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric, or plug-in hybrid vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius hybrid.

Those two categories of qualifying cars have thus far accounted for 98.69 percent of all rebates issued.

Those two categories have accounted for 99 percent of rebates issued in San Diego County. But what sets San Diego apart from other metro areas in the state is the split between the two.

Statewide, the number of rebates issued for zero-emission vehicles has just a modest edge over the number issued for plug-in hybrids.

Just more than half of the rebates were issued for the ZEVs, compared with nearly 47 percent issued for PHEVs.

By contrast, San Diego County has seen nearly three-quarters of its rebates issued go to owners of zero-emission vehicles.

The cumulative edge for zero-emission vehicles rebates, by either a statewide or regional measure, is not in itself all that surprising.

Zero-emission vehicles were able to qualify for the rebates since the start of the rebate program while hybrid manufacturers had to prove themselves to join.

Chevrolet had to tweak the the Volt before it was finally deemed acceptable under the program’s standards in February 2012.

But despite a growing share of the rebates being issued for plug-in hybrids, San Diego County drivers have continued to favor the zero-emissions approach.

In December 2012, 58 rebates were issued in San Diego County for zero-emission vehicles, while 55 were issued for plug-in hybrids.

“Because San Diego was one of the target cities for the EV Project … we kind of got out of the gate real quickly here in San Diego,” Santulli said of the region’s history with the all-electric vehicle adoption.

Launched in late 2010, the EV Project is a U.S. Department of Energy-funded program aimed at building electric vehicle infrastructure in select cities across the nation.

San Diego’s selection as a target city early in that initiative, Santulli said, may have built a culture among the county’s consumers to remain more interested in the zero-emissions approach despite the acceptance of low-emission hybrids into the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.

The Clean Vehicle Rebate Project reported San Diego County issued 1,789 rebates, or $4.8 million in rebate funding as of Dec. 28. The county has a larger share of rebates in the zero-emission vehicle category, surpassing the state of California 74.2% to 51.9% as a percentage of total rebates. Source: California Center for Sustainable Energy | Compiled by: Jenny Ross

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