‘Silicon Valley Dudes Buying Teslas’: California Struggles To Expand Electric-Car Market

Friday, November 20, 2020

Publication: San Francisco Chronicle

Maya Katz-Ali said she never thought she would be able to afford an electric car. She thought it was something unattainable, something for the elite.

And in many ways, Katz-Ali is the opposite of a typical electric-car buyer in California: She’s 26, a woman and a person of color, and she doesn’t earn a six-figure salary. The Oakland native expected to drive her 1992 Volvo until it died.

That all changed last month, when Katz-Ali traded in her car for a new Honda Clarity plug-in electric hybrid with a fraction of the Volvo’s emissions. She bought it with the help of a state subsidy program.

“There’s lots of ideas that you have to be of a certain income bracket to be able to even think about” an electric car, Katz-Ali said. “It’s not just a Tesla thing. It’s not just a higher-class, higher-income thing.”

Electric-car advocates say her initial perception speaks to a diversity problem that the state must solve to reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal of banning the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035.

California drivers who buy electric vehicles overwhelmingly fit a narrow demographic profile. Most are male, white or Asian American, and between the ages of 30 and 49. The majority earn more than $100,000 a year and live in expensive coastal areas.

That’s according to data The Chronicle analyzed of buyers who received electric car rebates from the state Air Resources Board, California’s air-quality agency. 

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Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat and electric-car advocate, said one factor is a narrow range of electric car styles. Most are sedans or sports cars, models that appeal more to single, younger men.

“You have to offer the choices that people want,” Ting said. “The best-selling cars right now are trucks, SUVs and minivans.”

Ting said that will change dramatically in the next 15 years, as more automakers come out with larger electric models. He said the market for used, cheaper electric cars will also grow.

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