How Do You Encourage People To Buy Hybrids & EVs? Offer HOV Lane Access

November 16, 2015

Not so long ago, many analysts and eco-advocates were bemoaning the slow adoption of hybrids and electric cars. The sales stats just didn't make sense: consumers prioritized fuel economy, prices of hybrids in particular had become very competitive, and most folks agreed that cutting emissions was important.

Then came the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal. Suddenly, pundits everywhere said, "This is the spark that hybrids and electric vehicles need to boost sales!"

And maybe it is. But a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles' Luskin Center for Innovation shows that the spark could've come years ago, if only states had offered hybrid and EV owners access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Center director Dr. J.R. DeShazo co-led a team of researchers in analyzing sales data in four major California cities: Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco. Their findings show that between 2010 and 2013, access to HOV lanes was a major factor in the decisions of at least 24,000 shoppers who purchased hybrids and electric cars.

That works out to be roughly 40 percent of the total number of hybrid and EV sales that occurred in the state during that time. Without such an incentive, DeShazo et al. believe that California dealers would've sold fewer than 37,000 such vehicles during the four years.

If you keep up with the auto news, that might not come as much of a surprise. Demand for HOV stickers in California has been huge -- so huge that, even though the program granting HOV access to hybrids and EVs runs through 2019, the 70,000 stickers allotted to the program were nearly gone by May of this year. The legislature recently upped the number of stickers to 85,000, and it could do so again in the future.


Would this approach to hybrid and EV sales work everywhere? Maybe, maybe not. California has some especially congested cities, so HOV access might not be as attractive in less densely populated parts of the world -- if those places have HOV lanes at all.

It's also worth noting that HOV access may be more important to some owners than to others. Jason Fudenberg, who heads up the Los Angeles Tesla Owners Club, says that Tesla shoppers are more drawn to the brand's styling and tech features -- a not so subtle suggestion that buyers of less expensive electric cars and hybrids have baser interests, like cutting their commute times. (Ouch.)

If you own a hybrid or EV, we'd love to know which factor(s) influenced your purchasing decision. And if you don't, what would it take you to sign on the dotted line?

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