EV sales are soaring, making up 19% of global auto sales in 2023. Despite policy setbacks and misinformation campaigns, EV adoption in the Southeast continues to grow.Stan Cross | December 14, 2023
It took a decade to sell America’s first 1 million electric vehicles (EVs), two years to sell the next million, and then, in 2023, only 11 months to sell the next. This year, we watched as global temperatures reached record highs; while at the same time we also saw EV sales soar, making up 19% of global auto sales. All EV market indicators were up in the Southeast despite misinformation campaigns and some lousy policy outcomes.
The Southeast Is An EV Manufacturing Powerhouse
The growth in passenger EV adoption is palpable. Across the Southeast, EVs are noticeably zipping along highways and cruising through southern cities and towns. EVs also appear increasingly in legislative debates, regulatory proceedings, the press, commercials, social media, and kitchen table conversations.
As federal investments and incentives from the landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act begin to reach states, local governments, and communities across the region, the EV market in the Southeast is already accelerating.
As of June 2023, the Southeast has captured 40% of the nation’s EV assembly, EV parts, EV charging infrastructure, battery manufacturing, battery recycling investments, and 35% of anticipated manufacturing jobs. Georgia leads the nation in anticipated EV manufacturing jobs, and the Southeast is home to four of the top eight states—Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. And, though the region is lagging behind national averages, light-duty passenger EV sales grew 50% from June 2022 to June 2023, and charging station deployment grew 66%.
It’s clear that in the Southeast, the transition to EVs isn’t going to happen through climate change policies, for which there is no legislative and limited gubernatorial appetite despite the region’s vulnerabilities to oppressive heat, drought, extreme storms, floods, and sea level rise. Transportation electrification is happening because consumer and fleet operator demand is growing, and the massive economic and workforce development opportunity is politically attractive on both sides of the aisle. To remain competitive, state policymakers in the region will need to support consumer and fleet electrification–or at least stay out of the way–because manufacturers of EVs, batteries, charging stations, and other supply chain equipment expect favorable market conditions where they invest.
Policymakers Were All Over the Map
Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee governors have shown strong support for EV and battery manufacturing and jobs as they compete against each other for the next billion-dollar opportunity. But in statehouses across the region, legislators are passing unfavorable EV policies and not passing supporting policies, seemingly weakening state and regional economic development efforts. 2023 saw an uptick in legislative activity that led to non-EV-friendly policies passed in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina, while supportive policies like direct-to-consumer EV sales and EV infrastructure building codes were off the table.
Georgia leads the Southeast in EV chargers per capita. Policymakers passed a bill that does a good thing and a bad thing for EV charging. The good thing was that the legislation amended a previous law to allow EV charging station providers to charge EV drivers for the amount of electricity they consume instead of by the amount of time they charge. This is an important change because every EV charges at different speeds. So when paying by time, an EV driver with a slower charging EV, say a Nissan LEAF or Chevy Bolt, will pay more for the same amount of electricity as a fast-charging Hyundai or Tesla. Paying by the amount of electricity that’s used during a charge means everyone pays the same rate.
The bad thing was the bill also created a new tax on electricity sales at non-residential EV charging stations. The new tax is an attempt by legislators to collect revenue from out-of-state EV drivers traveling through Georgia. But as written, public and workplace Level-2 chargers, which are used by Georgians and are typically provided free for EV drivers as an employee or customer amenity, would need costly upgrades to equip stations with point-of-sale systems or sub-meters to calculate and collect the tax.
Unless amended to exclude public and workplace Level 2 chargers, the new tax will unintentionally force the owners of most of the state’s 3,368 Level-2 charging ports to remove the stations. Bear in mind that Georgia EV owners already pay the second-highest EV tax in the country at $211/year (in lieu of gas taxes), which is used to pay for roads.
Florida delivered this year’s biggest policy head spinner. The state leads the region with 238,500 cumulative EV sales as of June 2023. Florida also leads the way for school bus electrification; of the 745 electric school buses committed in the region, Florida has 261 in addition to 66 currently operating.
With near unanimous support in both chambers, Florida legislators seized on this market momentum to pass a total cost of ownership bill to modernize how state agencies, universities, community colleges, and local governments purchase fleet vehicles. The bill would have required fleet managers to evaluate the lifetime cost of vehicle ownership and maintenance in addition to the sticker price when purchasing vehicles with alternative fuel options such as electric or compressed natural gas.
Evaluating vehicle purchasing decisions this way results in EVs often outcompeting gas and diesel vehicles. So, the bill would have accelerated the transition to EVs, which could have saved Florida taxpayers upwards of $277 million over the next 15 years. But it won’t happen. In a baffling move, Governor DeSantis went against the Republican-led legislature and vetoed the bill without explanation despite his support for electric buses, EVs, and EV charging infrastructure as recent as last year.
North Carolina’s EV market has been growing steadily, as has EV manufacturing investments, which are on track to grow over 100% in 2023. Over his two terms, Governor Cooper issued several executive orders to accelerate the state’s clean energy economy, including EO 271, which ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to initiate Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rulemaking. The ACT rule is designed to increase the availability of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and further develop the market for these vehicles, such as delivery vans, box trucks, garbage trucks, school buses, and semi-tractors. Initiating ACT rulemaking was a big deal because electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will deliver significant economic, public health, and climate benefits to North Carolina and its citizens. ACT rulemaking garnered support from a wide range of businesses based or operating in North Carolina and a broad coalition of advocates.
But in the 2023 budget battle that raged for most of the year, the Republican-led legislature reshaped the state’s regulatory bodies, wrestling appointment powers from the Governor. ACT rulemaking was a casualty of the fight. In the final hours of budget negotiations, language was added to prohibit the state from pursuing ACT.
The prohibition is a blow to the state’s private and public fleet operators who want access to zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to lower operational costs and achieve carbon pollution reduction goals; ACT would have increased supply and reduced costs. The prohibition also harms the public health of communities overburdened with diesel exhaust pollution because of their proximity to the state’s growing highways, ports, warehouses, and distribution hubs, communities that are disproportionately Asian-American, Black, and Latino.
EVs Take Center Stage in an Existential Conflict
Gasoline is the most consumed petroleum product in America, utilizing 43% of every barrel of oil, while diesel comes in second at 20%. Meanwhile, burning gas and diesel to power our nation’s transportation sector emits more climate pollution than any other sector, threatening humanity’s ability to thrive on Earth. Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, which cause global warming, are at record highs; 2023 is likely to be the warmest year in the 174-year observational record, with sea temperatures reaching record highs and sea levels rising to record levels.
The oil industry benefits from slowing down transportation electrification; in the first two quarters of 2023 alone, the fifteen oil companies operating in the U.S. raked in nearly $100 billion in net income. Electric cars, trucks, and buses threaten the oil industry and the businesses riding its coattails.
So, it’s not surprising that 2023 showed an uptick in EV misinformation, including that EVs are more polluting than gas cars because of powerplant emissions and battery manufacturing; that an increase in EV market share will collapse the power grid; that EVs catch fire more than gas cars; and used EV batteries will be a toxic waste stream problem.
In addition to misinformation campaigns, nearly 4,000 auto dealers sent a widely publicized letter to the Biden administration asking it to slow down the EV transition. Ford, GM, and Stellantis struggled to meet product manufacturing and delivery expectations. Regional gas station operators advocated banning electric utilities from participating in the EV charging space. And candidates vying to win the Republican presidential primary have made EVs a wedge issue.
Keep Your Eyes on the Road Ahead
We end 2023 with seeds of doubt sowed by those with vested interests in slowing down the EV transition, which is unfortunate. Though EVs aren’t silver bullets that will save us from the climate crisis, electric cars, trucks, and buses offer the most immediately viable and accessible solution to curbing transportation emissions, which we need to do urgently to address the climate crisis.
But despite policy setbacks and misinformation campaigns, EV adoption in the Southeast continues to grow. EV sales in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina reached above 7% of all new auto sales in 2023, and the region has seen 3X market share growth since 2021.
EV sales are expected to jump in 2024 when the revised EV tax credit authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act kicks in on January 1, allowing consumers to take the $7,500 new or $4,000 used EV credit as cash-on-the-hood. Non-tax-paying entities like local governments and state agencies will be able to access the vehicle tax credits and EV infrastructure tax credits for the first time, potentially boosting EV fleet sales. The EV tax credit will address the number one barrier to adoption–sticker price. With the credit, EVs will likely cost the same or less than gas alternatives.
In addition, $679 million worth of fast chargers supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s National EV Infrastructure Program (NEVI) will begin deployment across the Southeast. NEVI funding will far exceed what states have spent thus far on charging infrastructure, changing the charging landscape across the region. This deployment will address the second biggest barrier to adoption–the widespread accessibility of chargers to enable safe and reliable travel.
With federal support knocking down adoption barriers and automakers expected to bring a bunch of attractive EVs to market, including dozens of debut models, misinformation and misguided policy may be blunted in 2024. Along with barriers falling, there are a lot of consumers who are “somewhat” or “very likely” to buy an EV, 38% to be exact, according to a recent poll. And it’s that 38% that matter for continued growth, not the 50% that responded “not too likely” and “not at all.” With the national EV market share topping 11% this year, a 38% bump would be massive, and all that’s needed to move from early adopters to the mass market. Once that happens, the 50% not interested today will quickly become interested.
With that, we look ahead to 2024 with a lot of favorable and steady market headwinds blowing against occasional misinformation and unsupportive policy gusts. It will be an election year, so the strengths of the gusts are anyone’s guess. It’s best to keep your seat belt fastened. And vote.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Electrify the South program leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to accelerate the equitable transition to electric transportation across the Southeast. Visit ElectrifytheSouth.org to learn more and connect with us.