Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KCBX Two-Way: California shifts vehicle rebates to focus on low-income buyers

Flickr/Marco Verch

Take a walk around the downtowns of San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, and you may notice how much electric vehicles have gone mainstream. That’s partly because the state of California has had a rebate program in place for electric cars since 2010.

But it runs out of money this year. The state will instead expand a program which provides electric vehicle subsidies only to lower-income Californians.

KCBX's Benjamin Purper spoke with CalMatters climate reporter Alejandro Lazo to find out more.


Give me an overview of this move — what's the state doing here, and what are they trying to achieve?

So when California created its Clean Vehicle Rebate Project back in 2010, [it] was really created to encourage adoption of battery electric and other green cars back when this technology was sort of new and exotic. Well, obviously that's changed; one out of every new car sold in California is zero emissions. But there have been concerns in recent years that these cars aren't being purchased by folks who live in lower income communities and the parts of the state that are most affected by pollution. So California, a few years ago, created a separate program, the Clean Cars For All Program to address that directly.

This program lets people trade in older, more polluting cars. It's that program that's being expanded now statewide. It'll continue to give money for trade ins, but it's also going to provide grants to folks who want to buy a new electric vehicle or a new trade in or a new zero emissions vehicle without trading a car.

What changes will this make in terms of who gets state help to buy electric vehicles?

So the big difference will be the income limitations. Individuals earning up to $135,000 and joint filers earning up to $200,000 qualified for some rebates under the current program, the one that's expiring. Under the new program, that cutoff will be adjusted to three times the federal poverty rate, which would mean an individual who made more than $43,740 would not qualify, nor would a family of four making more than $90,000.

Clean energy groups supported this move, but what have opponents said?

Surprisingly, there was not a lot of recorded formal opposition to this change, but at least one dealership we spoke to had some concerns that this would limit the market to some degree. But they also expressed understanding and support for the idea that people who weren't able to afford these cars in the past now should get a shot at them. And the state really needs to step up its efforts to build a more publicly accessible infrastructure of charging stations publicly if they want to get the kind of widespread adoption that they do say they want to see. And that's going to be a big challenge in coming years.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. The full CalMatters article is available here.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
Related Content