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EVs Are Hot, but Only 34 Percent of Dealerships Have Even One in Stock

electric cars hard to find
EVs Are Hot, But They're Not So Easy to Test-DriveBoston Globe - Getty Images
  • The Sierra Club has surveyed the plug-in-vehicle shopping landscape and found that we still have a long way to go to make more EVs available in more areas.

  • In 2022, you could only find an EV at 34 percent of all the auto dealers in the U.S., and less than half of those who didn’t have one were interested in selling one if they could get it.

  • In ZEV states, where laws are in place to force higher levels of EV sales in the coming years, more dealers there want EVs to sell than elsewhere. Looks like the laws are slowly working.

To the surprise of absolutely no one who's been shopping for an electric vehicle the past few months, there aren't all that many EVs out there. We now have data to back up the stream of anecdotes about five-figure dealer adjustments and people selling their spots in line on the near-endless waiting lists for some models. The Sierra Club released a report this week called "A Nationwide Study of the Electric Vehicle Shopping Experience," and, well, things could be better out there.

To learn about the EV landscape for the new study, Sierra Club staff and volunteers contacted more than 800 dealerships across the U.S. between June and November 2022. They determined that only 34 percent of car dealerships in the U.S. had any EVs for sale during the survey period in 2022. Of course, supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic made shopping for all kinds of products challenging these past few years, and new cars were certainly affected. Despite that, less than half (44 percent) of the 66 percent of dealers who did not have an EV for sale said they would sell EVs if they could get any.

tesla showroom, gardens mall, palm beach gardens, florida
Tesla dealer in Florida.UCG - Getty Images

Broad Definition of "EV"

Before we go on, for this study, the Sierra Club counts both battery-electric and plug-in hybrids as EVs. While we usually differentiate between those powertrains, we will use EV as a catch-all for this article to refer to both types. The shopping experience survey is a follow-up to the Sierra Club's 2019 report called "Rev Up."

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EV availability varies by region, of course, and there's an interesting thing happening in California and the 15 states that have adopted California's zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates. The ZEV states differ in how they will implement their versions of the various rules, but the important part here is that these laws set clear targets for future EV sales levels. States that follow California's Advanced Clean Cars II program, an August 2022 update to the ZEV rules, for example, requires 100 percent EV sales by 2035.

The ZEV states, therefore, already are and can be expected to continue to be leaders in the shift to electrification. But when the Sierra Club broke down its findings, it found that the dealer landscape was almost precisely the same in ZEV states and those without these future mandates. The nationwide number of dealers with an EV was 34 percent. In ZEV states, it was 35 percent.

What Do Dealers Think of Selling EVs?

Where the ZEV states differ is how dealers feel about selling EVs. Dealers with no plug-in vehicles to sell were likelier to wish they did in ZEV states than others. While the national average was 44 percent, it was 52 percent in ZEV states and just 41 in the non-ZEV states. In other words, while the supply chain and production constraints affected dealers nationwide, the people it mattered to were in states that said they will force more EV sales in the coming years.

Solutions to the EV drought have to come from the companies that build the cars, the Sierra Club said. Despite the many, many billions that have already been pledged to shift the bulk of new-car sales to electrified vehicles in the next decade or so, it's not enough, apparently. "It is the responsibility of manufacturers to deliver more EVs to all dealers," the report said. "The ultimate conclusion is that automakers must invest more in EV production to match consumer demand that is at a record high."

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