The Geography of EVs

Fuel retailers in hybrid, electric-vehicle sales "hot spots" may need to adapt offerings

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- Fifteen U.S. designated market areas (DMAs) combined account for approximately 30% of all hybrids and 41% of all electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, according to data by transportation research firm R.L. Polk & Co., Southfield, Mich.; however, these same 15 markets include just 12.5% of all new vehicle registrations.

The research provides a "map" that could influence fuel retailers' product mix and marketing strategies.

R.L. Polk lead forecasting analyst Tom Libby said that nine of these 15 hybrid-rich areas have a hybrid penetration greater than 6%, while the national penetration is 2.97%. In San Francisco, the market area with the highest hybrid mix, almost one of every 10 new vehicles sold is a hybrid.

Looking at the EV market, these same 15 metropolitan areas have accounted for 41% of all U.S. EV registrations through the first 10 months of 2012. Two of these 15 areas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, by themselves captured a quarter of all EV sales nationally during the same time period. The 15 areas with such high concentrations of hybrid and EVs are all located on the West Coast.

Los Angeles and San Francisco feature the highest concentration of plug-in vehicle buyers in the nation, with those two cities alone responsible for a quarter of all EV sales. A Forbes magazine report highlights the top 10 cities having the most hybrid and electric models.

Click here to view the "10 Cities With the Greenest Cars" slideshow.

Given the region's ecological predilections, the cities responsible for the highest concentration of hybrid and EVs are largely located on the West Coast, said the report. In addition to San Francisco and Los Angeles, these include: Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Eureka, Chico, Palm Springs and Sacramento, Calif.; Eugene, Portland, Bend and Medford, Ore; Portland, Wash; and Tuscon, Ariz.

The cities having the lowest percentage of EV registrations tend to be situated squarely in the "pickup truck-loving" central and southern regions, the report said. Tulsa, Okla, shows the biggest dearth of hybrids and electrics at just 0.58% and a scant 0.01% of all registrations, respectively. Other cities with the fewest hybrid or battery-powered cars include: Lafayette and Lake Charles, La., Odessa-Midland, Texas; Glendive, Mont.; Minot-Bismarck, N.D.; and Greenwood-Greenville, S.C.

Click here to view R.L. Polk's chart and data.

At the other end of the spectrum, the 15 market areas with the lowest hybrid concentration delivered just 5,422 hybrids through 10 months. This equates to a hybrid penetration of 1.53%, about one-twentieth the hybrid penetration of the top 15 markets. These markets at the bottom of the hybrid list also fared poorly with EVs, selling just 98 or less than 1% of all electrics. Yet these 15 markets sell 6.6% of all new vehicles nationally. These 15 geographical areas are generally in the central region of the country.

Libby suggested that the data illustrates why generalizing about the U.S. new-vehicle landscape based on one market area can be risky.

Still, EV sales remain on the upswing, said a Forbes report. The Toyota Prius line of hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars continues to beat all comparable comers across the United States, the report said, with combined sales among its four model variations registering 236,659 units last year, representing a 73.4% increase. That makes it the 13th best-selling vehicle in the nation, and as a nameplate onto its own, Prius outsells many stalwart brands, including Toyota's own Lexus division.