The State of Electric Vehicle Adoption in the U.S. and the Role of Incentives in Market Transformation


By Center for Sustainable Energy

September 13, 2023


The transportation system is the largest source of climate-altering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it critically important to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). 

The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), a national nonprofit that designs and administers state, local and utility EV and EV charging incentive programs across the U.S., answers some frequently asked questions about EVs and EV policy.

Key EV Facts

  • Transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with light-duty vehicles contributing more than half of the sector's emissions (U.S. EPA, 2021).
  • Since 1990, GHGs from transportation have risen 18.6% while GHGs for electricity generation have fallen 15.7% (U.S. EPA, 2021).
  • Over 4.1 million plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S. since 2010 (Argonne, 2023).
  • Battery electric vehicles make up 6.7% of light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. When you add hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, EVs comprise 16% of light-duty vehicles sold. (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2023). In California, zero-emission vehicles made up 25% of new vehicle sales in the second quarter of 2023. (California Energy Commission)
  • A typical U.S. driver can expect to save $6,000 to $12,000 over the lifetime of an EV, compared to owning a similar gas-powered vehicle. That includes spending 60% less to power the EV and half as much to repair and maintain it (Consumer Reports, 2023). Comparing fueling costs for gasoline-powered cars and EVs is complex, but the U.S. Department of Energy provides an easy-to-use Vehicle Cost Calculator.
  • Pollutants from internal combustion engine vehicle tailpipe emissions have been linked to causing cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system damage and other health issues (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2021)
  • There are over 145,100 public charging ports (Level 2 and direct current fast chargers) at more than 56,000 station locations across the U.S. (Alternative Fuels Data Center, September 2023).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the benefits of EVs?

Electric vehicles are far cleaner than traditional gas-powered cars and trucks. Since EVs require electricity from the grid, the environmental benefits of EVs vary according to how a state or region supplies its power grid. But averaged across the U.S., and looking solely at greenhouse gases, an EV is equivalent to a gas-powered vehicle that gets 91 miles per gallon (Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2022).

  • The Alternative Fuels Data Center takes a national average of the power grid and shows that electricity produced to charge the average all-electric EV emits 2,817 pounds of CO2 equivalent per year. That's compared with 12,594 pounds of CO2 equivalent a typical gasoline-powered vehicle emits in a year.
  • GHGs are just a fraction of the pollution that internal combustion engine vehicles create. Pollutants such as small particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are far more dangerous to human health. EVs eliminate tailpipe emissions of these pollutants, reducing premature deaths substantially.

EVs save drivers money -- up to $6,000 - $12,000 over the lifetime of an EV – compared with driving a typical gas-powered car. Exact savings depend on where and how an EV driver charges and on the cost of gasoline.

Q: Why are EV incentives needed?

The U.S. needs to rapidly transition its light-duty vehicle fleet to EVs to protect all living things from the worst impacts of climate change, improve the health of Americans breathing harmful pollutants and catch up to global competitors. 

EV incentives have multiple benefits:

  • They lower the cost of EVs, which helps more Americans afford them, and send a market signal to automakers.
  • They drive demand for charging infrastructure, which in turn speeds up EV adoption.

Q: Why do we need incentives for publicly available EV charging infrastructure?

The majority of current EV owners charge at home, but to support mass adoption of EVs, including by people who can’t charge at home or at work, the U.S. will need to build hundreds of thousands of charging stations.

Publicly available EV charging inspires new drivers to switch to EVs by providing a visible answer to the “where do I charge” question. Public EV charging stations also promote equitable access to EV ownership by making it possible for people who rent or live in multi-family housing, like apartments, to charge an EV.

With $7.5 billion in federal infrastructure funds available for EV charging through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build out a nationwide network of 500,000 chargers, states have an unprecedented opportunity to kick EV adoption into high gear.

Q: What’s the range of an EV and where can they be charged now?

The range of EVs is increasing. The median range of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) was 234 miles in 2021 – a 110% increase over the median range of 2018 BEVs. Although many Americans cite range anxiety as a barrier to EV adoption, U.S. drivers on average drive only 37 miles per day.

There are three main kinds of EV charging stations in use:

  • Level 1 charging stations are cost-efficient and are comprised of a standard 110-volt outlet and typically used at home. However, Level 1 charging stations are slow, adding on average about 3-6 miles of range per hour. A full charge can take 24 hours.
  • Level 2 charging stations are higher power, require a 220-volt outlet and are frequently in commercial settings and, increasingly, at home as well. Level 2 stations are much faster, adding 18-28 miles of range per hour and can fully charge an average EV in about 8 hours. 
  • DC fast charging (DCFC) stations are the highest-power, fastest-charging stations available and are typically found along major travel corridors. A 50-kW DCFC (the smallest size) can add about 200 miles of range (a full tank for many EVs) in about an hour. The largest capacity DCFC are 350 kW, and although only certain EVs can work with high-power DCFCs, the speed of charging is improving every year.

As of September 2023, there were more than 56,000 public EV charging stations in the U.S. with over 145,100 ports, including:

  • Level 2: 111,580 ports
  • DCFC: 33,520 ports

For context, there are more than 145,000 gas fueling stations in the U.S.

Q: What are the different types of EVs?

There are three types of EVs in the U.S. These EVs are passenger cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other kinds of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Data below is from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (sales as of August 2023).

  1. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have powerful enough electric motors and sufficient battery capacity to be driven like a true electric vehicle and can be plugged in to charge their batteries. There are more than 1 million PHEVs on the road in the U.S. Examples include the Toyota Prius Prime.
  2. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are what most people consider electric vehicles. There are over 2.8 million BEVs on the road in the U.S. The most popular is the Tesla Model Y. Most BEVs run solely on electricity from batteries.
  3. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) convert hydrogen fuel into electricity that is used to power electric motors that move the vehicle. They work much like plug-in electric vehicles but are fueled by hydrogen instead of needing to be plugged in to charge. There are more than 15,200 FCEVs on the road in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) compares the different technical approaches of different types of EVs and provides detailed information and infographics.

Q: What EVs are available? What are planned?

As of March 2023, 40 BEV and 33 PHEV models were for sale in the U.S. – with more models from major automakers on the way.

General Motors (GM) became the first U.S. automaker to announce plans to end all production of gas-powered light-duty vehicles by 2035 with plans to offer 30 new EV models by mid-decade. Other major automakers have announced plans to electrify large portions of their fleets and these plans would lead to over 100 EV models available by the end of 2024.

Analysis by CSE using its patent-pending Caret® platform shows that action to promote EVs and EV infrastructure is necessary to achieve energy and climate goals, save consumers money, and reduce health impacts of fossil fuel use, especially for those most harmed by pollutants.