Tesla Still the Big Winner in California ZEV Credit Sales

By · October 17, 2013

Tesla Model S

The Model S is a California credit ZEV generator par excellence. (Tesla Motors photo)

As far as the auto industry is concerned, by far the most important state agency in the world is the California Air Resources Board. There’s no way of getting away from its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates, which dictate an increasing number of battery EVs, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen cars on state roads.

Automakers get credits for selling green cars, and they can sell those credits to the competition. For years, it’s been a major revenue source for Tesla Motors, and still is. A recently released list of ZEV credit transfers between October 2012 and September 2013 shows Tesla the clear winner with 1,311 sold. No one else is even close.

7 Credits for the Model S

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for CARB, said that the 85-kilowatt-hour Model S gets a whopping seven credits, the highest number possible, in part because of its ability to refuel quickly. “We expect the fast-charge credit to go away in the next year or two as that technology gets common enough that it won’t need a special benefit,” he said. Even after selling the most ZEV credits, Tesla still has 276 in reserve.

The 60-kilowatt-hour version of the Model S gets only five credits, but that's great compared to nearly all the other battery cars—the Nissan LEAF, the Chevy Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, the Honda Fit EV, Smart Electric Drive and Toyota RAV4—which get only three. The Mitsubishi I-MiEV is a 2.5-credit car, and the Scion iQ nets just two. The only other seven-credit vehicle is the Honda Clarity FCX fuel-cell vehicle.

ZEV Credits

The ZEV credit system rewards Tesla for equipping the Model S with a large battery pack offering a hefty range.

Suzuki, evidently getting rid of some old credits as it exits the American market, moved 41. Mitsubishi sold 16, a reflection of poor sales of the I-MiEV. Polaris, which sells the GEM electric, offloaded just one credit. Even companies that are now defunct, including Coda and Think, sold credits. Coda had 3.5!

Among carmakers selling PZEV credits are Ford, Nissan and Toyota. The Prius is an AT-PZEV, which explains the 7,479 remaining credits Toyota has in that category, out of 9,473 extant.

GM, Chrysler, Honda, VW and Others Buying Credits

The more cars automakers sell in the state, the more credits they need. Buyers of ZEV credits were Chrysler (just getting into EVs with the California-only Fiat 500e), GM (which now has the Spark EV to complement the Volt), Honda, Volkswagen (the e-Golf is pending), Jaguar/Land Rover and Subaru (the latter two still EV-free).

It would be interesting to know which manufacturers ended up with Tesla’s credits, but Clegern said that automakers consider this proprietary information. “We don’t track the price,” he said. “We aren’t involved in the market for selling credits.”

New to EVs? Start here

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