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Electric vehicles have surged in Washington state. But gas cars still dominate

Sales of electric vehicles are accelerating, even as the climate-friendly cars remain a rarity on Washington roads.

One in nine cars sold in King County in 2021 runs on electricity, more than twice the market share electric vehicles have achieved nationwide, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

EVs made up 11.7% of new car sales in King County, 7.8% in Washington, and 4.4% nationwide in 2021.

Still, electric vehicles, including “plug-in hybrids” that can run on either battery power or gasoline, were just 1.3% of all passenger vehicles on Washington roads and 0.8% of vehicles nationwide in 2021.

According to the Washington Department of Licensing, the number of EVs on Washington roads surged 40% in 2021.

More electric vehicles are registered in King County than in the state’s 38 other counties combined.

With nearly all cars on the road still running on gasoline, the transportation sector remains almost exclusively reliant on petroleum and remains the state’s and the nation’s largest source of climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions.

Even with oil prices and concern about the climate on the rise, electric vehicles are still a niche product. Washington state has a long way to go toward its goal of electrifying its transportation system.

Barriers to wider adoption of electric vehicles include a lack of charging stations and high sticker prices.

Demand for EVs is high, but supply is not, according to Jay Donnaway with the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association.

“Tesla has been backordered for many, many months now, and the other manufacturers have been honestly pretty slow bringing competitive product to the market,” Donnaway said.

The average new electric vehicle sold for about $60,000 in February, about $15,000 more than the average new car in the U.S., according to car-shopping website Edmunds.com.

“Most of the manufacturers have ignored the low end of the market and are no longer offering the low-range, affordable EVs that could suffice for 90% of our daily driving,” Donnaway said.

He said manufacturers are ramping up their production.

The Washington Legislature has set a target of ending the sale of gasoline-powered cars in Washington by the year 2030. It has also approved spending millions to install more charging stations throughout the state. Those measures, both part of a 16-year, $17 billion package of transportation investments, await Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

Legislators rejected Inslee’s proposal for big rebates for electric vehicle buyers.

The most popular electric vehicle on the roads today may not be an electric car at all, but a much more affordable alternative: an electric bike.

While comprehensive e-bike sales figures are hard to come by, Bloomberg News reported in January that the United States imported nearly 800,000 e-bikes in 2021, outpacing the 650,000 electric cars sold in the country.