Many in WA oppose gas-car ban, poll shows — but electric vehicle demand is high

Source: By Isabella Breda, Seattle Times • Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2022

A sparkling red metallic SUV made no more than a hum as it rolled through the University Volkswagen lot Friday afternoon.

The electric ID.4 delivered that day was one of the first to be made in the German automaker’s Tennessee production facility.

Brian Kelly, a Volkswagen electric vehicle specialist, fields over 20 requests a month from people looking to take a test drive. And over 300 people are waiting for their new cars to be delivered to the Seattle lot.

As demand far outweighs supply, Volkswagen and other automakers are ramping up production of electric vehicles.

“The biggest negative to people has been the wait,” Kelly said. Customers have been waiting up to 15 months for an electric car from Germany. Now that production has moved to Chattanooga, the wait time could be cut in half.

So far, fully electric vehicles have made up an average of 6% of new vehicle registrations each month in Washington, according to the state Department of Licensing. That’s about double the monthly average in 2020. And nationwide, electric vehicle registrations were up 60% in the first three months of 2022, even as the overall market was down 18%.

But according to a recent poll, Washingtonians may have mixed feelings about what Gov. Jay Inslee called a “critical milestone” in the climate change fight: a statewide ban on the sale of new gas cars by 2035.

The WA Poll is sponsored by The Seattle Times, KING 5, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication.

Conducted online Oct. 14-19 by SurveyUSA, the WA Poll reached 875 adults, including 589 likely voters, using a population sample provided by Lucid Holdings. The respondents were weighted to U.S. Census proportions for gender, age, race, education and home ownership.

Just less than half of respondents, 48%, said they do not support the proposed ban, while 38% support it and 16% were unsure about it.

Results suggest opinions fall along party lines.

Most of the support came from self-identified Democrats. Among them, about 65% said they support the ban, while 21% opposed the ban and 14% were unsure.

The majority of those who opposed the ban identified as politically Independent or Republican. About 78% of Republican and 58% of Independent respondents said they opposed the ban.

Age and race also appeared to play a role, with the greatest level of support coming from people of color, and those aged 18-49. Of white respondents, over half said they didn’t support the ban; that’s compared to 34% of Asian respondents, 22% of Black respondents and 15% of Hispanic respondents.

The WA Poll, sponsored by The Seattle Times and partners, included responses from 875 Washington adults.

The poll asked respondents if they “support or oppose the state of Washington banning the sale of new gas-powered automobiles by 2035 to reduce carbon emissions.”

California and New York have already adopted plans to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035. Washington and Oregon are on track to do the same.

The ban doesn’t require anyone who owns a gas car to give it up. It means that after 2035, no new gas cars could be sold in the state.

Similar polls conducted in the state have found respondents generally support this idea.

Last year, Seattle-based alternative energy nonprofit Coltura found that about 60% of respondents supported a policy to “require all new cars to be electric by 2030.” About 34% of respondents opposed the policy.

There’s not yet overwhelming support for a transition away from gas-powered cars.

People may be reluctant to give up the gas-powered car they’ve known and loved for something they’ve never driven, said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in electric vehicle ownership.

“I do think though, generally, as people drive EVs, that they become comfortable with them,” said Matthew Metz, Coltura founder. “They understand the savings, they understand that it fulfills their life functions as well as a gas car. Then, there’s going to be much less opposition generally to the idea of moving that way.”

For years, electric vehicle ownership has largely been seen as a privilege far out of reach for the middle class. That’s slowly starting to change, Metz said.

The electric Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf start right around the average price for a new gas-powered sedan of the same make, typically under $30,000.

And some electric vehicles are, or will be, eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

A proposal for a similar state program failed to garner enough support this year in Olympia. But the Legislature did give the go-ahead to allocate $207 million for charging infrastructure and $120 million for electric vehicle incentives through June 2025.

While maintenance and other costs for electric vehicles are less than for a gas-powered car, the upfront costs continue to be a barrier.

“The car might cost you a few thousand more upfront, but it’s only a few and you’re going to make that back,” Allen said. “We still need to have incentives to buy down those upfront costs of the vehicles and particularly for used vehicles to make sure that those vehicles are accessible to lower-income drivers as well.”

Some of Coltura’s research has revealed wealthier California cities have higher EV-to-gas-car ratios. Average EV owners are still middle-aged men who earn six figures, according to the Fuels Institute.

Metz believes the “mythmaking” around electric vehicles slowed demand.

“This idea you’re going to be stranded in the dead of night on the freeway because your EV runs out of battery with nowhere to charge,” he said, “that isn’t a reality for anyone I know.”

There is about one charging port per 12 cars nationally, according to the latest U.S. Department of Energy data. And a new federal program has allocated over $5 billion to help states create a network of EV charging stations, particularly along major interstate highways.

Washington will get about $71 million of that, which will be combined with about $90 million in state funding.

The state currently ranks fourth in the nation for the greatest number of registered electric vehicles, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Per capita, the state ranks No. 2.

Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Isabella Breda: 206-652-6536 or; on Twitter: @BredaIsabella. Seattle Times staff reporter Isabella Breda covers the environment.