By on August 27, 2012

The State of California is concerned that less than 3,800 Chevrolet Volt and Prius Plug-In hybrid owners have applied for Car Pool Lane stickers as of August 3. With these green decals affixed to their cars, owners of these two automobiles may drive with no passengers along the state’s 1,400 miles of HOV lanes.

Sacramento forecasted that 40,000 of the $8 decals would be purchased by plug-in pilots during this three-year program that began in January. The poor sales are partially due to the fact that consumers are not buying the two “Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicles,” as California calls them, at a volume anywhere near the state’s forecast.

In March, California took action to pump up the disappointing sales of the vehicles, which boast a base MSRP of $32,000 for the Prius and $39,145 for the Volt. The state’s reaction was to offer a $1,500 consumer rebate for each car sold. They also tried to create a car dealer-like sense of urgency by stressing that the incentive funds were “limited.” Go See State of Cali Worthington Toyota/Chevrolet for Hot Hybrid Deals Today! Sales of the Volt immediately rose from 143 cars per month to around 450 per month. Sales of the Prius Plug-In are estimated to be around 600 per month in California.

Drivers may be declining the decals for two reasons. Even though these vehicles are electric/gas hybrids, their owners may be avoiding the freeways due to what has been deemed “Range Anxiety,” the fear of running out of electricity before trip’s end. (This is not to be confused with “Range Rover Anxiety,” the fear of electrical components failing before trip’s end.) With California’s legendary Sig Alerts backing up all lanes of a freeway, drivers face the real possibility of depleting their wattage and becoming stranded on the San Diego Freeway or the Oakland Bay Bridge. This scenario assumes plug-in owners will motor around with little or no gasoline in their tanks, which appears to be a likelihood according to “green car” message boards.

The second factor is California’s treatment of the first generation of “clean air” car owners. In July 2011, the state pulled the plug on 85,000 Low Emission Vehicles’ access to HOV lanes, citing they had achieved their goal of encouraging consumers to buy high-mileage cars. People are still upset about the state not extending the program and may be in fear of getting burned again.

It will be interesting to see California’s next move to jump start plug-in car pool lane usage. Maybe they will relent and let HOV lanes serve their intended purpose: to encourage commuters to car pool.

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42 Comments on “Tales From The Cooler: California Plug-in Owners Pass on HOV Passes...”


  • avatar
    Robstar

    Since I don’t live in a state with HOV lanes (none that I know about at least), are the speed limits different in hov vs normal lanes? Wouldn’t it be better for the evs to go in their special lane & go at their own pace (whatever is efficient for the battery) instead of going in the “general admission” lanes with H2′s trying to go 80 or 90….?

    • 0 avatar

      The speed limits on HOV lanes are no different. Here in South Florida, the HOV lanes are so lightly used that they enforce them only during peak driving periods. I’ve noticed that most arrests for speeding are done out of the HOV lanes because almost everyone in them does 80+.

      I lived in Southern California about 10 years ago. Then, HOV lanes were much faster than regular traffic lanes and I don’t remember speed limit enforcement at all, primarily because heavy traffic makes it pointless.

      I’m very happy to live in an area where the roads work – they definitely do here and they definitely didn’t in California!

      D

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Here in southeastern Va the HOV lanes have the same speed limit ( well at least on the Hampton roads side). One nice feature about the Hampton Roads HOV – they are open to all traffic during off-peak hours and during the weekend.

        Despite being open to all traffic during those times people rarely use them perhaps because they just don’t read the entire sign which clearly posts the hours and days of operation.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Sounds good in theory. But then that means said EVs would plug up the HOV lanes for the H2′s with multiple passengers (LOL!) who are totally eligible to drive on them at 80 or 90.

      • 0 avatar
        Robstar

        It sounds like quite large vehicles out there typically travel with multiple people….not so here that I’ve noticed.

        Also: Do single user motorcycles get access to hov or do they require a passenger?

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Motorcycles are allowed to use any HOV lane that receives money from the Feds, and states can only prevent this if they can show a safety risk:

        http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/faq.htm#faq15

      • 0 avatar
        mattfarah

        Yeah, if I was in the HOV lane with 4 people in my car (a very regular occurance) and some jackass in an electric car was in that lane trying to be as efficient as possible by himself at 50 mph, I’d lose my damn mind. In california, unlike other places, you can’t get in and out of the HOV lane anywhere you like, only in designated spots, so if some guy is going to slow, everyone who’s stuck behind him is just that: stuck. It actually causes more traffic when people go too slow in the HOV lane than the lane itself helps. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone being pulled over for speeding in the HOV lane, so when I use it, it’s specifically to go faster than the regular traffic lanes are going.

      • 0 avatar
        mattfarah

        Yeah, if I was in the HOV lane with 4 people in my car (a very regular occurrence) and some jackass in an electric car was in that lane trying to be as efficient as possible by himself at 50 mph, I’d lose my damn mind. In california, unlike other places, you can’t get in and out of the HOV lane anywhere you like, only in designated spots, so if some guy is going to slow, everyone who’s stuck behind him is just that: stuck. It actually causes more traffic when people go too slow in the HOV lane than the lane itself helps. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone being pulled over for speeding in the HOV lane, so when I use it, it’s specifically to go faster than the regular traffic lanes are going.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Some HOV lanes in NY state have that limited in/out access to eliminate the “risk” of changing lanes. It sucks getting stuck behind a bus or turtle who jams the lanes. Since my Altima does not qualify for the sticker, I have to bring a coworker home to use the lanes. Sometimes it is necessary to get around a hypermiler by any means needed…

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        Matt, only Southern California has the designated entry/exit points for HOV lanes. Yet another reason to avoid driving there if at all possible.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      In NoVa the HOV lane is 65 mph on the I395/I95 where the main lanes are 55 mph for part and 60 mph for another part, so yeah, they are higher here

    • 0 avatar
      onyxtape

      In Seattle and Portland, the actual real-life speed is typically about 5 mph faster than the plugged-up normal lanes, because someone will inevitably slow down to that speed in fear of someone suddenly merging in from the normal lanes. And thereby negating all value to the HOV lane.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    It’s very, very doubtful the owners of PHEVs (as opposed to EVs) are worried about running out of electric range before the end of the trip. The entire point of a PHEV is that you run on electricity until you run out of it and then you run on gas. There’s no mystery there and no range anxiety.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting. You would think that once you bought the car you would want the sticker. But remember that sticker-friendly cars have only been on sale for a relatively short period. If my memory serves only Volts made in 2012 were eligible and I think the official plug-in Prius is a new model. Combine that with the possibility that there are many who haven’t heard of the program, and you probably have your answer.

      D

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @KixStart – I think there might be another reason as well. Less gas in the tank means less weight and greater EV range. Maybe there are some actual owners out there that can confirm this. 10 US Gallons weighs almost 61 lbs if I remember correctly, so that could effect range I suppose.

      • 0 avatar
        dhanson865

        gas weighs, but not enough to make it matter, the only reason I would run with less gas in my prius is over concerns with stale gas.

        If I’m only using a tank full every 3 months how stale is my gas getting? Luckilly right now I use a tank every two weeks or so but if I had a plug in prius instead I would use much less.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Government forcing it’s handin consumerism and trying to make money with a purchase of a sticker. Tsk-tsk.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Seems like it’s more like an exercise in trying to get as much money back as possible considering the incentives and tax rebates the Govt is pushing on people to buy the things in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        California, where they’ll give you a $4,000 tax break and a $1,500 rebate in order to sell you an $8 sticker for a car you don’t want and probably can’t afford. It’s all fun and games until you realize ‘they’ are using your money. It’s easy to see why they have to be socialists. They’d get nowhere in free markets with the brains behind this program.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        “They” are using your money as well when some corporations get away without paying their fair share of taxes or the feds give leases to oil or lumber companies for rates well below what they should charge. Either side you care to pick on, it kinda sucks all the way around…

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    The volt is just TOO UGLY. It would actually be a perfect vehicle for my commute, with the gas savings on the order of $1.5K/yr once the chargers at work have their wrapping removed. But the sheer F@#)(* UGLY nature of the exterior has put it on the veto list.

    While the plug-in-Prius is a joke: 15 mile electric range? Why bother: just get a normal Prius and save the money. With less than 1/2 a gallon of gas per charge, the Prius’s electric range is nigh-useless. If you are doing a plug-in hybrid, it needs a 35-40 miles electric range to be cost-effective.

    And those who would do anything for a carpool sticker when their Prii-Stickers expired already went out and got themselves Leafs.

  • avatar
    Caraholica

    “The second factor is California’s treatment of the first generation of “clean air” car owners. In July 2011, the state pulled the plug on 85,000 Low Emission Vehicles’ access to HOV lanes, citing they had achieved their goal of encouraging consumers to buy high-mileage cars. People are still upset about the state not extending the program and may be in fear of getting burned again.”

    This action still stings for many in California who didnt know that it could be done and took a $2-5k hit in value on a regular Prius when HOV access was ended. This carrot just isnt going to work as well anymore when your $40k Volt has been bought and the state has “achieved their goal” of getting you into it. Then apparently you are on your own.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Are you saying they promised the stickers were valid eternally and then surprised existing owners by expiring them? My understanding was that the stickers were sold with expiration dates and consumers were not surprised.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        You are correct- the stickers were handed out with explicit expiration dates. The state made a mistake in extending that expiration date by 1 more year. Once it was extended one year, the whiners thought that means the state would extend it to infinity. When the state refused to do that , the whiners got mad because they didn’t get their way.

        Whereas the HOV stickers handed out to the CNG cars were indeed for eternity. And the state has not reneged on those in any way.

  • avatar
    redav

    Total numbers don’t matter–it’s the percentage of buyers who get the sticker. If roughly 1000/mo were sold during this program, that means over 75% are buying the sticker. How is that bad?

    Undoubtedly, there are people who just haven’t gotten around to it yet and others who just don’t need to use HOV lanes (not because of range, but because they just don’t go those places). I’m sure there are others who don’t want to get involved in anything with the govt, even if it’s a benefit to them.

  • avatar
    likenissan

    You mention a number of 3800 Volts and Prius plug ins. Do you have a corresponding number for Nissan Leaf? I guess they are more successful, but I do not know for sure.

  • avatar
    Herm

    Many BEV drivers prefer to drive on the right hand side of the road so that they can slow down a bit.. 80mph+ takes a heavy toll on your battery range. BEVs are really meant as city cars, go to the grocery, drop off the kids etc.. not really as long distance hwy cruisers.

    Clogging up the left most HOV lane at 55mph will cause road rage in California, probably unsafe as people get desperate with the traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      Virgil Hilts

      I stand corrected. Per Toyota, they moved 5,035 Plug-Ins from January through July in the 15 states they are peddling the car. If we were to guess that 50% of those are sold in Califofnia (Toyota did not reveal sales by state) based on the consumers, warm climate favorable to EVs and Toyota’s popularity in the state, then that translates to 360 per month in California.

      That adds up to 2520 sales, which is 123 LESS than the number of HOV decals the state claims was sold through August 3 to Prius Plug-In owners.

      And that number does not ring true, either…

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “BEVs are really meant as city cars, go to the grocery, drop off the kids etc.. not really as long distance hwy cruisers.”

      Bingo! That’s why they don’t buy stickers to use HOV lanes. Those lanes have designated on/off ramps, and they bypass many exits. The people who use HOV lanes, or pay to use them when they’re also toll lanes, are just driving through and want to bypass local traffic. The people in BEVs ARE the local traffic.

  • avatar
    BrianL

    I think you nailed it when you said that the reasons are price, and the fact that some of the people had the privilege revoked not long ago. They don’t want to get burned again.

    Are you sure on the plugin prius sales being 650 a month for California? Last month, the sales for the plugin prius were 695 for all of the states it is offered in. Just curious were the estimates came from.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      I known someone who just bought a a Leaf _because_ their Prius sticker stopped working. I would think cutting off the sticker would be causing more stickers to be sold.

      The Plug In Prius looks like a great deal: you get to use the carpool and, because it gets terrific mileage on gasoline, you never have to feel guilty about not plugging it in. Pure genius!

      • 0 avatar
        BrianL

        Buying a car is a huge expense to drive in the HOV lane. I am not saying there aren’t people who will do it, but if you have a car like a Prius that is working fine, does buying a Leaf really make sense?

        Also, the extra money you pay for a plug in prius vs a regular prius is a hard sell. But the extra 8k (I think that number is right) to drive in the HOV lanes… I will pass.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I use my motorcycle in HOV lanes and dispense with all the other nonsense. And 80+ is about average for us HOV users.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “People are still upset about the state not extending the program and may be in fear of getting burned again.”

    They are?

    The old stickers had an expiration date.

    The new stickers also have an expiration date.

    Nobody should be surprised by the expiration date, since the state makes it clear that the stickers come with an expiration date.

    A little number crunching should make it obvious what has happened — the number of stickers exceeds demand for the car. Neither GM nor Toyota are expecting to sell that many plug-ins, otherwise they would be building more of them.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Let’s see, I’m responsible for “managing” the dismal” finances” of the state of California…and something about the environment. Disturbing new facts on the ground make it seem that the HOV lanes are underutilized under the current market situation. What to do? Next stop, monetizing access. Want to get into those HOV lanes without any HO? Bring $$$. Perhaps those who have more cash than time would pay us to use these lanes.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Yet another subsidy from the state that factored into it’s budget the price of Facebook’s stock and the estimated revenue it would expect to bring in.

    My 5 year old does a better job with basic math and logic skills than does the CA Assembly and Senate.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    You can use your NGV vehicle solo in the HOV lane until 2015.

  • avatar
    vww12

    Heh. Good article. You really think they might use the HOVs lanes for HOVs?

    Nahhhh. Couldn’t happen, man.


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