During the listening sessions conducted in association with the State Climate Strategy, Nevadans expressed support for adoption of Clean Cars Nevada in that it would improve air quality. On the other hand, they expressed concerns about the up-front affordability of low- and zero-emissions vehicles currently available on the market. This is important given the basic need for car ownership more generally across low-income populations.
At present, new ZEVs and PHEVs cost more than a new car or truck with a traditional combustion engine. The lowest-cost options for new low- and zero-emissions cars available in the United States start at ~$25,000, and SUVs start upwards of $30,000 (ICCT, 2019). In general, purchase prices are higher for ZEVs than for conventional vehicles. This could limit affordability.
However, similar to other emerging technologies, as demand increases prices should decline, thanks to competition and expanded consumer options. For ZEVs, some estimates suggest significantly more options in the $20,000 range will be on the market by 2030 (ICCT, 2019). Given the size of the market in California, the state’s adoption of a 100% by 2035 clean car standard for sales of new passenger vehicles will likely drive up national demand for electric cars and trucks, and perhaps accelerate a decline in price. It will also likely expand the secondary market, which would provide more-affordable used options.
Low- and zero-emissions cars and trucks are less-expensive to own and operate over their lifetime relative to gas- and diesel-powered options. Recent research suggests that ZEVs and PHEVs save a consumer $200–$1,300 each year in fuel costs (Borlaug et al., 2020). With relatively lower electricity charging costs and relatively higher fuel costs, savings in Nevada may be at the mid to upper end of these estimates.
Compared with other states, Nevada has fewer options to implement incentive or rebate programs that would offset these investments (see below). The federal Qualified Plug-In Electric-Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit is available for PHEV and ZEV purchases until manufacturers meet certain thresholds of vehicle sales. It provides a tax credit of $2,500–$7,500 for new purchases, with the amount determined by vehicle size and battery capacity.
Reducing tailpipe emissions can improve air quality and public health outcomes, particularly among vulnerable populations. Vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution by releasing fine particles into the air, as well as nitrogen oxides (NOx)and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are the necessary ingredients to produce ground-level ozone. Communities exposed to excessive ground-level ozone and airborne particulate matter have an increased incidence of heart- and lung-related disease, including asthma, and associated emergency department visitation. Low-income households and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and experience a commensurate increase in adverse health outcomes.
Although the overall air quality across Nevada and most of the United States has improved over the past decade due to smog regulations (McClure & Jaffe, 2018), there are still periods where ground-level ozone and/or particulate matter exceed federal standards in the state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the Las Vegas Valley as in nonattainment for the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Moreover, climate-change-driven increases in temperature can increase the production of ground-level ozone (NCA, 2018).
Further, areas in nonattainment for ozone (or other pollutants) are subject to stricter regulations by the EPA. There is a cost associated to be in nonattainment and such costs are paid by businesses and the regulated industry. The costs increase with the level of nonattainment severity, and these expenses could be passed to consumers.
Adopting Clean Cars Nevada has the potential to improve air quality, and improve the health of minority and marginalized communities. However, the affordability of low- and zero-emissions vehicles is a concern for low-income households, although the expansion of the California market could benefit those looking for used ZEVs and PHEVs.