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Where are electric vehicles most popular in Washington state?

By BILL LUCIA, Washington State Standard
Published: June 19, 2023, 6:04am

High fuel prices, along with new government subsidies for electric vehicle purchases, may have some in Washington considering whether to ditch their gasoline-powered cars or trucks for plug-in models.

So, how many motorists in the state have already made the leap? Where are they? And, when you factor in the population size in different regions, which are the places where electric vehicles are most popular? State Department of Licensing data offer insights. They also highlight how much slower EV uptake has been with car buyers outside of the Puget Sound region and in rural parts of the state.

That’s not to say the vehicles won’t eventually become more common on Washington’s roads, especially as charger networks expand, manufacturers offer more models and the state pushes to phase out the sale of new, purely gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

On to the data. The Department of Licensing figures show about 130,000 EVs registered statewide, with over half of them–68,477–in King County. These numbers were last updated on May 10 and include both fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid models, which combine electric and internal combustion power. The total figure is up from around 66,000 in December 2020.

(Data: Washington State Department of Licensing, Data.WA.gov / Chart: Washington State Standard)

The chart below shows overall EV registrations by county across the state.

OK, so there are generally a lot of EVs in places with cities and a lot of people. But what about when taking population into account? The map below shows EV registrations per 1,000 people in each Washington county. Here, there’s a little more nuance to consider. For instance, the higher density of EVs in Thurston County, where Olympia is located, compared to neighboring Pierce County, home to Tacoma. Or the limited rate of adoption in the Spokane area.

One caveat with this map is how small the EV registration numbers are in some places, like Jefferson County, where Port Townsend is. Sure, the vehicles are popular relative to the population size but the total number of them is still only around 790. It’s a similar story up in San Juan County.

Also notable, perhaps, Tesla Model 3s and Model Ys make up just over a third of the vehicles in the Licensing data. Both cars new have list prices that are around or north of $40,000 before tax credits. Maybe layering the EV statistics with household income data would be an interesting analysis.

It’s worth pointing out too that the state Department of Licensing says about 8 million vehicles were registered in Washington as of Dec. 31, 2022. And U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers indicate the market share of electric light-duty vehicles was between 5% and 10% nationwide in 2022, though the agency has it rising to between 13% and 29% by 2050.

In other words, EVs are still a relatively limited slice of the overall vehicle fleet. But it’ll be interesting to watch how, and where, that changes in the state in the months and years ahead.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

(Data: Washington State Department of Licensing, Data.WA.gov / Chart: Washington State Standard)