The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of US greenhouse gas emissions. Transitioning to a zero-emission vehicle fleet will be key to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But making this transition will be challenging—zero-emission vehicles made up less than two percent of the 17 million new passenger vehicle sales in 2019.

Last week, UVM Transportation Research Center Director, Dr. Greg Rowangould, participated in a Capitol Hill briefing on electric vehicle markets hosted by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. Dr. Rowangould addressed some of the successes, barriers, and policy gaps that Vermont and neighboring states in the northeast face with electric vehicle adoption as largely rural states in cold climates.

Electric vehicles are expected to be an important strategy for reducing transportation GHGs in the northeast. In fact, Vermont has a target of adding at least 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025 to help reach the state’s emissions reduction goals.  The state of Vermont, public utilities and other organizations in Vermont offer financial incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles and installation of charging infrastructure to help reach the state’s EV adoption target. These incentives may help explain why Vermont has one of the highest EV market shares in the Northeast. However, with under 4,000 EV currently registered in the state, Vermont still has a long way to go.

Vermont and the broader northeast face major obstacles when it comes to electric vehicle adoption. The cold climate and rural landscape of the region give way to challenges such as range anxiety, concerns about winter weather performance and EV models that do not reflect the types of vehicles most people currently drive (e.g., trucks, SUVs and all-wheel drive vehicles). Furthermore, there are gaps in rural travel behavior research and transportation data that make it difficult to evaluate the impacts of electric vehicle incentive programs in more rural states like Vermont.

Insights on successful incentives, adoption barriers, and policy gaps from Vermont and other northeastern states can provide valuable lessons for federal efforts to promote a cleaner transportation system. More event details and a recording of the briefing are available here.