Transportation accounted for 37 percent of the state’s GHG emissions in 2020—California’s largest energy-consuming and greenhouse-gas-emitting sector. Emissions from on-road passenger vehicles ticked up continuously since 2013 and only started dipping again in 2018. The state faces many challenges in reducing emissions from the transportation sector—from increasing car ownership rates to declining public transit usage—especially with concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As California looks to replace fossil fuel-powered vehicles with zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), there is also increasing momentum in the electric vehicle (EV) market of shifting consumer preferences from pickup trucks and SUVs to more fuel-efficient sedans and compact cars in 2021.

In August 2022, the California Air Resources Board proposed new regulations requiring 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks to be zero-emission by 2035, with 35 percent by 2025 and 70 percent by 2030.83 The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes significant investments in passenger car and truck electrification and electric charging infrastructure (see sidebar for more details). This is invigorating news, as California and the federal government now are now moving toward electrifying the transportation sector. However, at present, ZEV adoption in the nation and even in California lags behind peer countries in Europe. If the current upward ZEV adoption trends continue (approximately 114,345 vehicles per year) while vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continues to decline, California will be in a better position to achieve the GHG emissions reduction targets in 2030 and net carbon neutrality by 2045.84

Transportation Emissions and Vehicle Ownership
  • Due to the restrictions on travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after years of increases in the total number of vehicles registered and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), both figures dropped by 5.9 percent and 12 percent from 2019 to 2020 (the latest year for which data for both categories are available), respectively.

  • From 2019 to 2020, VMT per registered vehicle experienced the largest decline of 6.6 percent (or 712 miles) to 10,125 miles since 2000. Overall, VMT per registered vehicle has been on a sustained downward trend since 2000, due to the number of vehicles registered far outpacing both population growth and VMT.

  • In 2021, vehicle ownership rate was 78.4 per 100 persons, up from 74.7 in 2020.

  • In 2021, ZEVs and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) accounted for 2.1 and 3.3 vehicles per 100 persons, respectively, up slightly compared to 2020.

  • Compared to 2020, total new vehicle registration increased 13.3 percent in 2021. Both car and light trucks sales increased after the previous year’s decline during the pandemic.down 4.8 percent.

  • In 2021, consumer preferences in terms of light vehicle registrations continued to shift towards pickup trucks, mini-vans, and SUVS, as the light-truck sales (+16.6%) increase was slightly more than double the car sales (+7.1%). Electric vehicle sales (all classes) are up 79 percent in 2021 compared to 2020 (when it fell by 16.5% compared to 2019), of which plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEVs) sales recorded the largest increase of all vehicle types—up 96.7 percent from the previous year.

Zero-Emission Vehicles
  • In 2021, battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles accounted for 2.8 percent of all registered on-road vehicles in California, up from 2.2 percent in 2020 and 1.9 percent in 2019.

  • The number of ZEVs on-road reached 823,164 by the end of 2021, increasing by 25.3 percent compared to 2020.

  • For the second time, the number of registered electric light-duty pickups, SUVs and vans exceeded 100,000 in 2020 (115,500), up 3.8 percent compared to 2020. With the arrival of some highly anticipated electric trucks in 2022 and beyond, electrification of the segment is likely to continue to accelerate.

  • The share of equity groups—people living in disadvantaged communities (as defined by CalEnviroScreen 3.0) and low-income communities (as defined by Assembly Bill 1550)–who have taken advantage of the clean vehicle rebate has been steadily increasing the last few years. In 2021, 29.2 percent of rebates came from either of these groups, up from 26.5 percent in 2020 and up more than ten percentage points compared to 2015 (17.8%).

  • The share of ZEVs on-road as a percentage of total vehicles registered in large urban areas increased at a mostly similar pace in 2021 compared to 2020. Non-MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) communities recorded the fastest pace of increase: from 0.7 percent in 2019 to 1 percent in 2020 to 1.1 percent in 2021. This is important in terms of the urban-rural divide, as ZEVs have been predominantly driven in urban areas.

Clean Transportation’s Future
  • As long-range ZEVs become more common, Level One charging stations are disappearing in favor of faster Level Two and DC fast-charging infrastructure. Non-MSA areas had the second-lowest number of EVs per non-DC public charging station (7.8), behind only Napa (7.6). Overall, public charging infrastructure expanded more rapidly in 2021, especially in less urbanized MSAs such as Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura MSA, Modesto MSA and Stockton-Lodi MSA.

  • As of January 31, 2022, there were 35,594 public Level 1, Level 2, and DC fast-charging stations in California—or 7.01 percent of the 508,000 public and DC fast charging stations needed to achieve the goal in Executive Order N-79-20.

  • Wholesale distribution of gasoline and gasohol (+10%) and diesel and alternative fuels (+7.%) for motor vehicle fuels increased in 2021 compared to 2020. However, unlinked passenger trips (UPTs) fell by 3 percent during the same period.


83 California Air Resources Board, California moves to accelerate to 100% new zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035. August 25, 2022. Retrieved from:

84 Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. California Releases World’s First Plan to Achieve Net Zero Carbon Pollution. November 16, 2022. Retrieved from:

85 Federal and State Laws and Incentives related to alternative fuels and advanced vehicles can be retrieved from:

86 “New Consumer Reports analysis shows rising gas prices ramp up savings for EV owners.” Consumer Reports. March 10, 2022. Available at:

87 King, B. et. al. “A Congressional Climate Breakthrough.” Rhodium Group. July 28, 2022. Available at:

88 “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022: Incentives for Clean Transportation.” Congressional Research Service. September 6, 2022. Available at: