A government’s decision to subsidize one electric vehicle model over all other vehicles is a problem. It distorts the economy picking winners and losers regardless of the environmental benefits. But when such also increases greenhouse gases it is even worse. Yet, this is the situation playing out in Georgia.
Metro Atlanta is the second largest market in the U.S. after San Francisco for electric vehicle sales. And many of these sales are due to one vehicle model: the Nissan Leaf. Atlanta has been the Leaf’s largest market over the past year, in large part because Georgia offers Leaf buyers a $5,000 tax credit. Coincidentally, Nissan played a significant role in the tax credit’s passage. Yet other electric and hybrid vehicles do not receive the same tax incentive. In cases where vehicles are sold directly by manufacturers, only the first 150 are eligible for the tax $5,000 tax credit. This provision seems designed to prohibit Tesla buyers from receiving this subsidy, since Tesla is the only major vehicle not sold through dealers. The subsidy also does not apply to gas-electric hybrids such as the Ford Fusion or Toyota Prius.
But the Nissan Leaf cannot even claim it helps the environment. Much of the fuel used to generate power in Georgia is coal. As a result, when the Nissan Leaf charges its battery with electricity, it relies primarily on coal, one of the most polluting power sources on the planet. Yet when the unsubsidized Toyota Prius charges its battery, it uses its oil-powered engine. As a result the Prius is responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the Leaf. In fact the Nissan Leaf produces almost as much greenhouse gas as a conventionally powered vehicle with good fuel efficiency such as the Honda Fit.
The retail price for the Nissan Leaf is approximately $30,000. Yet after factoring in gasoline savings and state incentives of $5,000, drivers can lease a Leaf for free. The monthly payment for a 24-month lease is $235 per month for a total of $5,640. Add in the $5,000 state tax credit and lessees come close to breaking even. In addition, gasoline savings of savings of approximately $100 a month ($2,400 total) provide lessees with nearly $2,000 in yearly profit. Georgia spent close to $2 million on tax credits for electric vehicle owners in 2013. It is time to retire a tax credit that distorts the economy and increases greenhouse gas emissions.