Booming Utah is adding vehicles faster than people

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Electric and hybrid automobiles have flourished over the past five years, but by numbers, gasoline- and diesel-powered cars and trucks still dominate Utah’s growing vehicle population.

According to statistics from the Utah Division of Motor Vehicle, EV registrations have increased 560% since 2017, from 2,485 to 16,407. Hybrid vehicles — including plug-in models — have increased from 33,869 in 2017 to 62,476 this year, an 84% increase.

But over the same period, Utah added 360,741 gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles as the state’s booming population exploded by an estimated 426,000 people.

This means that car registrations in Utah are growing faster than residents. In 2017, there were 0.80 vehicles for every person in Utah. Now there is 0.82. And more than 97% of them still run on conventional petrol and diesel.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

According to Bloomberg’s 2022 Electric Vehicle Outlook, 2022 will be the world’s peak year for sales of internal combustion engine cars, which include gasoline and diesel engines. First introduced in the 19th century, the internal combustion engine has had a remarkable 130-year run, but fewer will be sold in 2023 than this year.

Utah will not turn the burn corner this year. One of the most dramatic increases since 2017 is in heavy diesel trucks. Utah shot up from 59,861 diesel heavy trucks to 76,116. That’s a jump of 27%.

Most of these trucks were added in the Wasatch Front counties where vehicle-borne air pollution is an ongoing problem.

And big pickups are among the fastest growing categories. In the 14,000-pound to 20,000-pound GVW categories, Utah went from 18,205 in 2017 to 30,254 this year, a 66% increase. In sheer numbers, the state added about the same number of these trucks as electric vehicles in the same five years.

A leading theory is that the pandemic-driven rush to outdoor recreation has increased demand for diesel and gasoline trucks that can haul semi-trailers, boats and ATV trailers.

Craig Bickmore, executive director of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association, says vehicle mix is ​​driven by demand. “People have to see what the customer wants to drive. The factories will produce what the customer wants.”

He notes that newer pickups, including the big diesels, are much cleaner. “Diesel is a very efficient horse.”

Bickmore also says supply issues are making it harder for customers to upgrade regardless of their choice. “There is a lot of catching up to do for many things.”

Ashley Miller, executive director of Breathe Utah, a clean air advocacy group, agrees that even replacing older fossil-fuel burners with newer ones makes a significant difference to air quality, although she acknowledges that it doesn’t do much to reduce the state’s carbon contributes footprint as they are still powered by fossil fuels.

And Utah’s fleet is definitely getting newer. Among registrations in 2022, 870,000 cars were 2017 or newer, when cleaner Tier 3 standards for new cars began. That is more than a quarter of all vehicles in the state.

Miller points out that Utah is not one of the 12 “ZEV” states. Led by California, the ZEV states have set quotas requiring a certain percentage of new car sales to be zero-emissions. As a result, manufacturers are shipping more electric cars to these states.

“Most electric vehicles go to states that participate in the ZEV program,” she says, “so whatever is left over from the manufacturers goes to other states where there is a need.”

Thomas Kessinger, utility electrification program manager at Utah Clean Energy, another advocacy group, sees a mixed record of EV adoption in Utah.

“The good news is that Utah is leading the way in funding electric vehicle infrastructure. The EV infrastructure program committed $50 million specifically for expanded EV charging throughout Utah, and as a state, we are preparing for the influx of federal infrastructure funds,” said Kessinger. “But the bad news is that we don’t have enough electric vehicles in Utah to meet demand because Utah never passed a ZEV regulation. As we continue to make charging accessible and affordable for all, we still have work to do to increase EV availability in the state.”

Tim Fitzpatrick is a renewable energy reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains overall control of editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power. Booming Utah is adding vehicles faster than people

Joel McCord

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