Utah’s cars and trucks are getting cleaner, but it’s a long way off

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

Utahns registered 35% more EVs last year than they did in 2021, but EVs still make up less than 1% of the state’s vehicles.

According to registration data from the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles, Utah added 75,766 more vehicles in 2022. The additions include 9,125 EVs, bringing the total EV fleet in Utah to 25,532. At the end of 2021 there were 16,407.

And for the first time, more electric vehicles than diesel vehicles have been added to the state, growing by 8,808 over the past year. However, the majority of diesel vehicles are light and heavy trucks. The majority of electric vehicles are passenger cars.

Utah ranked 12th among states for EV registration growth in a study using 2021 data, slightly above the national average. A similar comparison of registrations for 2022 is not yet available.

Last year, Utah registered 2,864,937 cars and trucks, including commercial vehicles. With a population of about 3.4 million, the state still has more people than vehicles, but in 2022, as in 2021, vehicles outnumbered people. (Population estimates put Utah’s growth at about 50,000 people in 2022.)

And while gasoline still dominates (87% of registered vehicles in Utah), that dominance is slipping. Gas-powered vehicles accounted for just 62% of new vehicles added last year. Electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and regular hybrids account for more than a quarter of the newly added vehicles.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

While 35% annual growth is impressive, it’s still not enough to convert even half of Utah’s fleet over the next 10 years. That rate would only bring about 500,000 EVs by 2032.

“When so much of our CO2 emissions come from transportation, nothing feels fast enough, but the momentum is undeniable,” said Kelbe Goupil, senior associate for electrification at Utah Clean Energy.

“Utah may be lagging behind other states today in EV adoption, but we have some of the best charging infrastructure in the country,” Goupil said. “We are poised to become a national leader in electric vehicle adoption and I am confident that with more education and some key policy changes, we can become that leader.”

Breathe Utah executive director Ashley Miller believes Ford’s introduction of an electric F-150 pickup truck could be a game changer. “I think the Ford Lightning is an amazing truck and I have a feeling a lot of people will want these things once they become more readily available. I think it’s hard to get one right now, but I know a lot of people who really want one.”

Utah is not among a handful of states, led by California, that have quotas requiring a certain percentage of new cars to be zero emissions. So-called ZEV countries tend to receive more of the new electric vehicles produced by the manufacturers.

It will be difficult for Utah to compete with ZEV Section 177 states for inventories,” Miller said. “…But considering that it has become the new normal to have to order a vehicle due to a lack of stock from Covid issues, it might not be that much of a deterrent as people will be able to order them on others.” places or even to get special order.”

Tammie Bostick, executive director of Utah Clean Cities, said Utah is between the “innovator” and “early adopter” stages of adopting new technologies, meaning it has not yet entered the “early majority” stage, where acceptance is widespread. But the state is expanding the infrastructure to take this step. “I think Utah should do everything it can to support the adoption of clean vehicles and I think we have.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Infrastructure expansion is key to expanding Utah’s EV inventory, say clean energy advocates. Here’s cars charging at the electric vehicle charging station at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway on Monday, June 20, 2022.

The federal government has introduced a number of incentives for companies and individuals to switch to more environmentally friendly modes of transport. Because the price of new cars is so high, Bostick believes the $4,000 tax incentive for used EVs will be a big driver of Utah’s transition. “I think it’s a fantastic addition.”

In what is probably the most encouraging news for Utah air quality, cars manufactured in 2017 or earlier now account for more than a third of the vehicles registered in Utah. This is important because Tier 3 petrol cars were introduced in 2017. In combination with Tier 3 petrol, they reduce emissions by up to 80 percent compared to old cars and non-Tier 3 fuels. Tier 3 fuel is available at most gas stations in Utah.

There was a decline in natural gas vehicles in the past year. They cause less air pollution than petrol cars and were once considered a promising solution. In 2021, 5,301 CNG vehicles were registered, but in 2022 there were 5,060, a decrease of 4.8%. This continues a trend since 2020, when more than 6,000 CNG vehicles were registered in Utah.

Notably, the CNG drop doesn’t include heavy trucks. Diesel still dominates heavy-duty trucks, but heavy-duty CNG and electric trucks are small but growing. These are usually commercial vehicles in fleets that have their own infrastructure for refueling.

And only two hydrogen-powered vehicles are legal in Utah: a passenger car and a light truck. Hydrogen, which can be produced and burned without producing greenhouse gases, has been touted as a green solution for the trucking industry, but it hasn’t materialized here. Unlike California, which has a network of hydrogen refueling stations, Utah has no hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

Bostick believes hydrogen-powered heavy-duty trucks will become more common in Utah. She found that 70% of US imports go through California and 40% of that through Utah. As the California truck transitions to more hydrogen, Utah will follow, she said.

Goupil thinks Utah should adopt the Advanced Clean Trucks Rule. Six federal states have adopted the regulation that limits the conversion to clean medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks. “Implementation of the Advanced Clean Trucks rule in Utah would provide a path to reduce emissions from MHD vehicles, ensure model availability and preserve consumer choice as we transition from diesel to electric vehicles.”

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.

https://www.sltrib.com/renewable-energy/2023/03/10/utahs-cars-trucks-are-getting/ Utah’s cars and trucks are getting cleaner, but it’s a long way off

Justin Scaccy

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