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Why Hawaii is becoming a leader in electric vehicle adoption in the US

Customers admire a Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle at a Tesla store in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Alex Tai | SOPA images | Light rocket | Getty Images

U.S. consumers are making the switch to fully electric vehicles more slowly than many expected – but a growing leader in electric vehicle adoption is Hawaii.

The tropical island nation ranks fifth in overall electric vehicle adoption this year, with 11.9% of new retail vehicles sold through February, according to JD Power.

Hawaii also ranks third with a score of 33.8 — behind only California (46.1) and Washington (37) — in JD Power’s EV Adoption Score, which weights by market, consumer preference and availability of electric vehicles, among other factors becomes.

“We measure adoption relative to availability, meaning buyers need the availability of electric vehicles that meet their needs … before they can even consider adoption,” said Elizabeth Krear, vice president of the electric vehicle practice at JD Power. “The number of electric vehicles in California is much higher than in Hawaii. But when consumers are given a viable option, 33% choose to purchase the electric vehicle.”

Hawaii is also the top priority state for electric vehicle adoption that has not approved the California Air Resources Board Zero Emission Vehicle Program, according to JD Power. These rules promote electric vehicles and include stricter vehicle emissions and miles per gallon standards for conventional vehicles in the places that have adopted the measure, including the other five states: California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

Why Hawaii?

What’s happening in Hawaii that’s causing more consumers to choose electric vehicles? According to Ivan Drury, it is a mix of things, but mainly high fuel costs, the availability of renewable energy for charging and culture. Director of Insights at the auto research company Edmunds, who lives in Waikiki on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

“Compared to most mainland countries, there is a higher sense of responsibility in managing the land. If you look up “Aina” in Hawaiian, you’ll see what I mean: a lot of pride in the country,” he said.

Drury also said the popularity of hybrid models in the state (19% in 2023) has helped the transition to electric vehicles, and road trip concerns — a hurdle for some U.S. buyers — are not a real issue in Hawaii.

“We are on an island. Nobody really worries about road trips unless they live on the Big Island,” he said. (For comparison, the “Hawaii Belt” around the Big Island or Hawaii Island is only about 260 miles long.)

Gasoline prices also play a role, as in other states such as California. The average price of a gallon of gas in Hawaii is about $4.72. according to AAA. That’s the highest in the U.S. except California and $1.10 more than the national average of $3.62 per gallon.

JD Power reports that the best-selling electric vehicles in the state are Tesla Model Y, Tesla Model 3 and ford F-150 Lightning.

“I am really happy. I like the car. I like not having to buy gas,” said Scott Sageman, a 2021 Tesla Model 3 owner who has lived on Hawaii’s Big Island since moving from California in 2020.

Aloha Kia Leeward in Waipahu, Hawaii

Aloha Kia

Russell Wong, regional vice president of Aloha Kia’s seven stores in Hawaii, said customer interest in electric vehicles continues to grow, but the vehicles still only account for about 2% of stores’ sales.

“Although it represents a significant percentage of our current sales compared to other retailers or other markets, it is still a very, very small percentage,” he said. “We see it continuing to rise.”

Wong said there is a lot of interest in Kia’s new EV9 SUV, which is now arriving at dealers. The best-selling electric vehicle at Kia dealers right now is the Niro, which is also Kia’s most affordable all-electric vehicle, and Aloha Kia has it priced starting at around $36,000.

Concerns About Electric Vehicles

Although Hawaii is embracing electric vehicles more than some of its competitors, it still faces many of the same EV adoption issues as the mainland U.S., including a lack of charging infrastructure, affordability and a lack of vehicle choice.

A Gallup poll The study released Monday found that less than half of U.S. adults, 44%, say they are “seriously considering or might consider” purchasing an electric vehicle, down from 55% in 2023 corresponds. The proportion who have no intention of purchasing an electric vehicle has increased from 41%. to 48%.

Sageman, who lives on the side of a volcano, said he hasn’t had any problems charging since he does so at home, but the estimated range of his Model 3 may be less than expected due to the state’s hilly terrain.

“The one thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t pay too much attention to estimated range,” he said. “You won’t get the same amount if you do a lot of uphill riding.”

The average cost of a consumer purchasing an electric vehicle from a franchised dealer (excluding Tesla, Rivian and other direct-to-consumer brands) in Hawaii is reported to be more than $62,600 this year Edmunds. That’s down from more than $68,500 last year and about $12,700 above the average price of a vehicle in Hawaii.

High prices are a national and Hawaiian trend. According to the Gallup report, higher-income Americans nationwide are the subgroup most likely to own an electric vehicle: 14% do, up from 6% last year.

“We’re kind of at the extreme end of adoption,” Drury said. “For those who are able to take advantage of the benefits of an electric vehicle, it will be sold. For those who don’t, it won’t, and for a very long time. Overcoming the obstacles of infrastructure and the high cost of living is not something that can be done overnight or even within a few years.”

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