CA offers big rebates for electric, hybrid cars

March 19, 2010 11:14:06 PM PDT
The state is offering a generous rebate if you buy an electric or hybrid car. It is a plan that was approved three years ago to help clean up California's air, but you may be surprised at who is going to wind up paying for the rebates.

Car makers have found a good market in California for alternative fuel vehicles -- people in California tend to be more environmentally conscious. So this is a natural place to implement a $4 million rebate program to motivate drivers to buy a zero-emissions car.

"I think it's a great idea. I wish that I could buy a new car right now because if I could, I would totally do it because zero emissions, plus free money, really," said driver Amanda Metzger.

But the program may be off to a slow start for consumers who have few choices. The hope is to provide an incentive for car makers to get this technology on the market faster.

"We're trying to drive technology," said Leo Kay from the California Air Resources Board. "Not only is it good to just get off foreign fuel as a whole, but it's also good for our air quality and for our climate change goals."

There are $20,000 rebates available only for some huge commercial trucks. For $5,000 rebates, an all-electric Tesla roadster is unaffordable for most people at more than $100,000. The Honda Clarity is only available in Southern California because that is where drivers can find hydrogen fueling stations. And the Nissan Leaf is not even on the market yet.

Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, who owns a few car dealerships, thinks government shouldn't be pushing just one technology and warns all electric vehicles aren't as pure as they're touted to be.

"Every electron that goes to charge that battery comes from a power plant that's driven by fossil fuels. They're just emissions at a different spot," said Niello.

Then there is the cost. Californian's smog abatement fees on their car registration went up in 2008 to subsidize the program. Some of the other DMV fees also fund the program.

"I need a new car myself. I don't want to be paying for someone else to buy a new car while I'm over here struggling for my registration," said driver Elizabeth Saunders.

The rebates are given out on a first come, first serve basis. The program ends once the $4 million is gone.


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