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A row of Tesla chargers at a Tesla Supercharger station in Thornton on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gas car sales are down. 

Electric car sales are way up. 

Mixed news for Colorado’s auto economy still manages to deliver very good news to state clean energy advocates. Combined sales of fully electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), both of which are considered ultra-low emission vehicles under Colorado laws, reached 10.5% of all car sales for 2022, by far a new high mark. In 2021, their combined share of the new vehicle market was 6.5%. 

And Colorado consumers would have snatched up even more EVs if manufacturers were keeping up with demand, Colorado Auto Dealers Association CEO Tim Jackson said. 

“If we had more electric vehicles available, our dealers would sell more electric vehicles,” Jackson said. Colorado is well ahead of the national average in fast adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, he noted. 

Adding thousands of new EV buyers to evangelize about the technology should keep pushing Colorado toward its ambitious adoption plan for the cleaner technology, enthusiastic Lakewood convert Doug Wells said after hearing the 2022 sales figures. Wells just got a Chevy Bolt, and a friend bought a plug-in hybrid in 2022. They have a bet on when Colorado will hit 20% clean vehicle sales.

The pie wedges continue to grow for clean fuel vehicles like fully-electric EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs, with market share way up over 2021. (Source: Colorado Auto Dealers Association annual report)

“What I find is once someone actually drives an EV for themselves and understands that charging at home meets most use cases, the transition happens quickly,” Wells said. “We hope to be an all-EV family by the end of the year.”

Some barriers remain, Wells said, including overcoming some buyers’ “range anxiety.” EV drivers soon learn an overnight charge in their garage from a normal outlet is enough to get through most days’ errands, he said. And, “with 20-plus perfectly acceptable models to choose from,” every consumer should at least consider an EV, Wells said.

Colorado registered more than 20,000 fully electric and PHEVs in 2022, giving Gov. Jared Polis and other clean energy advocates some juice when they say the state is on track to meet some of its greenhouse gas reduction goals. Colorado’s stated goal is 940,000 EVs on the roads by 2030. Getting there will require continued annual growth at 2022’s impressive rates. 

More brand names keep jumping into the Colorado market, adding to the electric buzz. Hertz announced it would add 5,000 EVs to its Colorado rental fleet, including the cars it leases to Uber drivers. The rental company has been buying Teslas, Polestars and General Motors electric vehicles for its national fleet. Hertz said it will also add EV charging stations at Denver International Airport and at other Hertz and public locations around the state, with a focus on adding charging access in underserved communities. 

Tesla, the EV market leader in Colorado and most states, sold a lot more vehicles in 2022, but starts off 2023 in a big controversy over lowering prices and leaving previous buyers feeling fleeced. Tesla was followed in Colorado by Toyota, which still sells a lot of hybrids but is razzed by electrification advocates for failing to launch new fully electric models. 

It’s a long drop from their 20%-plus market shares to the next places, held by Ford, Hyundai and Kia. Expect these rankings to look very different a year from now — automakers are bringing all kinds of tantalizing new EV models to market, including in the bigger crossover and SUV categories that dominate Colorado vehicle sales. 

Clean car sales in Colorado continue to ramp up quickly, though short-term shifts in taste for full EVs vs. hybrids and plug-in hybrids make interesting ripples in the market. (Colorado Auto Dealers Association)

Polis touted the new EV sales figures as soon as they came out, in his State of the State address Tuesday at the Capitol. The governor will be trying to pass a budget that includes equally tantalizing boosts to the current $2,000 state tax credit for new EV purchases. Add in the $7,500 federal credit now available for some U.S.-made models, and manufacturers will have to add trainloads of shipments to satisfy Colorado demand. 

Overall car sales were down 13.3% from 2021, the CADA report says, disappointing but not as bad as the overall U.S. sales drop of 14.8%. Jackson attributes the losses to both continuing supply shortages in popular models and car price inflation outpacing wage growth. 

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The quarterly and annual auto reports are always full of nuggets for car fans. The cool and expensive electric Rivian trucks have finally arrived, registering 785 sales by the end of 2022. People bought 78 Maseratis, top model price starting at $108,000, cupholders extra. Buick sales dropped by half. But Honda sales also plummeted, by nearly 40%. What? The trusty Hondas? 

And yes, you continue to see Subarus everywhere. Led by the skier/hiker favorite Crosstrek, Subaru’s Colorado sales outrun its national market share by more than 9,400 cars a year. 

Michael Booth

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: booth@coloradosun.com Twitter: @MBoothDenver