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USA: HOV-Lane Access Drives Electric Car Sales In California

Sales of the Chevrolet Volt Hybrid-Electric Vehicle (HEV) have experienced a surge in California following tweaks that now allow the car from General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) to qualify for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane access, even if only one person is the car.

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(Photo: General Motors)
The Chevy Volt, along with other EVs, is receiving a bump in sales in California because of HOV lane access.
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Moreover, HOV lane access has become a primary driver for sales of HEV and EV cars in California as consumers turn to the eco-friendly cars not to save the planet but to shave some minutes of their commutes. California accounts for as much as 50 percent of EV sales each month, according to Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for automotive insights at Kelley Blue Book.

In California, EVs and HEVs that meet certain emissions standards can get a sticker allowing them into in HOV lanes even when there are no passengers besides the driver. Consequently, owners of electric cars that meet the requirement can zip by rush hour traffic that they might otherwise be stuck in. Electric car drivers’ right to use HOV lanes in California is a “pretty significant contributor to EV sales” in the state, according to Gutierrez.

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General Motors initially launched the Volt without meeting California’s requirements for HOV lane access because it felt it would take too long, according to Mike Omotoso, senior manager for global powertrain at LMC Automotive. Since then, GM has made changes to the Volt to allow it to qualify.

In late 2011, before the changes to the Volt went into effect that allow it to be driven in the HOV lane with only one occupant, California accounted for just 10 percent of Volt sales. In March, after the change, 27.7 percent of Volts were sold in California, a resurgence “I would attribute at least partially to the availability of HOV stickers” for the cars, Gutierrez said.
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