Key takeaways:

  • San Jose, CA, is the ultimate electric car hotspot, followed by the San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles metropolitan areas
  • The Los Angeles metropolitan area leads the nation in terms of sheer numbers of electric cars
  • A clean energy-powered public transit system pushes Portland ahead in the race for environmentally-friendly transit infrastructure, followed by the Honolulu, Seattle and Orlando metropolitan areas

As more and more Americans have been switching their gas-guzzlers for electric vehicles (EVs), the path to a greener future seems easier to walk. Essentially, electric vehicles have more than one feature working in their favor: They are quiet and generally much cheaper to “gas up,” all while helping us make a contribution to the welfare of the planet.

As many as 1.8M electric vehicles were registered in the US in 2020, with consumer interest constantly on the rise. But universal EV implementation faces a few hurdles before going mainstream. The so-called “range anxiety” is one of them, and it refers to uncertain EV endurance on long-distance trips and also the lack of infrastructure that can help support a recharge in between big cities. Price can also be significantly off-putting for many potential buyers, even though studies show driving an EV is more cost effective in the long run. It’s true that federal, state and local incentives can help cushion the price for the general consumer, but an EV is still costly when compared to a regular car.

With challenges ahead, the electric vehicle trend is here to stay and in some places it’s thriving. Eco-friendly electric vehicles are ruling the streets of California, with some other less-hyped cities around the US taking great strides in EV adoption.

We set out to investigate which places are best suited to cater to the EV mindset and started by considering the most populous 100 metros. We analyzed metro areas taking into account a series of factors that promote EV take-up such as number of registered electric vehicles, EV infrastructure including public and residential charging stations, the cost of an eGallon (cost of charging a vehicle using electric when compared to a gasoline-powered one), dedicated HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) and HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes for EVs, and the share of roads which are in poor condition.

We also included carpooling stats, local air quality, and an environmental indicator to gauge how much of a metropolitan area’s power comes from clean energy and how much of that is geared towards public transportation. Finally, we also added self storage availability as a metric, as putting vehicles in storage when they aren’t used is common practice for many multi-vehicle owners.

Best metros for electric cars

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CA’s San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles dominate the US “electric avenue”

As the financial and cultural center of Silicon Valley, the San Jose metro area is the ultimate electric car hotspot. Palo Alto in particular, which has been nurturing Tesla for quite some time now, serves as the hotbed of eco-friendly driving. San Jose claims not only the third-highest number of EVs in the country (approx. 74,000 electric cars), but also the third-largest number of EV charging stations (approx. 1,550), per Alternative Fuel Data Center data provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. San Jose also leads the way when it comes to the number of charging stations related to its population, with about 2.4 of them per 1,000 households, a lot higher than the national average of 0.3 EVs/1,000 households.

In an effort to bolster EV infrastructure expansion, San Jose works closely with state, county and regional authorities. Through the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP), the city seeks to incentivize the funding of electric vehicle implementation. The metro also boasts about 91 miles of HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes, that’s about 10% of the metro’s total length of freeway lanes, to help support EV take-up. Thanks to its efforts to source clean energy and for using it in public transit, San Jose comes out as the seventh-most environmentally-friendly metro area.

With its tech-heavy industry and strong motivation to go green, San Francisco stands out as the second-best city for electric cars in 2021. Much like San Jose, electric vehicles are a common sight in the Bay Area. In fact, the metro boasts about 122,400 EVs, making The City by the Bay the second city based on its number of electric cars. Besides the federal and state efforts to promote the adoption of EVs, San Francisco also offers its residents incentives to go for greener vehicles through the Clean Cars for All grant program.

Such an impressive number of cars that run on electricity also need the proper infrastructure, and San Francisco doesn’t disappoint: With over 2,500 public charging stations, the San Francisco metro is second only to San Jose when population is factored in, with about 1.5 chargers/1,000 households.

 

Keeping in line with its traditions of recycling and composting, “the Silicon Valley of Recycling” also took strides to put in place the kind of infrastructure that promotes green vehicles on the road. The metro currently has about 290 miles of HOV lanes, about 15% of its total length of freeway lanes – the second largest share of lane mileage dedicated to electric cars in the country. Moreover, more than a third of public transit in San Francisco runs on clean fuel, helping the metro reduce its carbon footprint.

Maintaining California’s strong spirit of innovation and eco-consciousness, Los Angeles also crops up on the list of best metros for electric cars. The city’s sprawling landscape pushed Angelenos to speed up the adoption of EVs – which is eventually friendlier to both the environment and the wallet in the long run. In fact, LA comes first for the largest number of electric cars in the nation - over 230,900 of them - or about 13% of all US-registered EVs. There are plenty of options to charge your EV battery in LA at any of the 4,500+ charging stations available here. LA also ranks first nationally for its sheer number of charging stations. Correlated with population, the City of Angels comes sixth, with about 1 charging station/1,000 households.

The local infrastructure delivers too: There are currently about 730 miles of dedicated HOV lanes, which certainly encourages locals to get behind the wheel of an EV. 13% of the total freeway lane mileage has HOV lanes, which helps LA snag the fifth spot for this ranking.

A little south of LA, San Diego doesn’t disappoint when it comes to EV implementation: Per the latest data, about 51,000 electric vehicles are registered across San Diego, the fifth-largest concentration of EVs in the country. As EV technology has matured, the infrastructure here has too, with about 950 public charging stations available. Factoring in population, there are about 0.8 chargers per 1,000 households, placing San Diego on the eighth spot for EV distribution. And charging your EV is about to get even more convenient in America’s Finest City as about 2,000 new charging stations will be added at apartments and workplaces in the San Diego area, under a program funded by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Thanks to its concerted efforts to promote environmentally-conscious living, Phoenix, AZ, is another metro that scores highly for its electric car-friendliness. Phoenix came in seventh for the number of electric vehicles, with over 42,000 EVs registered in the metro area. With a considerable number of EVs, plug-in opportunities abound if your car needs an extra jolt. There are over 570 public EV charging stations in Phoenix and more are bound to be added.  There are currently 0.3 charging stations per 1,000 households. Charging your EV is possible in about 6% of apartments, one of the highest rates of access to this service in the country. When Phoenix residents hit the road in their EVs, the metro is a shining example in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure. As it turns out, Phoenix is the best equipped nationally in terms of HOV lane access, as the metro dedicates 17.5% of all its freeway lanes, a total of about 390 lane miles, exclusively to EV usage. Furthermore, you can take advantage of federal, state and even city-level incentives if you purchase an EV in Phoenix.

Voted as one of the most prominent cities for green living, Portland emerges as another top hub for electric vehicles. About 27,500 registered EVs silently roam the streets of Portland, especially when the infrastructure is there to help their drivers make a convenient recharge: There are about 492 charging stations, landing the Portland metro area the tenth spot for EV infrastructure.

The metro’s commitment to green living has paid off as Portland is tops for its environmentally-oriented efforts. Breaking down the environment metric, Portland comes second nationally for the share of public transit vehicles (86%) powered by renewable energy. And for good reason too: The metro sources close to half of its power from renewable energy. This trickles down to the consumer as electric rates can be more affordable too under certain circumstances. Portlanders get discounted rates on electricity when they choose to charge their car overnight if they’re a Portland General Electric customer.

Putting innovation and eco-conscious living first, it’s easy to see why adoption of EVs is being encouraged both at a state and a local level in Oregon. Whether they’re buying or leasing an EV, locals can access federal, state and local incentives in Portland that they can use cumulatively if they choose to do so.

A city of many firsts, New York City, including the metropolitan area, is among the top hubs in the country for EV adoption as well. The NY metro is home to the fourth-highest number of electric vehicles – over 70,900 – which may soon become a staple of NYC traffic alongside the iconic yellow taxis. There are close to 1,400 charging stations to give your car an extra jolt. However, when we consider their distribution per population, the metro falls in the middle of the stack with about 0.2 charging stations/1,000 households. A big plus for EV owners in the NYC metro area is the single-driver access to about 130 miles of HOV lanes, which make up 1.7% of the metro’s freeway lane mileage.

Besides supporting drivers to adopt the EV lifestyle, the NYC metropolitan area has also taken further steps to go electric, as over 40% of the energy used to power public transit comes from renewable sources. About 2,000 electric vehicles were added to the on-road vehicle fleet, with a commitment to turn the entire City fleet electric by 2040. Going for an electric car in the NY metro comes with an array of perks that include state-level purchase incentives and reduced price for acquiring an EV.

San Jose, North Port and Denver are the most EV-friendly hubs for renters

Being an EV owner needs to be supported by the local infrastructure. While for single-family owners it’s easier to install a charger in their garage, for renters that wish to do their part for environment by switching to EVs, access to a charger within their apartment complex is vital. It appears that metros that score well across the board for electric cars are also places where renters can easily have their EVs charged overnight at their place of residence.

Besides coming first overall for EVs, the San Jose metro also wins the gold for most apartment units (12.3%) located in apartment complexes fitted with charging stations – more than quadruple the national average of 3.2% of apartments that can claim to have this feature. That translates to almost 16,000 units that provide a way for EV owners to charge up their vehicles.

As another CA metro that has excelled at embracing EVs, San Francisco also shines brightly when it comes to providing its renters with EV-recharging options. About 7% of units in apartment buildings (15,600+ units) provide their residents with access to this type of amenity, the fifth-largest share of units nationally that can boast this.

If you’re a renter in LA, chances are you’ll find it easy to recharge your EV at home, as about 6.4% of units have a charger available for tenant use.

The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area in Florida also stands out thanks to its EV implementation among renters. The Florida metro boasts the second-highest share of housing units (9%) that have access to EV chargers in their buildings. In fact, the metro’s penchant for innovation isn’t new. The area is part of Sarasota County, which was the first in Florida to introduce EVs in its fleet, and it now claims the second-highest number of EVs per capita in Florida.

While California is laps ahead of any other state in adopting EVs, with more than six metros in our list, many other areas in the Southwest and the Southeast also stood out for their EV implementation. Furthermore, prominent East Coast and Midwest metros are also places where EVs are already thriving. At the moment, the EV movement is firmly associated with some of the largest metros where innovation and green living are easily embraced.

Moving forward, it seems the future may well be electric. A lot of cities have pledged to turn their fleets quasi- or all-electric, and several states plan on embracing more and more EVs. With the addition of more charging stations in the workplace, grocery stores, gas stations, apartment buildings and even outside of the cities, we’ll have a mature electric grid that will foster an environment ripe for mainstream EV adoption. Consequently, concern over range anxiety will be less prevalent among consumers who will be more likely to consider switching to EVs as a viable alternative to gasoline cars.

What the experts are saying

Deepak Rajagopal, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability Deepak Rajagopal

Which places are best equipped to serve EV owners now and in the future and why?

EVs are still new and represent an infant industry which we need to talk about how to nurture. Making urban areas best suited should be the priority because of local air quality benefits from shifting to EVs and driving in congested traffic is when EVs maximize their fuel efficiency and cost savings. The one challenge is that land is scarce (i.e., costlier) in dense urban areas and people live in multi-family housing without dedicated charging space and so we need to address that. It is a tractable problem but one area we need to focus public policy alongside providing subsidies for vehicles and charging infrastructure.

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Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

They are well on their way to if not already. Adoption is a non-linear process, it starts slow but once it reaches a certain stage it will happen very quickly. We are close to that point in many markets (cities and vehicle segments) but a little behind in others, with the trend heading in that direction for sure. The main reason is the number of models of vehicles that are being launched to cater to different tastes and needs. Public policy needs to focus on providing good information in an accessible and targeted manner to different consumer needs and helping create a convenient and reliable and affordable charging infrastructure.

Long-term, do you think EVs will trump the traditional gasoline-fueled car?

Yes, but I hope as much as we push clean private vehicles, the number one focus in cities has to be making public transport the best option.

Sarah Kurtz, Ph.D., Professor, University of California, Merced Sarah Kurtz

Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

Yes. For those who drive less than the range of the vehicle on a daily basis and have a convenient place to charge a vehicle (like their own garage), EVs are more convenient and cheaper over the life of the vehicle. If daytime charging could be installed at every place of work, those living in places without garages could charge while they are at work during the day.

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Long-term, do you think EVs will trump the traditional gasoline-fueled car?

In my opinion, EVs already trump the gasoline-fueled car as a second vehicle to be used for driving around town as long as there is a place to plug them in. They accelerate faster and are lower maintenance than the traditional car. I’ve owned an all-electric car for about 5 years and have found it to be great! It’s really fun to drive; there are no oil changes; no trips to the gas station - I just plug it in after I drive it.

John Helveston, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, The George Washington University, School of Engineering & Applied Sciences John Helveston

Which places are best equipped to serve EV owners now and in the future and why?

My opinion is that EV ownership will grow mostly from the suburbs first, which is where we're seeing most adoption today. Suburban dwellers usually own their homes, which means they usually have dedicated parking (e.g. a driveway or garage) and they have the right to install a level 2 charger at home. Furthermore, their typical driving patterns are well within the driving ranges of typical EVs. In contrast, while urban dwellers often don't need to drive as far, they often depend on street parking, which means they may not have a reliable place to charge their EVs overnight.

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Even if they have a dedicated parking spot, urban residents are more likely to be home renters than owners, so they may not be able to install a level 2 charger. Rural residents usually have less of an issue with parking and charging, but they may be limited by EV driving ranges since they often need to drive further. Over time, as battery technologies improve and more public charging infrastructure gets installed, both of these types of residents will eventually be better served by EVs.

Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

Yes. Technology progress is one important factor - most EVs are already less expensive in terms of total cost of ownership (i.e. purchase price + fuel cost + maintenance, etc.) because they are far cheaper to operate and maintain compared to gasoline-fueled vehicles. But the other critical factor is policy. Without stronger policies that make owning and operating a gasoline-fueled vehicle more expensive and make EVs more attractive (e.g. subsidies), EV adoption will be slower. So policies and technology progress are the two levers that will likely affect the speed at which EVs become more mainstream. Perhaps the only other critical factor is availability. Right now most EVs are sedans, but in the U.S. nearly half the vehicle market is SUVs & pickup trucks. So until we start seeing more EV options in those segments, EV adoption will remain slower. I expect the next decade will be a period of rapid acceleration in EV adoption though as Ford and others are now announcing EV trucks coming soon. I expect these will be wildly popular as they offer far more features than most gasoline-fueled pickups.

Long-term, do you think EVs will trump the traditional gasoline-fueled car?

Absolutely, and especially for the passenger vehicle market for personal travel. But EVs probably won't be the only vehicle powertrain out there. Internal combustion engine vehicles will play an important role for a long time, especially in key sectors like long-haul freight trucking. Eventually, something else, such as fuel cell vehicles, may emerge to replace gasoline-fueled vehicles in those sectors, but I expect combustion engines will be around for several decades before that happens.

Philip Krein, Ph.D., Grainger Endowed Chair Emeritus in Electric Machinery and Electromechanics in Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois, The Grainger College of Engineering Philip Krein

Which places are best equipped to serve EV owners now and in the future and why?

This can be looked at from at least three different perspectives:

1. Vehicle servicing

This aspect has developed surprisingly quickly. The main OEMs (GM, Ford, Toyota, and so on) seem to have suitable tech training, and many local and regional vehicle service places seem to be ready to serve EV owners. Most of the U.S. is ready to go in this respect. The tough question is the future: maintenance requirements for EVs are pretty low, so service centers will need to adapt to cars they see less often.

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2. Charging infrastructure

Today we are seeing a lot of infrastructure development by Tesla Motors, and also some supported by certain Big Box stores or high-end retail chains. Most of this is in big cities or along Interstate Highway corridors. My hope for the future is that we start to see conventional (outdoor) electrical outlets at residences, retailers, hotels, parking garages, surface lots, and perhaps even at some street parking meters. The installation cost – if these are conventional outlets – is modest. The opportunities for a retailer to offer charging to customers can be attractive. Most charging will not really need to use high-power rapid charging, especially if conventional outlets are widely available. This is a big opportunity for property managers and developers, I suspect.

3. Electric utilities

Only a few utilities are experimenting with EV rates that give incentives for off-peak charging and add a premium for fast or on-peak charging. This is developing relatively slowly and needs to accelerate. Only a modest fraction of the U.S. is approaching the needed level of EV interfacing from a utility perspective. It should be easy to change to a “user pays” instead of “building occupant pays” model for EV charging, but this will require a substantial business model update for utilities.

Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

I do, although this is quite nuanced. In the U.S., nearly all driving needs can be met with a car that has limited range. But consumers are nervous about those last few long-range needs. The drivers I know who own EVs or plug-in hybrids have adapted quickly and seem to have a very positive experience, but some are early adopters primed to prefer EVs. Long-term, areas such as long-haul trucking and rural driving needs are harder to meet, but there is rapid technological progress even for these. I think we will see organic growth of EVs first for commuters and others with local driving needs, including delivery trucks. As fast charge infrastructure increases along major highways, and more available conventional convenience outlets make charging easy, the market share will increase.

Long-term, do you think EVs will trump the traditional gasoline-fueled car?

Well, for example, I own a Ford plug-in hybrid. The only disadvantage compared to a gasoline car is limited trunk space (and that could have been solved with emerging battery packaging). In every other sense, it is cheaper to operate, easy, clean, quiet, safe, and so on. The EV owners I have met almost invariably would not go back. The only real EV issue is range (my plug-in hybrid resolves this problem), although I would not be surprised if ten more years of technology development and infrastructure development more or less put the range problem away except for a few extreme cases. The remote rancher who must drive 150 miles to get groceries might have a wait before EVs truly catch up. It is quite possible that 30 years from now, old folks will look at each other and ask “Why did we think gasoline was a good thing?” and young folks will not recognize gas stations any more than they recognize rotary telephones or printed maps today.

Ya Sha Yi, Ph.D., Professor, University of Michigan - Dearborn, College of Engineering & Computer Science Ya Sha Yi

Which places are best equipped to serve EV owners now and in the future and why?

I believe Detroit and San Jose are possibly two of the places best equipped to serve EC owners and in the future, as Detroit is a traditional auto town with a full spectrum of professionals on automobiles. San Jose has one of the best talent resources on electronics and photonics.

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Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

I kind of doubt. If the gas price continues to rise, it might be at a certain point. EVs will gradually replace traditional vehicles.

Long-term, do you think EVs will trump the traditional gasoline-fueled car?

It depends on the battery and autonomous driving development; if successful, it might be possible, but it may take a long time.

Michael Lenox, Ph.D., Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration, University of Virginia, Darden School of Business Michael Lennox

Do you think EVs will become mainstream? If yes, how do you envision this happening?

I am relatively optimistic that we will see increasing penetration of EVs in the marketplace over the next decade with it becoming the dominant drive train for new car sales by 2030. The cost trajectory of batteries, which is the primary driver of the price of EVs, is such that EVs may become less costly than internal combustion engines by mid-decade. At this point, EVs will be preferable on the current dimensions of merit.

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As for charging infrastructure, while this is obviously a concern, I think it is somewhat overblown. The market is already adjusting to meet the need, building out charging stations. In particular, for those who live in residences where they have easy access to an outlet, like single-family homes, it is simple to charge your vehicle while it sits in the driveway or garage. What is often lost on people is that the vast amount of daily driving will not require a full discharge of the battery. Because you can charge at home at night, you basically have a “full tank” most of the time. The only time you even need to worry about charging is when you travel on trips of 4+ hours. In the case of Tesla, there is already a vast supercharging network that makes longer trips quite manageable.

Jennifer Weiss, Senior Policy Associate, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment Jennifer Weiss

Which places are best equipped to serve EV owners now and in the future and why?

In order for transportation electrification to become mainstream, EV infrastructure is going to need to take many forms. The most logical path for developing infrastructure today is to build it where customers are. This could be in places where drivers are already spending their time and cars are sitting idle in a parking lot – at home, work, school, restaurants, retail establishments and medical facilities, just to name a few.

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In the longer run, EV charging infrastructure needs to be built along transportation routes - or where people are going. This type of infrastructure – along highway corridors, rural routes and at tourist destinations - needs to be built to charge at faster speeds to get people where they are heading quickly. In the end, if EV ownership is to become mainstream, it must be as convenient and prevalent as today’s gas stations.

Methodology 

This analysis was done by STORAGECafé, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.

To determine the best cities for EVs, we ranked the 100 most populous metros, based on their overall scores, from 1 to 100. Overall scores were calculated as an average of each city’s weighted scores based on the 14 metrics presented below.

When calculating the number of registered EVs, we turned to county level data sets, which we then aggregated for each metro. For several metro areas, county level data wasn’t available. In these cases, we used state level data to make estimates on EV registrations for their respective metros, based on the percentage of the state’s population living in those metro areas.

The data on public chargers includes free-standing chargers, car dealerships, libraries, garages, parking structures, recreation centers, hotels, retail outlets, and courthouses. The list of places that public chargers also includes, though it's not limited to airports, offices, museums, wineries, city halls, fire stations, golf courses, self storage units, train stations and sports complexes among others.

The data on self storage costs was taken from Yardi Matrix, STORAGECafé‘s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self storage sectors.

Fair Use and Distribution

This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.

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Author

Mirela is a creative writer for STORAGECafé. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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