Update: As of June 30, 2021, Tennessee has officially registered 13,811 electric vehicles.
One thing was certain at the end of 2020, electric vehicles (EVs) were on the rise across Tennessee.
Between automakers’ planned investments to boost EV production and battery manufacturing in Tennessee, and the climbing number of individual EV drivers, Tennessee is set to become a hub of electric vehicle activity over the next several years. Tennessee already leads the southeast in EV manufacturing and has a goal of being the number one state for EV production.
To look further into these numbers, we analyzed Tennessee’s quarterly EV registration data from the Department of Revenue for 2019 and 2020 to visualize the trajectory of our state’s EV adoption.
Are EVs in Tennessee on the rise?
Utilizing the EV registration data, the graph above shows the increase in total battery electric vehicles (the term used for dedicated EVs with no gasoline engine) and total plug-in hybrid EVs (the term for EVs that have a backup gasoline-powered system). In this graph you’ll notice one dip, but the overall trend is headed in the right direction. Per Ryan Stanton, senior consultant for strategic energy initiatives at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the dip in early 2020 was due to delayed vehicle registrations resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns and the grace periods provided to owners by county clerk offices.
Tennessee’s trajectory is good, but we have a long way to go to meet the aspirational DriveElectricTN goal from the Tennessee EV Roadmap: reaching 200,000 EVs on Tennessee roads by 2028.
Several factors have contributed to this increase in EV registrations across the state. These include:
- More PEVs (includes PHEVs and BEVs; anything that has a plug) are on the market, with many on the lower end of the cost spectrum. Examples include the Kia Niro EV, the improved Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 and the Hyundai Kona Electric. Some buyers are also brand specific and are interested in waiting until the brand they know and trust comes out with a PEV.
- Federal tax incentives for EVs are still in place for most of the brands that are on the market today.
- More information is available to Tennessee drivers thanks in part to EV outreach and education efforts from all kinds of partners in Drive Electric Tennessee.
Now, in 2021, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Department of Transportation have announced plans to develop a statewide EV fast-charging network that takes what was previously on the order of $6M and has since increased to $20M. This investment will greatly reduce one of the barriers preventing Tennesseans from making the switch to EVs – range anxiety.
What will help drive further EV adoption in Tennessee?
- Companies like Volkswagen and Cadillac have made Tennessee home for the manufacturing of their electric vehicles and batteries.
- In Memphis, Mullen Technologies has announced plans to renovate an old Nike factory building to start manufacturing their own EVs in the state, starting with an SUV crossover.
- The installation of interstate “EV corridor signage” will show drivers on Tennessee’s highways that these roads are EV corridors (with less than 50 miles between fast charging opportunities).
The second graph, above, shows EV registrations in Tennessee counties as of the end of 2020. The top 11 counties in the state for registrations – in order – are Williamson, Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Rutherford, Hamilton, Wilson, Sumner, Montgomery, Blount and Washington. Of those top 11, six of those counties are in middle Tennessee and are centered around a) the Nissan plant in Smyrna and b) the most populous city in Tennessee, Nashville.
Digging in a little further, you’ll find that from comparison to county populations in Tennessee, most of these counties fall fairly close to where they stand based on population. Blount and Washington Counties rank 11th and 12th in population, so they are very close to where you would expect them to land in this data (based solely on population). Williamson County, the 7th most population county in Tennessee, has the highest number of EVs in the state.
You can also see in this graph that many of the counties have a fairly even mix of PHEVs and BEVs, but Williamson and Rutherford (home of the Nissan plant) are closer to 90% BEVs. Additionally, Williamson, Davidson and Shelby counties boasted over 1,000 EV registrations, a number that will likely grow quickly in the coming years.
Lastly, EV registration to population ratios point to the need for more equity-based EV education in Tennessee. For example, Shelby County has 1.24 times the number of registered EVs as Knox County, but also has twice the population. This means that the EV registrations per capita in Shelby County are notably lower than those in Knox County.
Our last graph breaks out the number of EVs in Tennessee based on the vehicle’s make (utilizing just the end of 2020 data). For individual EV registrations, Teslas, Leafs and Bolts lead the pack. This graph probably looks the same in almost every other state as in early 2020. The Tesla Model 3 overtook the Nissan Leaf as the most sold EV of all time. And while those top two makes are all-electric, the next four are a mix of PHEVs and BEVs – Chevrolet Volt and then later the Bolt, Ford plug-in series of cars, BMW with the i3 and i3 REx (the range-extended PHEV) and Toyota’s long known Prius family.
In total, Tennessee had just over 11,000 EVs registered at the end of 2020. While the growing number of EVs is good news, the state is behind Drive Electric Tennessee’s goal to have 200,000 EVs on Tennessee’s roads by 2028. We will have to increase our numbers rapidly in order to meet that goal in the next seven years.
This leads us to a question for you:
- Increasing the number of charging locations, both DC fast charging and community Level 2 charging,
- Providing incentives to help offset the cost of EVs to potential owners, or
- Increasing the number of educational events held for the general public so that more Tennesseans are exposed to EVs and come to understand their benefits, the used EV options that are out there, and how fun they are to drive?