Out West student blog

How low (emission) can you go? High gas prices may fuel hybrid and EV sales.


Justin Bracci, PhD '25
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Area of Study: Energy Resources Engineering
Intern, California Air Resources Board

Doctoral student Justin Bracci reflects on his Shultz Fellowship with the California Air Resources Board where he has been analyzing the impact of fuel prices on EV sales.

For my fellowship project, I am analyzing the impact of fuel prices on consumers’ decision to purchase a low-emission or zero-emission vehicle. At the beginning of the summer, I had the opportunity to drive across the country from San Francisco, CA to Buffalo, NY. Driving across the country, I witnessed first-hand how much it costs to move a vehicle over 3000 miles with high gasoline prices, and how much money can be saved by driving a hybrid vehicle that achieves over 50 miles per gallon. While my fellowship did not officially start until a few weeks after the trip, it was during that road trip that I began to think about how fuel prices, as well as other factors, would convince a consumer to switch from a conventional vehicle to a hybrid or zero-emission vehicle.

While working remotely can make it harder to meet new people and network effectively, I believe working remotely has helped me to build stronger relationships with friends, family, and even strangers in my hometown by asking them about their thoughts on low-emission and zero vehicles and how the vehicle population should evolve into the future. One situation to highlight was when I met with a family friend who is a vehicle sales manager at a local car dealership. He mentioned to me that plug-in hybrid vehicles have been more appealing to consumers over zero-emission vehicles due to the plug-in hybrid having the range of a conventional vehicle and the low operational costs of a battery electric vehicle during shorter trips. He also mentioned that for most people, developing extended electric range plug-in hybrid vehicles would almost fully eliminate their tailpipe emissions and getting everyone to switch to these vehicles would almost fully decarbonize passenger vehicle transport. The insights I gain from these types of discussions are not only valuable to myself but also to my mentors at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) who can relay these insights and connect me to other interested staff members within CARB or at other state agencies.

My main tasks during my fellowship have been to analyze past and present fuel prices, as well as make predictions about future fuel prices to test how significant price changes have been/are/can impact zero-emission vehicle sales. To analyze the impact of recent fuel prices on consumers’ vehicle selection, I have gathered and input county-level demographic, fuel price, and vehicle sales data from 2015 to 2020 into ArcGIS to test which spatial parameters have been most significant in predicting zero and low-emission vehicle sales in CA. To examine how current fuel and vehicle prices should be influencing zero and low-emission vehicle sales, I have been conducting total cost of ownership analysis to see which 2022 vehicle options make the most sense to consumers from a financial perspective, and how much they should weigh fuel prices into their decisions. I have also made use of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s ADOPT model to project how the vehicle population will evolve into the future given different fuel price and infrastructure build-out scenarios. 

I see this work being insightful to CARB as it will give them a better sense of the factors that correlate best with zero and low-emission vehicle sales, how consumers should weigh fuel prices in their vehicle choice decisions at this time, and whether further regulations may be required to achieve 100% zero and low-emission vehicle sales by 2035 in California.


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