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Looking for an electric vehicle? Here’s why they’re hard to find in Washington

Snohomish County retiree Cornelius Crowley tried for months to buy an electric vehicle—specifically, a plug-in hybrid that can run on either batteries or gasoline.

“It seems like the right thing to do, and the auto industry seems to be speeding in that direction,” Crowley said.

But his quest ended in disappointment.

“I went to a variety of dealers and all of them, especially Toyota and Hyundai, said the plug-ins are not available in Washington. They're not being shipped to Washington,” he said.

High gas prices have many Americans looking to buy electric cars, and supply-chain bottlenecks have left many would-be purchasers frustrated.

But the climate-friendly vehicles have been especially hard to find in Washington state.

Automakers this year have shifted deliveries toward states offering better incentives for selling climate-friendly cars.

In November, Washington state adopted a rule requiring automakers to sell an increasing share of “zero-emission vehicles”—that run on either battery power, hydrogen fuel cells, or a mix of batteries and gasoline, as in plug-in hybrids.

By 2035, automakers can sell only zero-emission vehicles in Washington.

Starting with model year 2025 cars, the state offers manufacturers credits for such sales. Automakers who exceed the required percentage of zero-emission sales can sell those credits to automakers who fall short.

In other states, including California, Minnesota, Nevada, and Virginia, car companies can get those zero-emission vehicle credits today. In Washington, those incentives don’t kick in until the 2025 models hit the market.

“Unfortunately, that led some manufacturers to redirect ZEVs to states where they would receive credits,” Vicki Giles Fabré with the Washington State Auto Dealers Association said by email.

Dealers lobbied the Washington Department of Ecology, which administers the zero-emission vehicles program, to make “early action” credits available to manufacturers who sell clean cars in advance of the 2025 deadline.

The agency is now considering five different ways to revamp the state’s zero-emission vehicle incentives to boost the diminished flow of electric vehicles to the Evergreen State.

“We would hope that manufacturers would bring more of those vehicles here because the demand is certainly there,” Ecology spokesperson Andrew Wineke said.

The auto dealers association says electric vehicles are still available in Washington, but fewer than if state policy were different.

The Department of Ecology has a public meeting on possible revisions to its zero-emission vehicle rules scheduled for June 14.

Wineke said a revised rule is expected to take effect by January.

Dealers are pushing for incentives to be made retroactive so more electric vehicles might make their way to Washington even before the end of the year.

In need of a car sooner than later, Neil Crowley tried getting around the Washington bottleneck by calling dealers in Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada.

“They wouldn't sell me one because I was out of state,” Crowley said.

In the end, Crowley gave up on his frustrating quest to go electric. He picked up his new gas-burning Subaru on Wednesday.