HOV Sticker Applications Slow in California for Plug-in Vehicles, Deals Add Up to Serious Savings in April

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Senior Pricing Analyst

As CarsDirect’s resident pricing analyst, Alex offers must-know analysis of pricing & incentives to those looking to buy or lease a car. His consumer-oriented coverage of the latest trends and breaking news has been featured in publications such as Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine and Autoblog.

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, Senior Pricing Analyst - April 21, 2015

Carpool lane access has been an attractive selling point for plug-in hybrids in California. The program was so popular last year that permits ran out at least twice. However, recent figures show demand for the stickers has slowed. If you consider this month's unusual mix of offers and the fact that automakers are working to clear inventory prior to two major redesigns, now is a great time to consider a plug-in. Here's what you need to know.

Sticker drama

Last year we saw a lot of commotion surrounding the little green Clean Air Vehicle stickers. By September, 55,000 of them were reportedly issued, completely exhausting the DMV's supply.

Around the same time, a big change happened- the DMV put limits on applications from dealers. An additional 15,000 stickers were released much to everyone's relief on January 1, but the pace at which they've been snatched up has slowed.

List of Plug-ins Eligible for California HOV Lane Stickers>>

Fewer applications

Reports last year indicated as many as 15,000 stickers were claimed in the 3 months from July to September. In contrast, the California Air Resources Board says 8,255 decals were issued through April 8, only 55% of the 15,000 that were added. According to the DMV's Special Processing Unit, the embargo had a significant impact on the flow of applications.

Differing stories

It may be hard to believe, but some dealers still believe they aren't able to apply for the decals, while others have been aggressively submitting applications on every unit in stock. However, the DMV's public affairs division confirmed for CarsDirect that there is currently no limit on applications for each dealer because a system is in place to prevent hoarding by linking decals to actual inventory.

What this means for shoppers

Confusion surrounding whether or not cars can come with the decals could lead to differences in what shoppers find on dealer lots. If a car comes with the sticker it's an obvious bonus. If a dealer didn't apply for one, be prepared for a wait time of up to 30 days after submitting the required paperwork.

On the plus side, we haven't seen price hikes like last year on inventory with pre-applied stickers. A small wait and an $8 processing charge are far better than seeing prices skyrocket as high as $3,500 over MSRP on Prius Plug-ins last year on some lots.

Best Green Car Deals This Month>>

Unusual spike in incentives

Incentives have been red-hot this month on plug-in hybrids. The Prius Plug-in received an unusual boost in discounts worth up to $2,000 in Southern California. Since most deals have centered on lease offers, seeing a big rebate was surprising. However, this is nothing compared to this month's offer from Chevrolet on the Volt.

A major clearance event started April 14 on the 2015 Volt. Payments dropped to as little as $249 in regions such as California, with a lower amount due at signing down from $1,449 to just $500 (or $0 down if you lease a non-GM vehicle).

The timing of the improved deals is about right- the 2016 Prius and 2016 Volt will get substantial redesigns later this year. Are the new models worth waiting for? That's up for debate, but current deals are undeniably the best we've seen.

Head-to-head: Toyota Prius Plug-in vs. Chevrolet Volt>>

Our take

This month's offers in California are incredibly appealing based on what we typically see. Green car shoppers have a unique opportunity to buy at the end of the model cycle when truly unusual deals begin to surface. The fact that there is no shortage of carpool stickers also means shoppers will be able to take advantage of the full range of benefits of plug-in ownership.

Get a custom lease quote on a Chevrolet Volt>>

Looking for the best way to keep track of purchase and lease deals? Check out our CarsDirect Pricing Insider and Deals Articles pages for tips and advice on picking the right time to buy or lease your favorite car or truck.

Offers listed here are based on a resident in Southern California and may be subject to change. Most lease offers are for well-qualified buyers based on available credit and exclude tax, license, title, registration, document fees and insurance. Not all buyers may qualify. Please check with your CarsDirect Trusted Dealer to confirm offer details and eligibility.

Editor's Note: Clarification was added based on a new statement from the DMV Public Affairs department that contradicted previous information.

CarsDirect Tip
Be sure to check if you qualify for $7,500 in Federal tax credits and a $1,500 California Clean Vehicle Rebate on cars like the Chevrolet Volt.

, Senior Pricing Analyst

As CarsDirect’s resident pricing analyst, Alex offers must-know analysis of pricing & incentives to those looking to buy or lease a car. His consumer-oriented coverage of the latest trends and breaking news has been featured in publications such as Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile Magazine and Autoblog.

Follow On: Twitter | Website