NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Tesla (TSLA) is about to get a strong jolt in its California sales numbers within the next few months. And it's all about a regulatory knife in the back of General Motors (GM), BMW, Toyota (TM) and Ford (F).
Let's get straight to the point: Many people in California buy some form of a plug-in electric car because they want a sticker to drive their car solo in the carpool lane during rush hour. Anecdotes suggest close to half of buyers cite this as their top reason.
There are two kinds of carpool stickers in California. First, the white sticker: This one is for zero emissions cars such as all-electric cars and natural gas for some reason (Honda's (HMC) Civic is pretty much the only natural gas car sold, and in tiny quantities only).
Second, the green sticker: This one is for plug-in electric hybrids. The best-sellers in this category are Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-In and two models from Ford. This category will be filled with many more cars in the next couple of years, including a long list from VW/Audi, Volvo, BMW and many others.
Here is the crux: California has said it will only issue 40,000 green stickers. As of Nov. 8, 2013, 24,452 stickers had been issued. As of Dec. 31, 28,739 stickers had been issued. That's 4,287 of them in under two months.
Assuming this pace continues, the 40,000 number will be filled some time before the second quarter is over. At that point, we can relatively safely predict that California sales of Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-In and the two relevant Ford models will plummet as a result. There are a few other lower-volume cars from makers such as Cadillac and Honda, but I'm talking about the cars that sell a lot more units.
There are many all-electric cars available for the white sticker, which is not up against any 40,000 sticker limit. This includes in particular the Nissan Leaf, which is selling well. However, the reason many people pick a Chevy Volt, Ford or Toyota over the Nissan Leaf is that the Nissan's sub-90 mile range just doesn't cut it.