One of the studies presented at EVS27* in Barcelona last week was a study regarding the segments of the German population that would most benefit (economically) from switching to an electric car. The study, conducted by Patrick Plötz and Till Gnann of Fraunhofer ISI, used a German nationwide travel survey and then broke up the population into 24 subgroups based on employment status and city size. (*Keep up with all my EVS27 coverage here.)
Interestingly, while electric cars are often hyped as great city cars, the study’s key finding was that Germans who would most benefit from owning electric cars would be those living in small cities**. The following graph and table illustrate the point quite well:
It’s rather interesting that the conclusions are counter to the common stereotyping of electric vehicles as being ideal big-city cars. However, it makes a lot of sense. In smaller cities, EVs can cover basically any trip within the city, even zig-zagging trips. Speeds remain lower (less time on highways), which is a benefit for EVs. Furthermore, it’s currently much more convenient for people living in homes with garages to own an electric car than it is for people living in apartment buildings, especially if they don’t have workplace charging available. And, as is the case basically everywhere, those living in small- to medium-sized cities are more likely to have a garage than those living in big cities.
So, what are the implications?
The implications are essentially that policies, campaigns, and messaging aimed at getting more early adopters on board (who could benefit the most from an EV, economically) should be aimed at those living in smaller cities.
Also, a focus on EV charging station rollout in big cities may not be the most effective place to put resources at the moment. (This is actually a theme I saw in several presentations, which I’ll come back to in future posts.) And the strategy of many car manufacturers to bring their EVs only to select markets (with those markets being big cities) may be a backwards way of approaching the EV transition. Making the cars more widely available in more dispersed, smaller cities seems like it could be more effective. Of course, that might be more complicated and a bigger task for auto manufacturers… unless they changed how they were approaching car sales.
However, one cultural issue related to new technology adoption comes to mind now. A key to the proliferation of a new technology is people seeing it. In big cities, due to the higher density, one EV is going to get a lot more eyes on it. It is going to expose more people to the modern electric car. EVs spread throughout small cities may have less impact.
On the other hand, perhaps more people will pay attention to a new, different kind of car in a small city than in a big city, where there is more sensory overload.
I don’t have any answers here, of course, just rumination. I don’t think there are such studies, and even if there were, they’d be hard-pressed to make any hard conclusions on this front. So, for now, let’s just note again that this new study from Plötz and Gnann finds that electric cars are significantly more economical (in Germany) for employed people living in cities with populations of 50,000 people or fewer.
(Of course, this study was of the situation in Germany. Different results may have come out of a study in the US or elsewhere.)
Any other thoughts?
**The researchers actually say that those living in “small and medium city sizes” would most benefit, but the clear majority of those who would benefit would be people living in cities with populations of 50,000 or smaller, which I would consider small cities. But I think this is just an issue of semantics.
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