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Published on November 26th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Understanding Electric Car Owners & Potential Electric Car Owners (14 Charts & Tables)

November 26th, 2013 by  

One of the presenters at EVS27* was Jack Broadbent of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. I actually missed his presentation, but Jack indicated to me in a follow-up Q&A session that he could get me results from US EV owner surveys. I emailed him after the event and received a link back to the massive Bay Area Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan [large PDF]. The plan includes the results of several EV studies. I’ve gone through it all (though, haven’t read it all, of course) to find a number of interesting findings, charts, graphs, and tables. See below for what I pulled out of it. And let me know if you find anything else in there that you think is really worth highlighting. (*Keep up with all my EVS27 coverage here.)

Non–EV Owners Have Trouble Naming A Single Electric Car

Highlighting the degree to which electric vehicle (EV) awareness is still very low (share our articles, people!), 27% of respondents to the City CarShare Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) Survey didn’t come up with a single vehicle when asked which specific models came to mind when they thought of electric vehicles. Furthermore, many respondents answered “Toyota Prius,” “Honda Insight,” or some combination of those or other non-EVs — sometimes in combination with actual plug-in electric vehicles. The EV with the highest percentage of respondents identifying it was the Nissan Leaf at just 40%. This just backs up one of the key points I made in one of my Sunday articles.

electric vehicle perceptions

EV Owners Have Garages

As I noted when writing about a German EV study earlier today, EV ownership is highly correlated with having a garage. 97% of respondents to the California PEV Owner Study had a garage. 91% of them lived in a single-family home with an attached garage, while 6% lived in a single-family home with a detached garage. In another California study, Who Is Buying Electric Cars in California? Exploring Household and Fleet Characteristics of New Plug-In Vehicle Owners, 96% of EV owners lived in a single-family house.

Genuinely, I see lack of access to a socket or charging station outside one’s home as the biggest or second-biggest barrier to the electric vehicle revolution (possibly second to awareness). Who is going to buy an EV if they can’t charge at home? There are of course efforts to make multi-family dwellings EV friendly or “EV ready,” but a ton more work needs to be done on this front, especially as EVs become increasingly competitive (economically) with gasmobiles from the first year or two, and actually cheaper over time. More than public charging stations at work, shops, etc., charging potential at multi-family dwellings is essential.

EV early adopter characteristics

Of course, as you can see in the table above, these early adopters also tend to be quite well off. That is a normal trend for early adopters, and it may also be indicative of high initial prices for EVs (which have been coming down a lot in just the past year), but it could also be related to the fact that those living in single-family homes (where EVs are more practical) are simply wealthier. I do know of cases where people wanted an electric car for years but put it off due to not having a place to charge in their multi-family apartment complex.

EV Owners Driven By … To Go Electric

For early adopters, according to the Survey of Bay Area EV Project Participants, the most important reasons they went electric was for the: 1) environmental benefits and 2) lower cost of driving (in the medium to long term). Access to HOV lanes was a big point for some people, but not very important for others. Performance benefits were generally not important for the early adopters, which surprised me a bit. As I wrote last week, EVs are a tremendously better drive. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I probably wouldn’t have figured that out for many more years if I wasn’t driven to EVs by their climate benefits. So, perhaps it was a similar story with these early adopters — they were driven to go electric for environmental reasons, but then discovered the wonderful performance benefits.

The specific question posed to EV owners was: “Why do you drive a PEV? Please rank the following items in the order of importance (1 = most important, 6 = least important).” And the results were as follows:

Reasons people go electric

EV Owners Satisfied With EV Range

A huge majority of EV owners also indicated that their EV covered over 80% of their driving needs, with the largest group indicating that their EV covered 90–100% of their driving needs.

EVs meet driving needs

This is not a surprise when you look at how many miles per day respondents indicated they drove before purchasing an EV:

miles driven per day

But such distances are actually normal. Most people just don’t realize how little they drive.

EVs Are Cleaning The Air & Protecting The Climate

Yes, if EV owners didn’t have their EV, they’d be driving dirty, gasoline-powered cars instead. EVs are not pulling people off of their bikes or out of mass transit, which would be greener transportation options, to any significant degree.

EV alternative

How EV Drivers Get Around Shorter (One-Charge) Range

The issue of shorter range for battery electric vehicles (on a single charge) gets thrown way out of proportion, in my opinion. As shown in charts above, most EV owners are able to satisfy all or most of their “driving needs” with their EVs. Having less range on a single charge than they’d have on a single tank of gas is not as big a deal as many make it out to be.

How do EV owners get around this shorter range? By thinking. (They plan. They don’t drive to the boonies. And they sometimes charge up while away from home.)

how EV owners survive

Indeed, when asked, “What do you think is the greatest myth about PEVs and how would you suggest to go about dispelling it?,” a whopping 41% of respondents said something along the lines of, “The public is generally unaware of how many miles people travel on a typical day or how to plan travel when owning a PEV.”

Other Top EV Myths

Aside from that leading myth, next on the myths list were along the lines of:

  • “… non-PEV drivers are generally unaware of the great performance in terms of speed, power, and smoothness that a PEV has versus conventional vehicles.” (19%) Note my Sunday article about EV perceptions.
  • “… most people do not realize how much potential savings there is in fuel and maintenance costs. One respondent states that home electricity costs decreased after purchasing a PEV.” (15%)
  • “… the general image of PEVs is still negative for many people. Terms used include ‘weak’, ‘middle-aged geeks’, ‘toys’ and ‘golf carts’.” (15%) Again, note my Sunday article about EV perceptions.

Charging At Work?

At the time of the survey, almost 50% of respondents didn’t have charging at work, over 10% worked from home (making the question irrelevant), and nearly 15% had charging access at work but “never” or “rarely” used it. Only about 30% of respondents had charging access at work and “often” or “sometimes” used it.

charging at work

Again, that shows (for these early adopters, at least) how little charging outside of home is important to them. However, if charging at work were more accessible, more people not living in single-family homes with garages would perhaps switch over to electric. So it’s actually hard to say how critical this charging location is to EV adoption.

Getting Questioned By Gasmobilers?

The next chart very simply shows that almost 50% of EV owners frequently get questioned about their cars (by non-EV owners), while another 45% or so occasionally get questioned about their innovative cars. A very small percentage seldom or never get questioned.

EV questions

Time of Use Electricity Rates Are Used By ~80% Of California EV Owners

In the California regions where respondents lived, time of use (TOU) pricing was used by the utility companies of the large majority of respondents (80%).

TOU pricing

Similarly, about 80% of respondents used TOU pricing.

Use TOU Rates

Astoundingly, however, about 50% of EV owners had to contact their utilities to find out if they had TOU rates!

TOU pricing info

It’s also interesting/sad that just slightly more than 15% of respondents found out about TOU rates through their car dealers, and just about 10% through their charging station installers. However, perhaps those numbers were low because respondents had contacted their utilities before buying their cars & home charging stations?

EVs & PHEVs Are “Good” or “Excellent” Options for Most People

Getting back to that City CarShare Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) Survey, when asked to indicate their opinion of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as a transportation option for themselves, non–EV owners overwhelmingly indicated that EVs & PHEVs were good or excellent transportation options for them.

Potential for EV ownership

That’s promising!

Volt Owners Drive More

In one other study, it was confirmed that Chevy Volt owners drive more than Nissan Leaf owners. No surprise here. The Chevy Volt comes with a (gasoline) range extender. For those who want an electric car but know that they drive long distances too often for a pure EV to be practical for their needs, the Chevy Volt and other PHEVs have been their solution. This study of Leaf and Volt owners shows that Volt owners do indeed drive a lot more:

how much leaf and volt owners drive

Anyway, those are just some of the findings from the 363-page Bay Area Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan [large PDF]. If you want to delve into it and look for more goodies, feel free!

Check out our EV archives or even sign up for our EV newsletter for more EV! 


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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

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