Psychological Barriers Are Holding Back Electric Vehicle Adoption

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

A new study investigating the barriers preventing people from buying electric vehicles has identified two separate issues that hold people back — range anxiety and resale anxiety.

Electric vehicle charging station at BYD Headquarters, Ping Shan, Shenzhen, Guangdong, ChinaI don’t normally cover electric vehicle news. However, every now and again a report like this comes along which catches my attention.

The study, published in the “Articles in Advance” section of Manufacturing and Service Operations Management (M&SOM), found that a legitimate business model plays a critical role in the electric vehicle industry. Additionally, owning or leasing electric batteries in combination with improved charging technology can go a long way to reassuring people and increasing the rate of electric vehicle adoption.

The authors of the report — Michael K. Lim of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ho-Yin Mak of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Ying Rong of Shanghai Jiao Tong University — identified two specific psychological barriers that prevent people from purchasing electric vehicles:

  • range anxiety — the concern that an electric vehicle’s driving range will not be enough for the needs of the driver (however, at least one writer has intelligently noted that “range anxiety anxiety” seems to be the real issue)
  • resale anxiety — the concern that the price of used electric vehicles will drop in the future, making resale a difficult option

Subsequently, two models in contrast to the current American business model for electric vehicles were proposed that the authors believe would allay many consumer fears.

The report was based upon a two-stage game-theoretic modelling framework — the first stage of which examined the early phase of electric vehicle availability, and the second stage investigated the maturity phase, in which both new and used electric vehicles are available on the market.

The authors then calibrated the model specifically to the San Francisco Bay area — the area’s freeway network, auto market figures, and industry reports — which allowed them to develop several business options. Two models were particularly promising (from the press release):

1. The first model represents the case in which battery enhanced charging service is made available through additional support infrastructure. This includes, for example, Tesla’s supercharger stations and other quick charging stations that are being introduced in the US by firms such as Chargepoint and NRG eVgo

2. In the second model, consumers lease the batteries and are also offered enhanced battery charging services. One example is a business model that offers enhanced charging in the form of battery swapping coupled with the battery leasing service. In a second example, Renault is selling its ZOE in Europe with battery leasing and the support of quick charging infrastructure.

The key findings from the report were also made available:

  • Despite the qualitative similarity between the two anxieties, their impacts on electric vehicle adoption can be quite different. While range anxiety typically hurts adoption, resale anxiety can actually help adoption (depending on the EV production cost level).
  • Further, interestingly, anxieties do not necessarily harm consumers; in fact, they typically benefit consumers since the presence of anxieties forces the firm to cut vehicle prices and invest more in public charging infrastructure.
  • The battery leasing service improves the firm’s profit at the expense of total adoption and consumer surplus, when not offered with the public charging option.
  • Most importantly, increasing the driving range of electric vehicle through public charging infrastructure typically yields more socially desirable adoption outcomes (greater adoption and emission savings) than increasing the battery capacity


Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

Joshua S Hill has 4403 posts and counting. See all posts by Joshua S Hill

53 thoughts on “Psychological Barriers Are Holding Back Electric Vehicle Adoption

  • If charging networks are to be subsidised by taxpayers,they should be as near technology- and manufacturer-neutral as practicable. This means in practice the SAE standard, not Tesla’s or ChaDeMo.

    • Perhaps subsidised charging networks should be for the slow charging type? Make them cheap and ubiquitous, and let the automakers fight it out over fast charging.

    • IMHO charging networks should not be subsidized. But for consistency, other “fuels” shouldn’t either ([cough]oil[cough]).

      If they are, it absolutely shouldn’t be because they use a specific standard (which is the very opposite of being technology- or manufacturer-neutral, btw), but on merit, for example how many vehicles they service.

  • “Most importantly, increasing the driving range of electric vehicle through public charging infrastructure typically yields more socially desirable adoption outcomes (greater adoption and emission savings) than increasing the battery capacity”

    This only holds true for EVs that can fast charge. It’s not practical for L2 charging EVs to leverage public charging infrastructure for more than a single long stop (at a shopping mall for instance) or small extension on a trip that’s just over the range of the EV.

  • What is necessary at this point is a study of the psychology of the industry.

    Health concerns are holding back the adoption of EV’s, and until the industry recognizes the impact of electric fields, magnetic fields, and RF on the human biological system, wise customers will refuse to participate.

    Put the Swiss standards for magnetic fields in place, or those of Austria for RF, in the energy arena. You will see a revolution in respect and collaboration that has been possible all along, or keep ignoring the damage this industry is unleashing. You chose, every day, and, you can stop perpetuating the mis-truths, now.

  • There should be no range anxiety issue once we get more charging stations built. Your car should be able to tell you that you need to charge and guide you to the nearest available charge point.

    Lower mileage range vehicles will not work for all but if you’re someone who has a daily driving pattern within the range of a 70 mile EV then you should be well served and should not have any range anxiety.

    This is about year 5 of modern EVs. The Leaf came out in December 2010, IIRC. Five years into the Model T it wouldn’t go up a steep hill in forward gear, had no electric starter or lights, and gas certainly wasn’t readily available everywhere. Give things a reasonable time to develop.

    • The only problem is battery degradation. I’ll need 200 miles in my next car (third EV) that way when the battery drops to 130 miles at worst it’ll still be plenty.

      • It will be interesting to see what happens with battery degradation in the real world for this first generation of modern EVs. There are tons of theories based in the lab, but what happens outside of the lab is often much different. I look forward to hearing more about the experiences of battery degradation from EV owners over time.

      • YMMV, but FWIW, my 2013 Leaf still has 12 of 12 bars of capacity after 32k miles.

        • YMMV indeed, my 2011 LEAF dropped to 9 of 12 bars after 47,900 miles. It might have more to do with age than use. Curious, did you charge any QC? Or only level 2? 6.6kW public at all? or 3.8kW and less at home? We’re there multiple full charges in 24 hours? What’s the average temperature in your area? Is your LEAF garaged?

          • Level-2 6.6kW charging in my garage.
            Occasional 100% charge.
            Occasional level-2 6.6kW public charge.
            Rarely level-3 quick charge.
            Temp gauge never more than 1 bar above or 2 bars below center.
            Usually 3-5 round-trips per day home charging between trips.
            Rarely get down to 14-mile low battery warning.
            All 5-stars on 1-year dealer battery test.
            Located in Raleigh, North Carolina.

            Gas minivan for out-of-town vacations.

            My usage pattern is probably the ideal case. Sounds like you may have a warranty claim soon. Let us know how that goes.

          • Traded in LEAF when my wife’s Volt lease was up, we both have Kia Soul EVs. Three year lease. Will get, in order of preference, Tesla Model 3, Nissan 200 mile EV in works, Chevy Bolt next.

          • I’ve always thought the Soul looked cool, but none in NC yet. I’m hoping I can make the Leaf a teenager’s car in few years and get a Model 3 for myself. 🙂

          • Nice, I have a few more EV generations before my kids are driving. By that time I am confident there will be plenty of options. I am hopeful we in the US will allow it to happen.

    • I can’t see how range anxiety is an issue when buying a vehicle. I can simply buy what I need. I get anxious when my gas gauge shows low and I am sill a long way from a service station. This has little to do with my buying decision and much to do with poor planning.
      I am also not anxious about resale value until it is time to sell or trade. Once again it is all about planning and timing.

  • 90 miles is fine for suburbanites like me. We have 2 cars, one is a Leaf. I drive about 50 miles per day, perfect for the Leaf. We use the gas car for trips, all local driving is done via the Leaf. I have a single family home with a 2 car garage where we have a L2 charger. I live in the DC area so there are plenty of charging stations.

    I have also met other Leaf owners who live in apartments and use gadgets like the “quick 220” and modified Leaf EVSE cords to create charging solutions.

    • Great feedback, thanks.
      I just spoke to a friend who has a Leaf here in London, UK. He does the same thing – charges at home. He recently took his car in for servicing and they gave him a petrol car as a replacement. He says, he never realised how much a pain it is to have to fill up your car at a petrol station!
      The Leaf is a great car, however, I still think there are a lot of people who would happily buy one were it not for a lack of a practical charging solution.

      • It is a pain, dirty, degrading, truly alien.

    • If two cars are an option, then yours is an excellent solution.

      • Problem is owning a LEAF for three and a half years as your wife drives a Volt, after her lease was up, she got infected like me, no way was she driving an ICE, even the Volt. So now we are a two EV family with no other car. We haven’t gone on a long trip yet, but when we do we’ll just rent a car. Now talk about anxiety, I dread that day. If only we had a Tesla Model 3 now.

        • I wouldn’t call that a problem at all 🙂
          As you said, the few times a year you can easily rent a car or even ask friends to exchange cars. (So hopefully they’ll get infected, too, haha)

    • People who live in rural areas can also be happy with 90 miles of range. My commute back and forth to work is 24 miles. I would still have plenty of range to do most of my other errands as well. With a few more charging locations available an EV would work fine for me. We would still have the gas vehicle my wife uses for longer trips. The only thing keeping me from an EV right now is cost.

  • Reasons I won’t be buying an EV this year.
    1) At about 12000 miles per year, my current 2007 model compact is still good for a few years.
    2) EV’s with adequate range are available but far too expensive for me. A compact gasoline car typically costs me as little as 15,000 in Canada (including taxes.) An excellent used one can be had for 5000 or less.
    3) I usually spend about 125.00 per month on gasoline (considerably less now.) Savings with electricity would likely be insignificant and there is the danger of a future road tax.
    4) No place to charge except at home or a friends.
    5) So scarce in showrooms that it is difficult to find one to test drive. No credible opinions available from friends or neighbors as no one within 50 miles seems to own one.
    6) I have never even seen an ad for one, outside of the internet, and then I have to search for one.
    7) Few models available and even fewer dealers.
    8) I am not reassured about performance in the extreme cold we often experience during our winter.
    9) Still concerned about battery longevity.
    10) There are probably disadvantages that I haven’t even thought of, given I have had no opportunity to talk to owners in similar circumstances to my own.
    Range anxiety is not an issue. I simply cannot afford adequate range or more than one car.
    Resale value never enters my mind as I usually drive a car till it isn’t worth fixing. Longevity is the issue. It will be a while before we have a handle on that.
    I can think of all kinds of reasons for owning an electric and would love to have one. So far, however, the above considerations would seem to preclude my purchase for a few years yet. Maybe I will start with an electric bicycle. That might provide at least a little relevant experience.

    • All valid reasons. In addition, the resale value, while it might not be relevant to you, depends on there being a large enough number of people in the used car market willing and able to put in home chargers. If nearly half of Americans don’t have a place for a home charger then that currently eliminates half the potential used EV purchasers.

      As much I would like everyone to drive an EV, there is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be in place for them to make sense. Too many think it is all battery cost.

      • With over 250 million vehicles in the US and more than 50% of all drivers having a place to plug it would seem hard to argue that a lack of drivers with a place to plug in would be an issue at this time.

        125,000,000+ potential EV owners.

        High battery cost = lower range and high purchase price.

    • So, let’s say you’re in the market for a new car in say 2020. What would it take for you to consider an EV from a range and cost perspective assuming longevity and cold weather performance was adequate?
      Mind if I ask what part of Canada you’re from? (Incidentally, I’m a Newfoundlander and long time BC resident – now in the UK). The Tesla Model S has had a lot of success in Norway because of it’s cold weather performance. I know… It’s super expensive but from a technology perspective it’s possible.

      • I am from Alberta (about midpoint between Edmonton and Calgary in a small village) where gasoline is cheaper but not as cheap as the U.S..
        My normal drive (I will stick to American) is about 60 to 100 miles so I would need a minimum range of about 125 miles, since it is unlikely there will be any chargers within those limits.
        The main consideration would be cost, both capital and operating. That, along with environmental concerns, is why I drive a compact today.
        It seems possible that my considerations will be met by 2020, which might be a little longer than I can wait for a new car. I will hang on, though, if it seems likely.
        Although Norway is further North than where I live, most of its population experiences less extreme low temperature than we do. I agree, however, that it should be technically possible to design for cold. Cost is the consideration.

    • You are at least open minded enough to consider an EV once you get the information you need and it fits your needs. Not everyone can be a early adopter. You are still seeing some value in the product to wait for concerns to be addressed.

      • Yes, I am usually quick to adopt new technology, but it must fit my needs. I am not interested in fads or the newest cell phone with a bunch of features I don’t need. But then I am pretty old, as tech fans go.
        I think many more people will quickly switch to electric, once enough momentum is built to address the problems I pointed out.

  • A couple of thoughts:
    -Technology when fully functional and fully developed makes life easier, with fewer compromises. EVs are not there yet. Range is less than liquid fuel cars, price is higher than liquid fuel cars and charging time is much more than a gas fillup
    – That being said, I believe range and charge (fillup) time will both be better than ICE cars and price will also be lower once production ramps up, alot sooner than many expect. With near future chemistries charge times will likely drop dramatically, lower costs and energy densities will allow for impressive range in EVs. The much simpler drivetrains and simplified packaging should drop EV prices well below ICE prices once battery production ramps up and the performance improves beyond some threshold.
    – One concern about the current charging infrastructure, except perhaps for the Tesla superchargers, is that current charging stations will be quickly obsolete as charging times drop to the 5 to 10 minute range. I suppose they can still be used to top off if you are parking somewhere for a few hours but the convenience and prevalence of quick quick chargers may leave thousands of stations with little use. At least they don’t require anywhere near the investment of gasoline stations.

    • You’re thinking about EV charging like filling up a gas tank, but it doesn’t work that way. Going to the gas station is a chore, so when you go you fill up to the max because you want to minimize the number of trips. Charging an EV away from home is the opposite – you only charge up as much as you need to complete the trip home to minimize charging time, then top off overnight. My typical ‘fill up time’ at a local Chademo quick charger is 10-15 minutes, because I only need enough electrons to get back home or to the next long stop. One of the big advantages of EV’s is that you don’t need ugly filling stations cluttering up down town areas because everyone can charge @ home.

  • So the cure for range anxiety is greater range! Brilliant, but you will be metaphorically stoned here for such heresy.

    I followed your link to Diffusion of Innovation. It basically says that the “normal distribution” applied to human behavior and the “sigmoid curve” applied to technology explain everything. Very true. A lot here will dispute you but in “math vs wishful-thinking” math wins.

    The relatively slow initial uptake we see now is not only inevitable but necessary, because there are so many unknowns in new technology that can only be worked out once you get them in the hands of enough users to see and solve them.

    I have seen the logistic function describe with astonishing accuracy the adoption of cell phones, the replacement of coal-burning train engines with diesel, adoption of radio, etc., etc.

    The normal curve and the logistic function (which generates the sigmoid curve) are now taught in high school pre-calculus and AP calculus because mathematicians thought if only people knew how things actually work they could approach things rationally. Clearly, mathematicians were the main ones persuaded.

    • Michael,
      You lost me at sigmoid…
      Joking aside, you make an interesting point. I wasn’t positing anything about the nature of the diffusion. What I said was that the issue today is not really range anxiety but sufficient range for early adopters to get aboard in numbers. It’s easy to say, but to make it happen requires further economies of scale and technology improvements. This is a slow process at first, as you point out. Isn’t interesting that this process follows some deeply fundamental patterns.

  • You presume the natural level of EVs to be 100% penetration. If EVs converge around 30-40% then the law of diffusion may show that indeed early adoption has started.

    Yes I may be an enthusiast/innovator, though my wife with her Soul EV certainly is an early adopter with the second generation of modern EVs coming out now.

    • Good point, I hadn’t thought about that. Now that I’ve thought about it, yes, natural penetration of EVs is 100% for the same reason no one uses a rotary phone anymore. EVs are a new and far superior technology that will supersede ICEs, in my opinion.

      • There’s a tipping point in technology transitions after which the old technology is no longer manufactured. At first digital SLRs were adapted film SLRs. Then the new innovations were introduced in digital SLRs and added into film SLRs. And then they quit making film SLRs.

        Same thing happened with typewriters. Computers reached a level of market penetration at which it no longer made sense to manufacture typewriters and those plants shut down.

        The major manufacturers of slide rules stopped production two years after affordable scientific calculators hit the market.

        As EVs take more and more market share we’re likely to see fewer and fewer ICEV models offered until we finally hit the point at which there’s not a large enough market for any company to continue production.

      • You are now presuming the other 60-70% in my comment is ICE.

        I’d love to see 100% BEV capable of meeting every niche.

        In reality, as ICE trends to zero, BEV HFC, compressed air, walking, biking, or something new or exotic? will be the dominate modes of transportation.

        • Ah, fair point. I have read that the trend toward car ownership is going down in favour of other options like public transit. But I think that’s marginal. I do think the end game for ICEs as a passenger vehicle is extinction and ultimately relegated to hot rod enthusiasts. I’ll also go out on a limb and say fuel cell vehicles will not progress beyond a niche. Where ever there is a grid the overwhelmingly dominant passenger vehicle will be BEVs, in my opinion.

  • What is needed more than anything for EV adoption is more awareness and education. (Thanks and kudos to this site and Bob Wallace!) Most people just don’t understand the range and recharge time issue. EVs don’t need to reach parity with range and recharge time to be competitive. They just need to meet your needs: charge overnight and commute back and forth to work (mostly). Especially for two car families.

    9 EVs are available for less than $199 month, including a couple PHEVs. (No downside at all even as sole car). That’s a free car or nearly so if you spend $200 month on gas. A free car! No maint for 3 years!

    With QC and reasonable charging infrastructure, there are very few limitations or downsides – and again, these are nearly free cars for most folks.

    That is the message that needs to get out.

  • Perhaps we should recognize that the psychological barrier is – psychological. Perhaps we simply need to rethink a few bits of our lifestyles. We’re used to getting in our fuel powered cars and driving as far as we want, stopping for a few minutes to refill.

    I recently read that “Chademo” is a play on words, on a phrase in Japan that says “Let’s stop for a cup of tea”..

    The issue with EVs, once we get to about 200 miles of range, is that we’ll have to stop a couple of times during an all day trip to recharge rather than stopping one time to refuel.

    What if we just decided to change our lifestyles a little on those long drive days and schedule in a “tea break”? Just decide that we’re going to make our driving days a three segment event with a meal break (charge) and a tea break (charge).

    Quit thinking about making the drive with a fill up stop and a meal stop. Just adjust to two shortish stops to break up our long drive days.

    This is how you drive a 200 mile range EV. You drive about 200 miles. You take a short break, eat some food, check your messages. Then you drive about 180 miles and take another break.

    It’s a small lifestyle change that won’t make one bit of difference in the overall scheme of things. You’ll get that second stop back multiple times via all the refueling stops you won’t need to make when you’re not on long drive days.

    • “What if we just decided to change our lifestyles a little on those long drive days and schedule in a ‘tea break’?”

      This will be a great opportunity for a new industry catering to those making these recharging stops: really good coffee, tea, snacks and meals at nice highway bistros instead of bad food at smelly old gas stations and truck stops. Starbucks probably has plans to dominate this coming market already.

    • Another thing that would help is if we can get some of the nationwide motels to provide L2 charging so we wouldn’t have to go out of our way and have another charging session on either the beginning of the day or the end of the day. I wrote a letter suggesting L2 chargers to Best Western… I didn’t even get an acknowledgement of my letter.

  • Practical considerations like utility have an effect, EVs do not have the same functional utility of range and refill speed, so it is more than just perceived.

  • This article fails to mention PHEV’s. Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles are a wonderful transition toward full electric vehicles, and in my opinion, should be the focus at this stage of EV introduction to the market. Range anxiety is non existent, and if you lease, it removes the resale anxiety. A Chevy Volt can be leased for $200-300/ month (depending on miles needed) which is certainly comparable to a similar size car with the same options.
    I think if there were more PHEV options with a 40-50 mile all electric range, we would see a quicker transition because of higher consumer comfort with plugging in. And, most folks would realize a high percentage of all electric driving, substantially reducing their fuel cost.

    • “Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles . . . should be the focus at this stage
      of EV introduction to the market. Range anxiety is non existent”

      Absolutely. If the Chevy Volt had been marketed properly, they would have flown off the lots. Maybe GM will do so for the 2016 model.

  • There is now technology being adopted by service stations in-the-know about EVs. It’s a battery service operation that can rehab a used battery for about $1200. Used EVs should retain their resale value much better then ICE vehicles. Internal combustion engines flat can not compete with electric motors in durability.

  • I agree with Aloysius completely.

    I used to live in California, but now live in Taiwan. While most affluent Californians are suburbans, for EV to go mainstream, the readers of CleanTechnica must reconcile with the fact that the dominant percentage of world population are *dense*, large-to-mega city’s dwellers. See China, Europe, Japan. Owning a private parking spot can be a luxury. When we consider mainstream, we have to take care of those people who rely on street parking overnight. Those are also the main buyers for pre-owned EVs.

    For EV to be widely practical, I think we are still awaiting these two breakthroughs.

    1. Really fast charging, everywhere. Prevalence like the gas stations today.

    2. A government-backed battery loan, to reduce the upfront cost. People pay back the loan gradually at the charging station when they charge, or auto-deduct from their salary.

    Today car maker can already put in a $12,000 battery pack for a very nice range. If the government extends you with that loan, you just need to pay $40/week over the next 6 years. That’s roughly the same as how much people pay for gas. Not enough world battery supply notwithstanding, a Corolla-ish EV shall sell for less than $20,000 retail today.

    • Interesting points indeed. As vast populations are already city dwelling & cosmopolitan it does seem to present certain barriers to entry for the at home charging of EVs.
      In any case, and in addition to the points AsFanInFarEast has raised above, perhaps fast battery swap stations is another infrastructure development that would aid the uptake of EVs for such city folk.
      The ‘Better Place’ company had the idea of battery swap together with fast charging also I believe, but they unfortunately went belly up a couple of years ago now … they were a little ahead of their time I think. However, I distinctly remember reading some of their offerings in the early stages and thought at the time that their business model was a little too expensive and rather restrictive for the average punter.

  • Here is another barrier. We are on our second three year lease of a LEAF (2011, now a 2014). The main reason we don’t purchase is because Nissan makes no commitment to guaranteeing that future generation batteries will be backward compatible. I don’t mind paying even $10K after 100,000 miles to get a new battery, it beats buying a new car. On the other hand, when I test drove a Tesla, the rep there indicated that Tesla does make a commitment to backward compatibility. The recent upgrade offered to Tesla Roadster buyers show they are backing up their claim.

    • Just a guess, but since Nissan has already committed to providing replacement batteries for around $5k, by the time I need one (if that ever happens), the old battery tech won’t even be available, so for that $5k, I’ll end up with either a much lighter or longer-range battery. Either way, I’ll be happy to pay for it as it will be an upgrade, not just a replacement.

  • Your point tells us a bit about psychology. The Wikipedia article points out a clear way to predict how quickly adoption should take place, but half the people claim adoption is too slow, and the other half say it is happening faster than expected. Math may show us the truth, but can’t overcome our hopes and expectations.

Comments are closed.