Survey Says… Electric Cars Work Well As Primary Cars

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Originally published on EV Obsession.

Pulling more fun charts from a recent UK study (h/t Herman Trabish) as well as a chart from our recent EV owner & lessee survey, I wanted to spend a few minutes busting the myth that “electric cars don’t work as primary cars” — and the even more ridiculous one, that you can’t get by owning/leasing only an electric car. The latter point is so ridiculous (especially to someone who has lived car-free for 11+ years) that I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, but the first chart below is from our survey, which showed that about 21% (192) of the 920 respondents had only one car… meaning they had only an electric car.

EV Primary Car 3

Moving on to the issue of an EV being a “primary car” or not, one big issue here is subjectivity of language — what is a “primary car,” exactly? I’ll leave that to you to decide or discuss, but I’m taking it to mean the car you drive the most. As you may remember, a Consumer Reports dude who loves the Tesla Model S and led the crew that ranked the Tesla Model S P85D the best car it had ever tested commented in an interview that the car didn’t work as a “primary car.” Ridiculous. Shocking. Completely untrue.

When looking at the results below, remember that the Model S has far more range than most EVs, and can use the convenient and widely spread Tesla Supercharger network.

In this simple chart, you can see that a whopping 82% of surveyed British EV owners/lessees who have more than one car use their EV as their main car. I would consider a “main car” to be a “primary car.” Anyway, though, these cars are not tag-alongs that sit in the garage half the time. These cars are the cars their owners are primarily driving.

We see a very similar story in Norway. 81% of EV households in Norway with multiple cars use their electric cars every day. Only 6% of those households use a gasoline- or diesel-powered car every day. If you add up everyday usage and usage 3–5 days a week, you get 97% for the EVs and 21% for the gasmobiles. Um, case closed.

By the way, here’s a reminder: If you haven’t answered our quick 7-question EV survey yet, please do so! You can also still complete our longer EV owner/lessee survey or wannabe EV owner/lessee survey.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. 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, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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30 thoughts on “Survey Says… Electric Cars Work Well As Primary Cars

  • Once you get an EV, you tend to want to maximize the miles you drive it, and minimize the miles you drive your ICE car(s). Simple cost-effective optimization. In our case, our Leaf costs about 3.5 cents/mile to fuel, while our Hyundai Santa Fe (~22 mpg) costs about 16 cents/mile to fuel. So the Leaf is about 1/4 the cost per mile to drive.

    • Reality Check in some cases:
      Prius 55 mpg, gasoline $2.50/gallon, Electricity $0.36/kWh (Tier 4).
      Prius: $0.045/mile, Nissan Leaf: $0.120/mile

      • But for me having a solar PV:
        Prius 55 mpg, gasoline $0.01/gallon, electricity $0.00/kWh

        the winner would be Nissan Leaf even if the price of gasoline is $0.01/gallon

      • Whaaaa? I have different numbers for pretty much everything you cite. (I know you said “some cases” but it seems like “worst possible case”.)
        I owned a 2005 Prius and in the Seattle area averaged 45mpg year-round.
        Gasoline has been between $3 and $4 a gallon for the past several years here. I’ll call the average $3.50.
        Electricity (plus paying extra for green power) is $0.12/kWh here.
        And how is someone only getting 3 miles/kWh from a Leaf? I get better than that in my Model S (300Wh/mi or 3.3 miles/kWh lifetime average). Most Leaf owners probably get 4-5 miles per kWh.
        So, redoing the math:
        Prius: average $0.077/mile Model S: $0.036/mile. A Leaf would likely be $0.025 to $0.03/mile.

      • If your electricity costs that much, you need to put up solar panels. Period. Even solar + batteries is cheaper than that.

      • Where does it cost 36¢/kWh? What is the cost of gasoline there? The 55MPG Prius is not out yet, either.

        We are paying 21.3¢/kWh and this is about 5¢/mile which is about the same as a Prius at local gas prices.

        • Those are fairly accurate prices here in Australia. Electricity (peak @ 35c/kwh). Petrol $1.30 per liter ($5 a gallon?)

          • Right, so the OP was comparing the highest electricity prices vs the lowest gasoline prices.

      • What Prius gets 55 mpg?the 2016 is supposed to under ideal conditions, but its not out yet. Any place that has $2.50 gasoline does not have .36/KWH electricity pricing.

        Real world reality check:
        Washington state.
        Prius 47 MPG
        Gasoline $2.67
        Jefferson PUD $.09/KWH

        Prius $.18 per mile
        Leaf @ 4MPKH $.0225 per mile

        This does not even consider the other benefits of a Leaf over a Prius, IE:
        Full tank every morning
        Silent driving
        No vibration
        No gear shifting
        Complete energy independence
        multiple power sources available
        Better handling
        No smelly gas
        preferred parking

    • It’s a lot more than cost-effective optimization, the EV is just more fun and convenient for 99% of our trips. I actually feel like mounting a dinosaur when riding in the 2014 Honday Oddysee and it is a fine car for what it is, but just in comparison to the e-Golf an ICE shudders and shakes and unevenly accelerates…

  • This is disingenuous nonsense. If you buy an EV then you can almost certainly use it every day for short run commuting, shopping etc. You can’t use it for going on holiday or driving from London to Scotland to visit your granny without the inconvenience of prolonged charging periods.

    • …Just as you can’t use an ICE car for long journeys without the inconvenience of visiting a petrol station and refuelling.

      One thing you CAN do with an EV is refuel the car whilst you sleep – Inconvenient?

    • Most people would call the car they drive 364 days a year their primary car.

      The car they use one day a year to visit granny would be their secondary car.

      • Honestly, I think the CR guy just slipped up language-wise while on camera. But IDK — he didn’t take it back.

    • I regularly travel on holiday much farther than the distance from London to Glasgow in my Tesla S.

      The vehicle can travel nearly four hours on a charge, well beyond bladder range. A quick bite to eat while the car recharges and we’re good to go for another 3-4 hours.

      When I purchased it 46k miles ago, I fully expected to go on holiday with our gasmobile. However, after the first carefree (and fuel cost free) 600 mile trip in the EV, the gasmobile will forever collect dust while we’re away.

      • Same phenomenon here. I initially expected to rent or borrow cars for longer trips… but I found that the Model S was far far too pleasant to drive,so I was willing to go out of my way and spend extra time on the trip in order to take the Model S rather than renting an unpleasant gasmobile. I will take the train instead of Model S though.

    • I have to agree a bit with ‘weescamp’….I am an EV advocate, but can’t we agree there is a major difference for long distance driving between an ICE and EV? Also, there will always be a major difference (5 minute charge times are not realistic). I don’t believe most folks are OK with the mandatory 45 minute coffee/pee break…and there are a large number of people with access to only 1 car for both commute and long distance driving. There is a solution to this in battery swap, and we advocate a swap method that would be modular, comprising 12-20 small, manageable modules. The goal should be 100% adoption of EV’s, and we believe a lot of people share ‘weescamp’s’ opinion.

      • “I don’t believe most folks are OK with the mandatory 45 minute coffee/pee break…”

        I believe ‘most folks’ are, if as in the case of the Tesla it’s at least 3-4 hours in between. (See BigWu’s comment above.)

        Sure, some ‘road warrior’ types may not want to take a break, but really, how big a percentage of the population are they? And, by the way, how many traffic accidents could we avoid by having ‘mandatory’ breaks? Just askin’.

        • I rented a Mercedes recently that basically told me my level of alertness weakened to a concerning level after 2-3 hours. It wasn’t specific to me, it seemed, but just a tool for reminding the driver to take a break. People tend to “push on through” a lot, but taking a break feels much better and is much safer.

      • I think there are many different scenarios. A trip of ~2 hrs with a couple of breaks to “fast charge” is not an issue for me, but may be for some people. A long-distance trip in a Model S is at least as convenient as a gasmobile, imho. At the moment, you have to pay a lot for that option, but affordable, long-range EVs seem to be on the way. If you drive long distances a lot, there’s also the Chevy Volt EREV, BMW i3 REx, and plenty of PHEVs, all of which are subsets of EVs.

        • Great discussion and a necessary one. I would prefer we move more to 100% BEV’s than mix in PHEV’s….but I sense some consumers still have cold feet on this…sometimes for unfounded reasons, sometimes for good ones. I have talked with a Leaf owner recently who was happy to end her lease, then to get a Prius, and now feels “more relieved” since she does a bit of long distance driving….so not all stories end up as rosy as we would like. But I would suggest that we can have our cake and eat it too if we look at the concept of battery swap using “multiple” (12-20) small modules which could be 100% compatible with home or public charging.Yes, batteries will improve, but there are issues with charging stations that will keep them from getting much better. I think the jury is out on whether the charging station model can get us to full adoption.

    • For those sorts of applications, I’d use a rental.

    • It seems that it’s very hard to keep people from overly focusing the negative and de-emphasizing the positive. Lets see if an analogy will help…

      Imagine you are offered a job that is comparable to your current one in duties and has about the same pay and benefits, or even a bit better. Also, 95% of the time it will be easier and you will have better working conditions than in your current position. But of course there’s a catch. For the other 5% of the time you will have to work just a bit harder than you do now, under slightly more difficult and stressful conditions.

      Would you take the job? I’d say it would be foolish to turn such an offer down, wouldn’t you?

      That’s what an EV is like for many people right now. 95% of the time it is perfectly suitable for their daily lives and offers benefits that ICE cars cannot. They go to work, they go to the store, they go home and plug in overnight, and the next day they’re ready to go again. No gas-ups, no oil changes or breakdowns, just quiet, clean rides with few hassles and the satisfaction of knowing that they aren’t spewing noxious emissions everywhere. But maybe about 5% of the time, generally when they need to go on longer trips, they have to put just a bit more effort into it than before. They either have to plan their iteneraries more carefully or rent a gasmobile for the trip. Nothing generally too onerous, really, but just requiring a bit of planning and foresight to manage properly.

      So when we consider the overall picture honestly, do the benefits outweigh the hassles? Is having to rent a car to visit granny in Scotland twice a year really such a terrible thing?

      • I love this. 😀 Permission to publish as a guest article? 😀

        • It would be an honor!

          Not that I really think it’s much to crow about, really. It’s just a simple comparison that popped into my head one day.

          PS. If you do, please correct my misspelling of “itineraries”. 🙂

          • Awesome. Thanks. Got behind on comments, but planning it now.

  • I drive for free (no home charger), I do top ups (20-30%) at gym, shopping centres, and rapid charge to 80-90% if I get below 30%. I have several long trips and the longest one was 500 miles in one day,

    I’ve done 50 miles commute every day to my onsite contract (charging daily, which was not that convenient but doing 4000 miles for free and having some time to read books wasn’t that bad).

    It’s more a matter of learning new tricks or changing habits, like do 2 short breaks at motorway services instead of one long one, which considerably reduces risks, minimizes “down” time and it’s good for my back 🙂

    It’s not for everyone but local infrastructure is key factor so it’s worth using plugshare website to see how good an EV would be in your area. Infrastructure is way better then most people think, especially in Scotland with many reliable rapid charges (unfortunately Ecotricity chargers are not so reliable so extra online checks & planning is needed).

    Nissan leaf 2016 new model real range should be about 100 miles (that should apply to motorway driving at 65mph) and gentle city driving should give you 130 miles, so I look forward to my upgrade options in 2 years time 🙂

  • In the seven households of my family, there are seven EV’s and five internal combustion vehicles; one of those being a hybrid.

    • Wow, your family rocks!! 😀 Seriously, we should do a special on you.

  • We bought a 2015 Volkswagen egolf January last year as our second car, replacing a Jetta, thinking that with 86 mile range it is only good for the shorter commute. Soon we started using it as our primary car and put more than 15k miles on it already, and the Honda Oddysee only gets used for the short trips when the eGolf is already out and about. We still keep it for the occasional vacation trip to Tahoe but honestly we should rather rent it then instead of owning it permanently. The pluses of electric driving for us are: fully charged in the morning, no need to make trip to gas station. No more smog check and oil change appointments. First service appointment after 20k miles. Warm up or cool down in the winter/summer in the garage since there are no poisonous fumes from running it, just start the A/C while having breakfast from your phone and it’s ready when you leave to work. Superior acceleration and quite ride are nice too. So I have seen how much better they are and won’t go back for sure. And did I mention punching the accelerator without regrets because of the solar on the garage roof?

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