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Published on February 2nd, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want

February 2nd, 2016 by  

This 11th and final article pulled from Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want — a new report from CleanTechnica, EV Obsession, and GAS2 — is a summary of the whole report. Of course, I encourage you to read through the entire report, at least in parts here on CleanTechnica (where you can also dive into the comments under each section). But if that doesn’t work for you for some reason, hopefully this summary is what you need.

Early Adopters & First Followers

White Nissan LEAFWe are still at the baby stages of an electric car revolution. With electric cars accounting for just about 1% of new car sales, the buyers are generally stereotypical early adopters and people passionate about addressing global warming, air pollution, and oil dependency. They have higher incomes and much higher solar adoption rates than the general public.

These people are concerned about making buying decisions that benefit broader society, but they have also discovered that electric cars come with some huge consumer benefits that almost anyone can appreciate.

Instant Torque & Convenient Home Charging

For one, electric cars have instant torque that provides them with quick acceleration from a stop. This is a great deal of fun, and it also makes driving less stressful and safer, since it is easier to merge into moving traffic and get up to speed with other drivers, to cross lanes of moving traffic, and so on.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVSecondly, charging is typically much more convenient than filling up a gas tank. It takes approximately 3 seconds to plug in and approximately 3 seconds to unplug. The rest of the time, you can be doing other things, like eating dinner, hanging out with your family or friends, relaxing on the couch, working, or basically anything you want to do. Approximately 85% of charging is done at home, but charging at work or key destinations can be just as convenient.

Electric cars also have much lower “fuel” costs per mile, have many fewer parts (so should also have less maintenance), and drive much more quietly and smoothly than conventional gasoline-powered or diesel-powered cars.

Financial Incentives, Charging Stations, & Better Consumer Exposure

Given these benefits, many respondents see test drives and simply better media coverage of EVs as keys to market growth. However, many respondents still ranked more EV charging facilities and better financial incentives as the most powerful ways to drive growth.

The EVs People Want

Concerning specific electric car models that EV-driving respondents had, the split was similar to the broader market. By far, the top three models were the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S, and Chevy Volt, respectively. The BMW i3 was a bit further behind, but still had a solid hold on the #4 spot. After that, no other models accounted for over 4% of respondents.

Moving from existing vehicles to EV models respondents planned to buy or lease, as well as announced or expected EV models respondents were most excited about, there was a strong preference for Teslas — the planned Model 3, the just-released Model X, and the well reviewed Model S. After Teslas, there was a continued preference for EVs from the companies that have led the market so far — the planned Chevy Bolt, the Chevy Volt (first generation and second generation), and the Nissan LEAF (first generation and second generation).


Key Features Buyers Require & Desire

Exploring specific features respondents were interested in, we learned that over half of respondents (54%) require access to Tesla’s Supercharger network or a comparable super-fast charging network (there is no such network in place or publicly announced) with any future electric model they buy. 28% require five seats, 27% require all-wheel drive, 14% require towing capacity, 13% require a free car rental for up to 3 weeks a year or free access to a carsharing service for up to $500 of use, and 10% require a sunroof.

Tesla Model S GreenLarge percentages also indicated that the following features could trigger them to buy one model over another: access to Tesla Supercharger network (61%); apps to check charging status (57%) and preheat or pre-cool the car (45%); over-the-air software updates (50%), autonomous cruise control (44%); all-wheel drive (41%); keyless start, stop, and entry (38%); and a system to allow the owner to send electricity from the EV’s battery back into the grid, assuming the utility would pay for that (34%).

Certain autopilot features were popular with a smaller but still significant number of respondents: autosteer (26%), automatic parking, without a person present in the car (24%); and auto parallel park (22%).

Additionally, 69% of potential owners indicated they would be significantly more attracted to a fully electric model if they would be able to upgrade the battery pack. Only 7% didn’t care about that.

Car Classes With Greatest Demand

In terms of car classes, there was a clear preference for an EV in the intermediate class, which is interesting since there isn’t a mass-market EV in that class other than the Ford Fusion Energi, which only has ~20 miles of electric driving range.

Aside from the intermediate class, there’s also strong demand for the SUV, compact, and full-size classes. There’s much less demand for electric pickup trucks, sports cars, and scooters/motorcycles — apologies to the CleanTechnica readers who I know are eagerly awaiting those options.

Driving Range — What Consumers Will Accept

Renault Zoe UKThere are only a few ways in which electric cars still trail gasoline-powered cars from a consumer perspective: range on a single charge, time needed to charge, and upfront cost (because of the large and expensive batteries in electric cars). There has long been a big range gap between ~80-mile electric cars from conventional automakers and >220-mile Tesla electric cars. 100 miles or fewer seems like not enough range for many buyers, but over 200 miles seems like overkill, given that we drive 70 miles or fewer on 90% of days, so I was curious to see what type of range requirements consumers actually had.

Among non-owners, 45% responded that they needed 220 or more miles of range on a single charge, and 15% indicated they needed no more than 100 miles of range, leaving a gap of 40% of respondents who need less range than a Tesla offers but more than all of the other pure EVs on the market.

Similarly, 50% of EV drivers indicated they needed 220 miles or more, 19% indicated they needed no more than 100 miles, and the remaining 31% were somewhere in between.

In other words, there’s a big market opportunity there for companies that fill the range gap between a 2016 Nissan LEAF and a Tesla Model S or Model X.

The Range–Price Tradeoff

Extra range isn’t free, though. Asking respondents to balance range needs and hypothetical prices, among non-owners, 7% indicated a sweet spot of 70 miles for a $25,000 car (similar to a base-level Nissan LEAF), 16% indicated 100 miles for $30,000 (similar to the new 107-mile Nissan LEAF), 16% chose a 130-mile EV for $35,000, 12% chose a 160-mile EV for $40,000, 8% chose a 190-mile EV for $45,000, 15% chose 220 miles or more for $50,000 and up, and 24% weren’t happy with any of the options. That leaves a big opening for moderately priced electric cars with 110 to 200 miles of range.

Asking EV drivers the same question, the responses were similar. 7% again indicated a preference for 70 miles of range for a $25,000 car, 15% indicated 100 miles for $30,000, 21% selected 130 miles for $35,000, 19% selected a 160-mile EV for $40,000, 10% selected a 190-mile EV for $45,000, and 29% chose 220 miles or more for $50,000 or more.

These results show that there is no electric car on the market serving the range–price “sweet spot” of nearly half the market. Clearly, there is a large gap there that automakers should be working to fill. However, more research needs to be conducted on why automakers have kept away from this opening in the market.

Batteries of the Future

BMW i3 GreenWith battery technology improving fairly fast, respondents were eager to be given the option of upgrading the battery packs in their cars in the future, for a reasonable price. 69% of potential owners indicated they would be significantly more attracted to a fully electric model if they would be able to upgrade the battery pack. Only 7% didn’t care about that.

Fast Charging & Super-Fast Charging

Fast-charging capability was also critical to potential buyers. When asked about the importance of Tesla’s Supercharger network (or some comparable super-fast charging network), 65% of potential owners indicated they would be significantly more attracted to a fully electric model if it had access to Tesla Superchargers or something comparable.

In a separate survey for both EV drivers and potential EV drivers, 29% of respondents indicated that DC fast charging (which is about half as fast as Tesla Supercharging but several times faster than Level 2 charging) was a requirement for them to consider a fully electric car, 25% indicated that it was very important for them, and 27% indicated it was somewhat important for them. Only 12% indicated it was “quite unimportant” and 7% “not important at all” for them.

In general, all of these responses regarding fast charging indicate that the charging network and fast-charging (even super-fast-charging) capability are key components of an EV buyer’s purchasing decision.

Onboard Charger Preferences

Additionally, with regard to the onboard charger in an EV, most of the market now sees a 6.6 kW onboard charger as a critical component of the car, while they are much less convinced about the need for a 10 kW onboard charger. However, this may be due to lack of exposure to 10 kW or higher-capacity onboard chargers, and also long-range electric vehicles.

Electric Car Market Projections

VW Golf GTEWhen it comes to market growth, while most of the respondents see electric cars accounting for 10% of the new-car market by 2020, the majority don’t expect electric cars to account for 50% of the new-car market until 2025 or later. Nonetheless, a large percentage (70-71%) think Tesla will disrupt the auto industry, another ~17% are not sure, and only ~12% don’t think it will do so.

EV Driver Satisfaction Is High

Almost across the board, EV-driving respondents are happy they got their EVs. Granted, this survey was disseminated on EV websites, so was likely to attract EV enthusiasts — nonetheless, 96% of respondents said they were happy with the purchase/lease, and under 1% said they weren’t.

Perhaps more telling, 72.5% of respondents who didn’t indicate the following sentence didn’t apply to them strongly agreed with the statement, “People who drive my EV tend to love it.” 21.8% more moderately agreed, 5% were not sure, and only 0.7% moderately disagreed.

The Broad Picture

In conclusion, there are many features, car classes, and improvements to charging infrastructure and capability that auto manufacturers and EV charging companies could implement in order to serve consumer demand and grow the EV market. There are big gaps in the options on the market, and they are gaps consumers want filled. Nonetheless, current EV drivers are very happy with their cars and widely see their key benefits as stimulating demand. They see the future as electric, and they are bringing about that future now by living with EVs or by making plans to join the market.

You can download the full “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want” report here.

Report sponsors include Cost of Solar, Plugless, the Low Voltage Vehicle Electrification Event, and Pono Home.

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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, 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.

  • Freddy D

    “There is no electric car on the market serving the price-range sweet spot…” The Chevy Bolt may actually be the first car in history to land there.

    On car classes, there are pickup-truck people and there are non-pickup people. It’s a cultural line in the US. I would suggest that readers of Cleantechnica and thus survey respondents, have self selected and skew the results from the total US population. This reader is interested in moving all of the energy infrastructure to sustainable and renewable. To do that, products will need to meet consumer demand, including the number-one selling vehicles in the country.

    And yes, this reader aspires toward athletic, performance, technology oriented cars (Tesla, BMW), but I appreciate that different folks have their preferences.

    • Martin

      Yes I used to have a pickup truck, but then found a minivan and a trailer to be more useful for myself (I work in construction/renovations).

  • Martin

    The real test of EV’s will be then you will find lots of them second hand at good prices for those people who do not buy new.
    But I can see as the only problem- not enough of them.
    Just my opinion.

    • Benjamin Nead

      Are you located in the U.S., Martin? Used EVs are actually fairly plentiful here right now. Prices are also very competitive. It’s a buyer’s market.

      • Martin

        No I live in BC Canada.
        And here you see only a few.
        I had talked to a Rental car place, that is were I bought my last two set of wheels and was looking for either a hybrid or electric, but they had hybrids and did not keep them.
        The manager told me, he himself you not get used to no noise when the car was started in electric mode (thought is was not running).
        That was about 18 months ago.

        • Benjamin Nead

          You will probably have to reach out beyond the usual sources where you purchased your ICE cars. Search regionally, via the internet, and be prepared to travel. My used i-MiEV was just over 400 miles away from my southern Arizona home, in a dealer’s lot in the Los Angeles area. I had never bought a car this way before, but it ended up being easier than I thought.

          The basic process was to find one via the dedicated sites that list them, such as this one that caters to Canadian locales . . .


          . . . and then study the reports. I note they are called Car Proof in Canada. If the price is right, the vehicle looks like it didn’t get trashed by the previous owner and it has the features you want, reach out to the dealer.

          Most dealers will allow you to hold the vehicle with a refundable deposit for a certain amount of time. I had mine on hold for about 3 weeks for $1000, until I could sign off on financing with my credit union and figure out travel plans that would mesh with my work schedule. I kept in touch with the dealership during this time and the salesman was actually pretty good with checking in with me weekly, so he could determine I was really serious about the transaction.

          The same technology that allowed me to find a prospective used electric car hundreds of miles from my home also allowed me to find an inexpensive motel that was walking distance from the dealer lot and book a cheap round trip flight. The other thing I did on the internet was book a reliable way to ship the vehicle back home.

          Basically, I took an evening flight to the nearest LA airport to the dealer (LA is a very big town and the cheapest flight to LAX would have ended up being expensive, since it was 60 miles from where I was doing business,) found a shuttle at the airport to get me to the motel, stayed the night, walked up to the dealer the next morning, inspected and test drove the car, signed the papers, confirmed with the shipper via cell phone that the deal was on, saved a little money by figuring out how to get back to the airport on the city bus instead of a shuttle (the $30 or so difference basically paid for my meals while traveling) and fly back home that evening. Two days later, a flatbed rolled up in front of my house with my car.

          All of the above cost about $800 and I factored this
          against what similar used i-MiEVs (if you could find them consistently) in Arizona would cost and, sure enough, they were always about $1000 more than they were in California.

          The only real rough spot in this whole story occurred a day before I flew out to LA. The salesman I had been working with for weeks at the dealership – who was a genuinely nice fellow – handed off the paperwork to his finance manager – who was a bit of a jerk. This finance manager faxed the invoice to my credit union representative, who immediately noticed that the total sales amount had been inflated by about $1500!

          A couple of tense long distance calls occurred where, with my credit union guy by my side, I had to play hardball with the dealership, essentially threatening to pull out of the deal unless they honored the sale price that had been on their online listing for months. They eventually blinked before I did and faxed us an invoice with the correct amounts.
          They knew I would be out several hundred dollars in cancelled flights and lodging, but I knew they wouldn’t make the sale of a funny little electric car that had been sitting on their lot for far too long. So, I actually had the upper hand here . . . and I was pleased to have another finance manager at the dealership – another nice fellow –
          do all my paperwork and make sure I got my refundable deposit back. But watch out with the dealers. Check
          the paperwork carefully. Good luck.

          • Martin

            thank you for all the advice.

          • Benjamin Nead

            You’re welcome. Playing a bit with the parameters on the Canadian Autotraders search engine, I found a 2012 i-MiEV
            in Vancouver with 31700 km (~19,700 miles) on the odometer for $14980 CN (~$10860 US.) The search I performed didn’t include private sales (always more difficult when you attempt to get financing,) and damaged cars.

            I won’t link the above listing here, since the link will go bad as soon as the car is sold. But it was easy to find. The prices on used Leafs and i-MiEVs in Canada do seem to be running a little higher that what we’re seeing in the US, but they’re not too far out of bounds and the cars are there.

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