Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want

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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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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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