20% May Buy/Lease A Pure Electric Car Next … But Only 48% Can Name A Model

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Originally published on EV Obsession.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently released a new report on public electric vehicle awareness — and specifically on the current barriers to wider awareness and adoption.

The new National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report is based on a study conducted back in February 2015, notably, so things may have changed somewhat since then on some counts (following the Tesla Model 3 reveal, etc).

Tesla Model 3 silver test track photo
Tesla Model 3 photo by Kyle Field (exclusive photo on Tesla Model 3 unveiling test track — more here)


The study findings are based on a 1,015-household sample designed to be representative of the US population. NREL is reportedly planning to repeat the study yearly in order to track the growing transition to electric vehicles.

Here are some of the key findings from the study (“Consumer Views on Plug-in Electric Vehicles-National Benchmark Report”):

Vehicle Purchasing Behaviors

  • 60% of respondent households owned two or more vehicles.
  • 53% stated their last vehicle purchases were sedans.
  • 48% stated their next vehicle purchases would likely be sedans.
  • 29% had purchased vehicles in the last year.

Plug-in Electric Vehicle Awareness

  • 48% were able to name a specific plug-in electric vehicle make and model.
  • 49% reported having seen plug-in electric vehicles in parking lots.
  • 52% stated plug-in hybrid electric vehicles were just as good as or better than traditional gasoline vehicles.
  • 45% stated pure electric vehicles were just as good as or better than traditional gasoline vehicles.
  • 24% stated they would consider or expect to purchase plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for their next vehicle purchase or lease.
  • 20% stated they would consider or expect to purchase pure electric vehicles for their next vehicle purchase or lease.

Barriers to Plug-in Electric Vehicle Acceptance

  • A pure electric vehicle would need to be able to travel 300 miles on a single charge for 56% of respondents to be willing to consider purchasing one.
  • 55% said they would not consider a PEV because the vehicles are too expensive. A majority (70%) stated they expected to pay $30,000 or less for their next vehicle, and 42% expected to pay $20,000 or less.
  • 18% were aware of charging stations on the routes they regularly drove.
  • 53% of respondents could consistently park their vehicles near electrical outlets at home.
  • 51% of respondents would be willing to pay incremental costs for plug-in electric vehicles.

Plug-in Electric Vehicle Acceptance

  • Respondents who were aware of plug-in electric vehicle charging stations were more likely than respondents overall to view plug-in electric vehicles positively and be willing to consider purchasing them.
  • Respondents who were able to name one of the top nine best-selling plug-in electric vehicles were more likely than respondents overall to view plug-in electric vehicles positively and be willing to consider purchasing them.
  • New vehicle purchasers were more likely than used vehicle purchasers to view plug-in electric vehicles positively and be willing to consider purchasing them.

The interviews used for the study were conducted by phone, by the Opinion Research Corporation. Those interviewed were randomly selected — through a dual-frame sampling design, where the sample was drawn from independent landline and cell phone sample frames. The response samples were all weight-adjusted.

While 20% (or 1 out of 5) respondents said their next vehicle could be a pure EV and 24% said so about plug-in hybrids, a key factor to remember is that only 48% could name a specific plug-in electric vehicle model. Were the 20% mainly from the population that could identify an actual EV? Or were they largely from the population that knows nothing about this industry (and is probably equating EVs with conventional hybrids)?

Interestingly, more respondents (49%) said they had seen plug-in electric vehicles in parking lots … than could actually name a plug-in electric vehicle model (48%). But perhaps some respondents had seen cars charging in parking lots without knowing their names.

While the preferences about purchasing preferences may be somewhat interesting, the important thing to realize here is that awareness of these vehicles is still really low. If over half of the respondents can’t name a single EV model, there’s a good chance they aren’t aware of the benefits of EVs and how viable the options on the market would be for their lifestyle and budget.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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29 thoughts on “20% May Buy/Lease A Pure Electric Car Next … But Only 48% Can Name A Model

  • Imagine a sedan you can lease for ~250$ a month, but it basically performs like a BMW 5 series. A BMW 5 series is ~500$ a month to lease.

  • IMO, the 300 mile thing is like the fake grille on the front of the Model S. It will fade as people realize they don’t need a gas equivalent. 300 miles is over 4 hours of driving. Most people will not drive 4 hours non stop, no matter how great the car range. The kidney and stomach range is shorter.
    Its like overnight charging instead of gassing up at the pump. Perspectives of EV owners change once they use them, As experience grows, those old notions will disappear.

  • I consider it my responsibility as a Tesla owner to educate people about EVs, and most are really interested and ask a lot of questions.

    • Thank you Charlotte

    • Thank you.
      I think it’s a responsibility we all shoulder, but the more we can show and tell, the better.

  • 52% of people are not cleantechnica junkies? That can’t be right.

    • Man, we’re going to have to get back out on the streets and ask folks if they’re interested in trying a little taste. For free….

      • This is where it could get interesting Zach. The half not taking an interest in mother earth may well pay for that with real dollars.

        After the article on AustralianSuper the other day, and the trend to fossil fuel divested funds, I did a bit of reading. In this mainstream media article, you can smell the fear within the coal industry. Divestment must be hurting them, or they see potential for it to hurt:

        A decision to divest requires confidence in a better life after coal and oil. That’s a confidence more likely to be found in cleantechnica readers. It also takes a bit of care factor to contact one’s super fund and demand divestment.
        If those not taking an interest in the planet are the ones still invested when coal (then oil, then gas) hits the skids, that’s karma.

  • To me, the salient point of the study is the budget the respondent agree to spend for an EV. The current and planned EV offering isn’t that affordable yet.
    It might take some time to get EVs under $20K.
    For some more years – as we see it already now – EVs will be for people with good revenues and ICEs for the others. Such unbalanced transition might mean that due to the down slope of ICEs, fuel and fuel stations will become scarce and more expensive, adding a burden on the ones who can’t afford it.

    • When you talk about “under $20k” do remember how much is saved in operating expense compared to a ICEV. Might want to take $20k and add in six years of fuel and maintenance savings. Make the monthly cost during loan payoff equal to owning/driving an ICEV.

      If the alternative is a 30 MPG gasmobile with 13,000 miles per year and $3/gallon gas the cost over six years would be more than $6k higher. That makes a $26k EV equal to a $20k ICEV in terms of out of pocket cost.

      • I totally agree with the long term cost you detail.
        Unfortunately, most people with low budgets don’t have the money to pay the upfront cost, not even mentioning those unable to calculate the long term benefits and seeing EVs as beyond their reach.

        • Since most people buy cars based on the monthly payment amount, if it can be shown that the net cost of an EV is the same or less than an ICE vehicle, then I think EVs will sell.

          Here is the sales pitch: “This EV costs $25,000 instead of $18,000 but because you don’t have to
          buy gas, you will be saving $100 month which we can be used for your
          monthly car payment and still keep you within your budget.” You will also
          save by not having to do an oil change or other scheduled maintenance
          every 15,000 miles, so the EV is actually a good deal even though the initial price is higher.”

          • Correct. As we see EVs selling for less than $30k hitting the market we should start to see articles and TV programs that inform people about how the higher monthly payment is canceled out by lower fuel/charge costs.

            A $20k car financed at 4.5% for 6 years would mean a payment of $317/mo.

            A $26k car financed at 4.5% for 6 years would mean a payment of $412/mo.

            Right now not many people know much about EVs. By 2020 a lot of people should know about EVs and how to compare costs between the two technologies.

            It hits me that as battery costs drop Tesla may be able to drop the base price of their Mod 3 to $30k. A lot of people who would otherwise buy a ICEV in the low $20k range might be stretching to get a base level Tesla.

            $24k ICEV = $381 pmt + $100 fuel/oil = $481

            $30k EV = $476 pmt.

            Hummmm….. Do I want a Camry or a Tesla?

          • I expected the utility companies to go this route years ago, but I’ve seen little action. They should be the ones hustling EVs to make up for their lost revenue from home solar.

          • Two of the CA utilities, PG&E and SoCal Edison, are providing millions of dollars to assist with the installation thousands of charge outlets in apartment and workplace parking lots. I think the utilities are starting to get it.

            Several utilities already have special charging rates for EVs. PG&E offer 9c/kWh charging. Detroit has a 5c/kWh rate.

    • Since the average new US car costs $33,000, people who are putting that budget are not going to end up buying a new car of any kind. However, you are correct about the consequences, because they will probably buy a used gas car instead. The supply of desirable used EVs will take a long time to build up. Over time, they will probably drift towards car-sharing programs, and those fleets will be heavily EV because of fuel costs. People whose old cars break down often will fall into the habit of using these services until they start to consider making a full-time switch rather than having to buy another used car.

      I’m so old I can try to keep my low-mileage 2008 Focus going another five years while saving up for an EV that will be my last car. Because when I’m in my 60s I will not want to mess with gas stations or repair hustlers.

      • I think the median price of a new car in the US is between $20k and $25k. The average price is pulled up by the smaller number of very expensive cars sold.

        It will take some time for used EVs to be available in numbers but we might see a lot coming off lease after three years or so.

        Self-driving, shared ride cars should make a huge difference in some people’s lives. One hears about people who can’t afford a car on their budget and have to spend an hour or two commuting to work because they have to make bus changes, often waiting for a connection. Driving might take well less than a half hour.

          • Average, median, and mode are different measurements of central tendency.

            Add up the cost of all cars sold and divide by the number sold and you get the average.

            List all the cars sold by price, find the car right in the middle. That’s the median (like the highway median).

            Let’s look at a small number of cars, just to keep it simple.

            1. $18,000
            2. $20,000
            3. $24,000
            4. $24,000
            5. $1,500,000

            Average car cost = $137,000

            Median $24,000 (#3 car)

            Mode $24,000 (there are two $24k cars and only one of everything else).

            The median price tells you more about how much people are spending on cars since a few really expensive cars can pull the average away from what most people are spending.

            What we buy a lot of in the US are Honda Civic, Toyota Camry level cars.

  • If 20% is representative of all US New car buyers for their NEXT car that is 3.4 million annually in terms of pent up demand – and increasing in proportion to awareness.

    Note also that 20% cited here is potentially closer to 40% of the new car buyers surveyed.

    The sample is too small for hard conclusions but it is indicative and supportive of an impending collapse in consumer demand for ICE vehicles that is more than three times the 7% collapse in demand that bankrupted GM in 2008.

  • The figure which mostly concerns me is ‘53% of respondents could consistently park their vehicles near electrical outlets at home’. That leaves a massive 47% who do not have access to overnight charging. And I would bet that in Europe and in more densely populated cities, the situation is even worse.

    • Over 250 million cars in the US. By the time we finish building EVs for the 125 million or so with places to plug in we can get the outlets ready for the next 125 million…..

    • Yes, low access now, but companies like Chargepoint are changing this by offering a charging station that can be installed on the apartment property with the billing going to the resident. I wonder how many EV owners that rent are aware of this and how may apartment owners too? This may not be possible in areas with only street level parking, but I would think that if you can put a parking meter next to the street, you should be able to put a charger too.

    • Yep. Some good startups working on it: Powertree Services, Evercharge, …. But this is one of the last remaining “big” hurdles, imho. … Speaking as someone living in a condo who doesn’t want to spend months fighting with the condo association to let me put a plug in the parking garage wall.

  • Quite frankly, and as somebody who used to live in the US (for a couple of years in the mid 90s), if Americans paid the full price for Gasoline as we do here in Australia (i.e. approximately $4.50-$4.70 a US Gal) and other places also I suspect, then it would be just pure economics that would drive them to adopt EVs. Unfortunately, the expected and forecasted drop in oil will not accelerate the uptake of EVs in a hurry I feel.

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