Last year, AAA began asking Americans if they planned to buy an electric car. 15% said yes. AAA plans to ask the same question every year and track the results — at least until electric cars become the norm. This year, 20% of Americans said they are considering an electric car for their next vehicle purchase.
For statisticians, that is a 33% increase, which indicates the J Curve has ended and the S Curve has begun. For the rest of us, it simply means that attitudes are changing, more people are aware that electric cars exist, and the electric car revolution is moving forward more or less on schedule. It also gives the lie to the oft repeated auto industry claims that “nobody wants to buy an electric car.”
Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering and industry relations for AAA, tells Consumer Reports some of the increase in interest between last year and this is due to the sheer number of new EVs on the market. “I think we’re seeing more and more options available to consumers by virtually every automaker at this point. There’s always a gap between intentions and actual behavior, but we do see a year-over-year increase in actual purchase of EVs,” he says.
Among those who said they want an electric vehicle for their next car, 80% said environmental benefits were their primary motivator. 67% said that long term cost savings would influence their purchasing decision, citing fuel savings and low maintenance costs as major selling points.
Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, says EVs have proven to be more reliable than cars powered by internal combustion engines because they have fewer moving parts, which means fewer things that can break and near repair or replacement.
“For instance,” Fisher says, “some of the reliability problems we see are with new multispeed transmissions. Having a one-speed, direct drive eliminates any of those issues.” Automatic transmissions with 8, 9, or 10 gears are becoming more common in conventional cars as manufacturers struggle to hit higher fuel consumption targets. But they can be fiendishly complex and devilishly expensive to repair when they fail.
For example, the Chevy Bolt gets especially high marks for reliability from Consumer Reports. “It’s the most reliable car GM makes, which is especially impressive for a completely new model,” says Anita Lam, CR’s associate director of data integration.
What the AAA survey shows more than anything else is that people are starting to lose their fear of electric cars. Fear is why some cities once required a person to walk in front of automobiles waving flags and sounding klaxons to warn the locals a horseless carriage was approaching. Fear is why your grandmother would never fly in an airplane. Fear is a factor today as autonomous driving technology becomes more common.
Fear of technology was the main story line in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, although many missed the author’s point entirely. Once people lose their fear of new ideas, mass acceptance often follows quickly. For the sake of the environment, that acceptance can’t happen fast enough.