What’s Holding Females Back From EV Ownership? Deciphering The EV Gender Divide

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Envision this scenario. Two gal pals plan an extensive road trip in an electric vehicle (EV). They select their route meticulously, anticipating periodic stops at charging stations along the way so that they don’t fall below 20% charge. The EV gender divide makes several other criteria nearly as important, too, so they may choose other routes, destinations, or even gas-powered vehicles if these criteria aren’t available. How could long distance EV travel be so different for male and female genders?

In fact, it’s more than just travel concerns that are holding back females from participating in the EV revolution. What’s behind the stats?

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Often, cars are discussed as cultural objects that shape specific, and often gendered, identities, practices, and communities. Understanding electric mobility cultures and the role of various EV users in the low carbon mobility transition is imperative in assuring a successful electric transportation future.

The main reasons people express for buying EVs are economical, a fascination for the built-in technology, EV specific comforts, environmental concerns, and a green lifestyle.

A common consensus among EV owners is that driving an EV puts them in a different category of car consumers.

Abstractly, EVs appeal equally to both females and males. Yet EVs tend to be framed within differently gendered narratives, according to an informative study in Transportation Research. A productive way to understand why acceptability and degree of EV comfort differ among genders is by looking at 3 separate dimensions: symbolic, cognitive, and practical.

  • Symbolic: Driving an EV makes drivers feel better and more environmentally friendly. Now sometimes referred to as “green and gendered,” EVs are a personal transportation modality that reveal different gendered practices and preferences because females are more likely to associate automobility with environmental harm. A second symbolic construction of the EV as linked to techno-oriented masculinity has dominated perceptions of EV ownership and driving experiences. The notion that females are less interested in or knowledgeable about technology leads some researchers to conclude that fewer females will consider an EV purchase.
  • Cognitive: Pre-EV purchase actions include conferring with friends, colleagues, and family members; searching online reviews, social media and specialist forums; speaking to car dealers; and, test driving. Cognitive calculations of barriers and affordances which subsequently become internalized lead more males to purchase and drive EVs.
  • Practical: As Scharff described in her 1992 iconic history of the automobile, several original makes of early cars were electric, which appealed to females since they were cleaner and easier to use — no engine crank involved. As internal combustion engine (ICE) use evolved, though, cars became the domain of males. These typically relate to EV battery capacity and driving range. With EV models that have a shorter range, less developed available charging infrastructure, and lengthier fill-times compared to ICE vehicles, managing an EV for females can become concerning.

On the EV Road Again

Consumer Reports released results of a nationally representative survey in August, 2022 that fielded consumer attitudes and awareness of electric-only vehicles and low carbon fuels. 8,027 US consumers participated in the survey, which found that males (43%) are more likely than females (31%) to say they would get an electric-only vehicle if they were to buy or lease a vehicle today. The folks at Consumer Reports interpreted those results to say that currently male respondents are more interested in, and more familiar with, EVs than females.

Anticipating broken chargers: The two gals in our scenario knew they needed to plan a mileage cushion to compensate for chargers that are out of service. They chose charging stations that were compatible with the apps they had already downloaded, whenever possible. EVs constitute a heterogeneous group of car technologies in which different models with different characteristics are likely to be domesticated differently. “I love not having to go to gas stations,” said Francie Jain, a Tesla owner who spoke to 19th News. Females tend to express satisfaction with Tesla Superchargers, because they are convenient and seamless to use; they’re also conveniently located.  Tesla occupies a contested position when it comes to gendered notions about EV ownership, associating its features as ideal for females.

Limitation of suggested range: Because females are less likely to own homes and are more likely to live in multifamily dwellings where charging stations are often not part of the parking infrastructure, charging EVs takes on a different role for many females than do ICE vehicles. A 200 mile charge, in all reality, allows for about 150 certain miles. That anticipated mileage could be less if driving through cold temperatures, which can drain a battery. Or if the weather is hot, running an air conditioner can eat miles. Those factors affect female’s comfort with EVs.

Personal safety is a must: Charging station locations must offer features that build in personal safety. That means predictable, reliable central locations with lots of other people around, such as mall, restaurant, and retail store parking lots. Charging during the day is a must. So, too, are chargers that are foregrounded in parking lots — unlike the typical current back parking lot placements. That’s because an EV takes about 30 minutes to build an acceptable charge, and females must feel secure for that entire period to be confident about EV ownership.

Total daily driving distance: A Maryland study targeted environmental issues as the main reason for purchasing/leasing EVs, but the EV owners who had longer commutes were more concerned about the price and status of the EV owner and efficiency and performance than were those with shorter commutes.

To Buy or Not to Buy: The EV Gender Divide

S&P Global Mobility analysis indicates that personal new vehicle registrations from the four biggest EV startups available on the US market skew overwhelmingly male.

EV brands’ female buyer representation:

  • Tesla 33.1%
  • Polestar 24.7%
  • Lucid 19.5%
  • Rivian 14.5%.

In the first half of 2021, less than 30% of electric vehicles were purchased by women. However, a separate 2022 survey found that 47% of women say that in the next 5 years they’d be interested in purchasing one, compared with 53% of men.

Socioeconomic factors: Socio-demographic factors, including education and income, play a significant role in preferences attributes of participants for purchasing/leasing an EV and in the commuting travel behavior and pattern and of EV drivers. Electric cars are still pricier than their gas-fueled counterparts. The average price of a new electric car is around $61,000, compared with $49,000 for a ICE car. This is becoming less of an issue as more models come online, federal rebates lower EV prices, and more females learn that EVs are, on average, cheaper to maintain.

Experiences at car dealerships: Not much has changed since a 2016 Sierra Club survey of more than 300 dealerships around the country where volunteers recorded their experience shopping for an electric vehicle. The results were dismaying — more than 1 in 5 Ford and Chevy dealers had failed to charge an EV so it could be taken for a test drive. Only around 1/2 of salespeople explained how to fuel a plug-in vehicle, and only 1/3 discussed the tax credits available to buyers. Accusations of dealers who use bait and switch tactics, misrepresentation, and misleading advertising continue in the industry, which curtail the desire for females to purchase EVs.

Owning an EV increases all measures: Owning and using EVs influences female driver identities and actual driving practices. “So if women are being less exposed to them, it makes sense that they’re showing lower interest overall,” said Quinta Warren, associate director of sustainability policy at Consumer Reports. “There’s also the fact that women said that they have less familiarity with the fundamentals of owning an [electric vehicle] … So I think a way to address all of this, obviously, is some exposure, some education, to create more familiarity.”

Final Thoughts

The US is designating more funding than ever before into EV infrastructure and rebates. That’s great, as transportation emissions now constitute two-fifths of domestic emissions from burning fossil fuels. For EVs to be truly ubiquitous, however, more areas of EV ownership need to be made transparent for females — that mean curricular education for young adolescents, car dealerships that embrace potential male and female EV buyers, convenient instruction for female owners about EV use and care, and reimagining charging in public spaces. In that way, the domain of EVs will expand to consider the experience of every potential user.

$5 billion has been allocated in the 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand public charging stations, and part of those expansion and upgrades should be directed to female remote charging safety and charging infrastructure siting.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

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