Unpacking The Latest Electric Cars Poll Numbers

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Earlier this year, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, together with the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Policy Research, conducted a poll designed to discover what Americans are thinking about climate change and how to address it. A portion of the survey focused on people’s attitudes toward electric cars.

Most of the mainstream pressed totally ignored what people had to say about global warming to focus on the part of the survey that deals with why or why not those who participated in the poll see electric cars in their future. The headlines trumpeted the shocking news that a substantial number of them are not ready to buy electric cars.

NPR, which is “state sponsored media” according to that arbiter of all truth, Elon Musk, said, “Many Americans aren’t yet sold on going electric for their next car, poll shows.” CNBC trumpeted, “Nearly half of Americans say it’s unlikely they’ll buy an electric vehicle as their next car: Poll.” The Associated Press, which sponsored the poll, put it differently. “4 in 10 say next vehicle may be electric,” it said.

Electric Cars & Pubic Opinion

Boiled down to the essence, there were two main reasons why people said that electric cars were not for them. First, they said they were too expensive. There is some truth to that. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of an electric vehicle in the US is $58,000. Cox Auto says the average price of a new vehicle in February was $48,763. With interest rates rising, the cost of borrowing money to buy a car has gone up dramatically in the past 6 months. Nevertheless, customers can now purchase a new Tesla Model 3 for around $43,500 after the federal tax credit — $5000 below the national average for new cars.

Second, 80% of the people cited a lack of chargers for electric cars as a reason why they would not consider buying one. That needs some further explanation. There is a general lack of understanding among the driving public about charging electric cars. Nobody worries about running out of gas. There are gas stations everywhere. Even if you are driving somewhere you have never been before and don’t know the area, you can be reasonably certain there will be a gas pump nearby when you need one.

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But here’s the thing. Nobody has a gas pump inside their garage (well, almost nobody — farmers may have a pump handy to keep their tractors running, but they are not supposed to use that gasoline or diesel to fuel their personal cars and trucks). Most people have electricity available near where they park their cars, even if it is only a standard 110 volt wall outlet. Replenishing the source of energy for a car at home is something they have never experienced before. Because it is out of the ordinary, it is strange and a little suspect. New things are treated with skepticism. It’s human nature.

The idea that there must be a DC fast charger on every street corner is just plain wrong. Most of our personal vehicles sit idle 95% of every day, usually at work or at home. Who cares how long it takes to charge if the car isn’t being used? It takes about 15 hours to charge my Tesla Model Y to 80% if I let the battery get down to about 15% or so. That’s because I only have access to a wimpy 20 amp 240 volt circuit. But so what? I plug in when I am done driving for the day and the next morning I am good to go. I charge about once a week on average and I never waste time going to a gas station.

If I take a trip, there are charging stations along the way. My car tells me where they are and how long I can expect to charge in order to reach my destination. The issue is not so much a lack of chargers, it is chargers that don’t work and providing access to chargers for people who live in apartment building and condos. The hysteria about charging infrastructure is one-third fact-based (if we can’t charge our electric cars, that’s a problem) and two-thirds a lack of information about charging.

Manufacturers need to do a much better job of educating drivers about electric cars and charging. 67% of respondents said they had read some or only a little about electric cars. People fear what they don’t know and don’t understand. 100 years ago, people feared automobiles. There were few roads and no gas stations. People who owned “horseless carriages” were considered eccentrics.

The Glass Is Half Full

For those who welcome the advent of electric cars, the AP survey is actually very good news. 40% said their next car might be electric! Right now, EV sales have just cracked the 5% barrier in America. Most people who study such things say that is precisely the point where new ideas transition from being solely the province of early adopters to becoming mainstream. Once that 5% barrier is crossed, there’s no turning back. What was once new and strange will soon be familiar and commonplace.

The Biden administration is pushing forward with plans to add a half million EV chargers across the land — not just along highways, but in places where they are desperately needed, such as near apartment buildings and condo complexes and in low income neighborhoods. New battery technologies are being announced almost daily, manufacturers are starting to lower their prices of some electric cars, and more used EVs are becoming available. The fear that the batteries in electric cars won’t last is being replaced with real world experience that suggests they are lasting longer than anyone expected just a few years ago. The EV revolution has begun, it’s real, and it’s going to pick up speed over the next few years.

The Rest Of The Story

The AP/NORC polling has been taking place since 2017. It covers a wide range of topics, including politics and economics. In 2017, 57% of those who responded said that climate change is caused entirely or mostly by human activity. In the latest poll, that number is down to 49%. However the percentage of people who said they climate change is important rose from 22% in 2027 to 28% in 2023.

Most of us know that polls are only as good as the people conducting them. AP/NORC are quite proud of their prowess and professionalism. They explain that the latest poll of 5,408 adults was conducted between January 31 and February 15 using a combined sample of interviews from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population, and interviews from opt-in online panels. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points. The AmeriSpeak panel is recruited randomly using address-based sampling methods, and respondents later were interviewed online or by phone.

But opinions are like noses. Everybody has one. While it is useful to know people’s attitudes about electric cars, it is not the whole story. Transportation is a major contributor to carbon emissions and those emissions are degrading the environment to the point where human life on Earth is likely to become less sustainable. Regardless of what your opinion might be about electric cars, they must be our future if we are to have a future at all.

The governments of several nations are pushing to phase our cars with internal combustion engines by 2035. Many are of the opinion that date is much too early, but if prior patterns of how quickly new technologies go from fringe to mainstream are applicable to electric cars, the changeover will take place much sooner than that — regardless what people’s opinions about driving on electrons instead of molecules may be today.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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