New Survey Finds Californians Very Interested in Electric Cars

May 27, 2016 | 3:03 pm
David Reichmuth
Senior Engineer, Clean Transportation Program

California has been the leader in EV sales over the last five years, and a new survey helps explain some of the reasons why. Last month we, along with Consumers Union, commissioned a survey of California and Northeast drivers and the results are in.

What we found is encouraging: more than half of California drivers are likely to consider an electric vehicle (EV) in their next vehicle purchase or lease, and more than 65 percent are interested in electric vehicles generally. These survey results should be encouraging news to automakers that are offering EVs or set to bring new EV models to market.

While over 200,000 EVs have been sold in the state, plug-in electric vehicle sales in California today only represent about 3 percent of the new vehicle market. The survey shows that the electric market has real potential for growth. It’s also validation that the interest in offerings like Tesla’s Model 3 shows a much broader desire for EVs in California than some had thought.

How many Californians could potentially use one of today’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicles? Our survey shows that 44 percent of California households could use an electric vehicle with little or no change to their current driving habits and vehicle needs, so there should be plenty of room for the EV market to grow in California. Survey respondents met the criteria for using a typical plug-in hybrid if they have access to parking and an electrical outlet at home, need to carry less than five occupants, and do not need hauling or towing capability.

The survey results also give some insight on what Californians want to see when buying an electric vehicle. The survey suggests that the availability of vehicles to test drive is critical to EV sales, as 86 percent of survey respondents said they wouldn’t buy a new vehicle without test-driving it first. So making sure dealers have EVs in stock and able to drive is an important factor in helping car buyers choose an electric drive car.

Also, over 65 percent of Californians want more electric options, including EVs across a variety of classes, including sedans, SUVs and minivans. More than half think that every automaker should offer a plug-in model for sale. In California, buyers have more choices than everywhere else in the country, with over 20 models of EVs to choose from, including a number of SUVs like the Tesla Model X, Volvo XC90 Twin Engine, and the BMW X5 eDrive. On the other hand, major automakers like Honda and Toyota currently don’t offer plug-in electric vehicles in the U.S., limiting consumer choice.

Another opportunity for growth in EVs is to increase awareness of both the vehicles and current incentives. Both automakers and state officials can do a better job of letting drivers know about existing EV incentives. More than three quarters of California drivers didn’t know the state offers any plug-in electric vehicle incentives, and almost 80 percent weren’t aware of the federal EV tax credit. Together, these programs can lower the purchase price of a plug-in vehicle by over $10,000.

California is already a leader in EVs, but this survey shows that we can do even better with EVs in the state. Continuing the policies and incentives that have got us here will help. Having more vehicle options and better consumer knowledge will also be key to take advantage of this untapped potential of consumer interest in electric cars.