Survey Says: Over 40% of American Drivers Could Use an Electric Vehicle

, Senior policy and legal analyst | December 11, 2013, 11:46 am EDT
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The market for electric vehicles (EVs) is booming. More EVs have been sold in 2013 than were sold in calendar years 2010-2012 combined and more EV models and designs are coming to showroom floors than ever before. Despite all of this good news, however, EVs only make up less than 1% of the total vehicles on the road in the United States and the ever-present chorus of “EV-haters” continue to carol the futility of driving on electricity.

The dichotomy between the recent rise of EV sales and the sustained backlash against EVs raises the question: are today’s EVs a suitable choice for drivers, or are they a technology destined for lonely Ebay auctions like Betamax or Minidiscs? To answer this question, UCS teamed up with Consumers Union, the nonpartisan policy wing of Consumer Reports, to assess whether today’s EVs could meet the vehicle needs and driving habits of American drivers.

Based on a nationally representative survey conducted in September, we found that 42% of American households with a vehicle could use one of today’s EVs. These results demonstrate that today’s EVs could meet the driving needs of millions of Americans, and are an oil saving technology that is here to stay.

The difference between battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

Before I continue onto survey results, first some background on the types of EVs we studied.

PHEVs — plug-in hybrid electric vehicles — run both on electricity and gasoline, and have a plug, like the Chevy Volt. When using the electric motor, these vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, though the range of driving on electricity for these vehicles can be fairly limited, which is why they have a backup gasoline engine so drivers don’t need to worry about running out of juice with nowhere to plug-in. Of course, PHEV drivers can still run out of gasoline.

BEVs — battery electric vehicles — are vehicles that run exclusively on electricity. The Ford Focus Electric, Nissan LEAF, and Tesla Model S are some examples that fall into this category. These vehicles have no gasoline engine, longer electric driving ranges compared to PHEVs, and never produce tailpipe emissions (though there are emissions associated with charging these vehicles, which UCS has previously examined).

National electric vehicle survey results

So how did we determine who could use an EV? For PHEVs, we assessed whether drivers have: (1) access to parking and a plug, (2) no need for hauling or towing capacity, and (3) no need to carry more than 4 passengers around on a daily basis. Although some PHEVs coming to the market will be able to haul or tow gear, or carry more than 4 passengers, we wanted to see who could use the PHEVs that are available today, not tomorrow.

UCS-Half-Oil-12-10-13-1200px-panel-1To determine the potential market for BEVs, in addition to the three criteria used for the above PHEV determination, we examined (1) the average daily distance people drive, (2) whether they have access to charging at home, and (3) whether they already own multiple vehicles or take less than 6 long road trips per year. Because a national network of fast charging stations is just starting to be installed, we assumed that a single-car household taking frequent long weekend or holiday drives would not be a good fit for a BEV.

It turns out that most people — 69%, in fact — drive within the range of most BEVs available today. Here’s a breakdown of our survey takers average daily driving habits compared to the range of today’s BEVs

Why drivers should choose electric vehicles

So millions of Americans could drive an EV, but what does that mean? If every one of the 45 million U.S. households who could use an EV based on our survey did for one year, we would save:

  • 15 billion gallons of gasoline, more than California used in 2012;
  • 89 million metric tons of global warming pollution, equal to taking 14 million gasoline cars off the road for a year;
  • Over $32 billion in fuel costs, based on average prices for gasoline and electricity

Charging ahead

Take note EV critics: this survey not only shows that there is a large potential market for EVs that will likely continue to expand as EV technology and access to charging improves, but also that Americans think EVs are a critical oil saving solution. 65% of survey respondents agree that EVs are an essential part of our nation’s transportation future for reducing oil use and global warming pollution, and 60% of survey takers would consider owning an EV.

Help set the facts straight about EVs today by sharing our new infographic with the survey results, and stay tuned for more opportunities to charge ahead on EVs.

Frontpage image courtesy of Motorblog.

Posted in: Vehicles Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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  • Hynek S.

    How does electric motor burns 2.3 metric tons of CO2. That’s what pissing me the most. Is it not measured as it comes out of internally combustion engine? So ho is it measured on EV? Where is CO2 comming out from EV?
    Dear American people, EVs are NOT less dirty, not even little bit. EVs are a 100% pure clean. Only thing that comes out EV is clean nothing.
    Does EPA includes massive amounts of pollution and wasted energy from pumping, transporting, refining and producing gasoline into CO2 numbers of every ICE vehicle just like you showing in your info for EVs?! Is it not a difference from official CO2 numbers fom ICE cars and unofficial numbers for EVs? Do you know for sure how electricityis produces for every EV driver?
    How does hybrid and ev produce basically simmilar amout of co2? Is co2eq from grid includes into plug in cars also together with co2 from ice?
    I read in some article online that huge amount of electricity is used to produce and refine gasoline. Is that included together with engine co2?

    • Jenny S.

      EVs produce emissions, not out of their tailpipe, but because the electricity they’re powered by when you plug in comes from an electricity grid, and electricity grids produce emissions.

      Still cleaner though, as the graphic shows. About twice as clean as a conventional car getting good gas mileage.

  • Thanks, I loved the infographic on screen. I downloaded the PDF and printed it, thinking it would be great to put in the window of my plug-in car. But it’s unreadable on one page. If you set it up in two columns on a tall or wide page, I think it would work really well!

  • I have to chime in and agree with Chad’s comments. My wife and I have a 2013 Leaf (“my car”) and a 2009 Honda Civic (“her car”), and on the rare occasion when I have to drive her car I’m amazed by how much noise, vibration, and overall clunkyness there is in the driving experience. Even if I weren’t radically reducing my carbon footprint or saving about 10 cents per mile driven on fuel costs, I would still strongly prefer an EV over any gasoline or diesel fueled vehicle.

    The only thing keeping millions of people from buying EVs right now is lack of awareness. I do everything I can to help people learn about EVs, such as blogging and going to my local National Plug-In Day event and talking to people thinking of taking the plug plunge, but we still have a long way to go.

  • Chad Schwitters

    The survey and results are great, but you left out a very important reason why drivers should choose electric: it is more fun to drive! Instant torque is addictive. Electric cars have the best of performance, luxury and economy cars all rolled up in to one. My wife and I both drive them, and there’s no way we’ll ever go back. The noises, vibration, dull response, fuel costs and maintenance requirements of gasoline cars are something nobody would put up with if they were new to the market today. Take a test drive!

    This isn’t just my opinion. The highest owner-satisfaction score Consumer Reports ever reported for a car is 99%, for the Tesla Model S. Before the Tesla results were available, the highest-scoring car for multiple years was the Chevrolet Volt. And the Nissan Leaf is not far behind, despite the Nissan Versa gas platform that it is loosely based on being the lowest-scoring vehicle in the survey. Electrifying a car is the best way to make owners love it.