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

December 11, 2013 | 11:46 am
Josh Goldman
Former contributor

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.