Survey: 42% of Drivers Would Be a Good Fit for Current Generation of Plug-in Cars

By · December 13, 2013

UCS Study

The greatest barrier to EV adoption in the United States may not be technology or infrastructure, but public perception. According to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists, more than four in ten Americans would see their needs met by a plug-in vehicle without altering their driving habits. A full 25 percent would be able to seamlessly switch to a purely electric vehicle.

The study’s criteria for a potential ownership of a plug-in hybrid included access to a parking space with an available outlet, with possible drivers of all-electric cars also required to drive a maximum of 60 miles per day on weekdays and either own a second car or infrequently make longer trips. Nearly seven in ten drivers surveyed drove less than 60 miles per day, though just 56 percent of households were found to have access to a parking spot and electrical outlet.

The Union of Concerned Scientists teamed up with the Consumers Union to survey 1,000 randomly selected adults about their driving habits. Sixty-five percent agreed that EVs are an “essential part of our nation’s transportation future for reducing oil use and global warming pollution.”

So why, if most Americans support electric vehicles and 42 percent would have their needs met by one, aren’t plug-in sales stronger?

Getting the Word Out

In 2011, BMW released an app called EVolve that aimed to teach drivers about electric cars and help them to determine whether they might be a good fit. The app (which was reportedly buggy and is no longer available through the iTunes Store) tracked driving distances and nearby charging stations to show users just how rarely an issue range anxiety would be in their lives if they were driving an EV.

But other studies suggest that range may be a more regular concern for existing EV drivers than you might think. Earlier this year, the California Center for Sustainable Energy released a report finding that 40 percent of electric car drivers were unsatisfied with their cars’ range, with 57 percent saying they would require a range of 150 miles or more to be “extremely satisfied” with their EV.

Regardless of whether plug-ins are a perfect fit for the 45 million Americans estimated by the UCS study, there is undeniably a pronounced gap between that number and the approximately 160,000 or so total U.S. plug-in sales that have taken place since 2010. Certainly, technology, infrastructure and price evolutions will expedite adoption, but incorrect perceptions about how well suited EVs are to our lifestyles are clearly a key stumbling block for many prospective drivers.


· · 18 weeks ago

The content of article is such a joke i dont know where to start.

· · 18 weeks ago

Really, jah? I tend to think it's fairly spot on. The onus, perhaps, is on you to be more specific on your criticisms.

Statistically, every one in our family falls well below the 60 miles per day average. I do my 6 mile round trip work commute by bicycle just about every day. My son, who carts his cello around most days, carpools most mornings with a fellow high school student's parent (our friend/neighbor who provides the ride also falls into this under 60 mile demographic) and takes the bus home. On the days he takes the car, it's around a 5 mile round trip. My wife's workday car commute is about a 10 miles round trip.

· · 18 weeks ago


I'm with Ben on this one. You could start by naming one of your contentions with this article.

Empirically I believe this number is accurate. Bottom line: I think we focus too much on the fact that EVs don't yet work for everyone, and miss the fact that today's potential market is orders of magnitude larger than is currently realized.

· · 18 weeks ago

For starters i would say you guys own an electric car. If by chance you guys are in a nich group. I on the other hand dont own an electric car, not even drove one , only seen maybe 8 or 9 total. So your asking me to buy a car, give way more than an average car and only get only 75 miles. By the way there no fast charging stations ( public) in my state.

· · 18 weeks ago

Nope. Not yet. We've still got old ICE cars in our household. But I've been lucky enough to borrow for 2 to 3 weeks periods each a Leaf, I-MiEV and a Volt.

Make an honest appraisal of your driving distances and situations. What's your round trip work commute? How about those semi-weekly journeys to the grocery store? Would you have enough miles left over to drive a household member to the hospital emergency room after a busier-than-average driving day? The self qualifying starts there.

What you discover fairly quickly, jah, is how easy it is to plug in overnight and have a completely recharged battery by next morning. Depending on your electrical rates (about 9 cents per kiloWatt around here) it costs around 2 to 3 cents per mile to drive electrically, compared to around 13 cent per mile in an economy gas powered car.

Those $23K 2014 I-MiEVs are looking better all the time. My wife and I don't make enough to qualify for the federal tax break and Arizona doesn't provide a point of sale purchase rebate. But annual new car registration here - which is normally fairly pricy - is pocket change for an EV. The kid is off to college next fall (about the time that my Saturn turns 20) and our auto insurance rates head back down then because of that . . . and the insurance company also gives preferential treatment to alternative fuel vehicles, even though the insurance on new vehicles is going to be higher than a 2 decade old beater.

If you want to get behind the wheel of an EV, jah, see if any of the Enterprise rental agencies in your area have Leafs on their lots. Most do in the larger cities these days. The weekend rates are particularly good (something like $10 per day) and you'll get a chance to actually put an EV through the paces for a few days.

· · 18 weeks ago

Im still surprised to see the volt is not more popular than it is now. Car guy should appreciate his power and good road handling, ecolo appreciate his electric only autonomy, scientists should appriciate his great engieneering, range anxiety doesn't exist, it's americain made, etc. Maybe it take more ads on tv and some racing been done.I can do ads and pr for gm if they want .

· · 18 weeks ago

Benjamin, i drive 60 miles round trip to work my wife drives 70 to 90 miles round trip, our plan to to look at the bmw i3 when it hits the
US, with the range extender we should have no problem. But my point is people don't want to spend double the price and quarter the range. I have bad mouth the volt and now i find myself thinking that technology should be the way to go for people needing more miles than batteries can deliver.

· · 18 weeks ago

Well, it works if you can handle the range degradation.

Steve Marsh is known as the best LEAF tester. With 100K miles in 3 years in the BEST LEAF climate possible, he has lost 2 bars. That is 21% range loss. So, a 76 miles range car just became a 60 miles range car. With hwy speed and heat usage, it would be lucky to get 45 miles per charge.

Now, that 45 miles might be still enough for many people. The question is whether you really want a 100K miles car that only has 45 miles range in the cold....

· · 18 weeks ago

I simply couldn't deal with a 60 mile round trip daily commute, regardless of car. Statistically - according to the survey this article cites - you are in the 3 out of 10, jah . . . very much a statistical minority and outside the parameters of the 69% who could easily adapt to a current generation EV lifestyle. Don't know what to tell you. Move closer to work? Find another job nearer to your present dwelling? Wait another 7 to 10 years for better batteries? Best of luck.

· · 18 weeks ago

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with one of Gorr's postings! But the time has arrived. The Volt IMHO represents just about the best design possible given the state of EV battery technology as it is now - and will likely remain for some time to come. EV purists might not like even the faintest whiff of gasoline but there is nothing on the horizon with: an energy density equaling gasoline; AND the ability to 'refill' the charge in the same time it takes to refill a gas tank.

And it isn't just the Volt's range extender that makes it the best, most affordable EV-capable car within the budget of people who are not wealthy but have enough money to 'do the right thing'. The Volt's range extender also permitted GM's engineers to design in protections against the battery deep-cycling that is necessary to squeeze those maximum distances out of reasonably priced EVs. And then there is that battery thermal management system for harsher environments that runs even when the Volt isn't - as long as it is plugged in...

Back to Zack's article... My guess is that most people could get by with the 40+ miles I can get out of my Volt's battery under almost any conditions - so long as they aren't left dead in the water on those few occasions their travel plans require 'something more'.

@jah - it is possible a Prius might be a better fit for both you and your wife. I've never (had to) put it to the test but am told a Volt only gets about 37 mpg if you use the range extender for long distance travel.

I reserve the right to pass judgement again in the 5 or 10 years I plan to keep my Volt. IF it holds up, however, I think it is destined to become one of the all-time greats - an American Voltswagen!

· · 18 weeks ago

@world2steven wrote: The Volt IMHO represents just about the best design possible given the state of EV battery technology as it is now - and will likely remain for some time to come.

"best design possible" is a pretty strong term, certainly not justified here. There are many scenarios and customers for which the Volt is far from the best fit. It got crossed off the list very quickly for our two-car household because it was ill-suited for the short-range commute handled by our EV (just no need to pay all that money for the ICE), and had far less passenger space and lower long-range MPG than our hybrid. A Volt MPV5 would get serious consideration from us, but GM has so far declined to bring that more practical package to market.

That's not to say the Volt isn't a very good fit for many customers, e.g., singles, or childless couples who never drive adult friends anywhere, or a second car for medium-range commuting and weekend shopping. But other plug-ins are better fits for different customers, like one of the Ford Energis or a LEAF. What if you like driving electric, live near work and most of your shops and services, but need a vehicle to take on road trips with your young children? A Prius PlugIn might be the way to go.

My point isn't that the Volt is a terrible vehicle - it certainly isn't. But like every other plug-in out there today, it embodies a series of choices and compromises. There's no basis for claiming that the balance it strikes is the one "perfect" balance just because it was the best available match to your needs. Other balances will be better matched to other buyers.

· · 18 weeks ago

@vike1108: Lots of good points in your reply. I drove a LEAF prior to my Volt and my back-seat passengers DEFINITELY preferred it. GM definitely needs to expand the formats in which they offer the Volt drive train - and not just to a $70,000 Cadillac! But it looks like you use the word 'fit' literally. I was referring to GM's use of existing battery technology.

If indeed there was "just no need to pay all that money for the ICE", i.e. if your commutes are well within the range capability of your EV and you don't need to deep-cycle your battery to make them, good for you. But what about the next buyer of your EV?

We also have a '2 (actually 3) car household'. But my wife wouldn't consider buying a car she couldn't take on the road if necessary - and, to be candid, I wouldn't be real happy being behind the wheel of an ICE any more than absolutely necessary. All parties in any car-sharing household have to have enough commitment to EV technology to be willing to put up with the occasional car swapping required when one of those cars is a 'pure' EV.

Even if you don't use the Volt's ICE / range extender, the extra money is not a waste. It allowed GM's engineers to use a slightly smaller (cheaper) battery while adding an energy-consuming battery thermal management system - an absolute necessity for climates like Arizona's. And, if and when you drive a Volt long enough to lower the battery's storage capacity to what GM considers replacement levels, you still have a 'plug-in hybrid' with a by-definition 'new' ICE out of which you should be able to squeeze many more miles.

P.S. I know someone unquestionably committed to renewable energy and EV technology who drives a plug-in Prius. The Energis may not have the same limitation but without that commitment I expect many people would quickly tire of having to recharge every 10 miles to 'drive electric'.

· · 18 weeks ago

Looks like jah says he's considering a BMW i3 with an ICE range extender. This might fulfill his long range requirements quite nicely. The funky styling and handle-less side rear doors have been debated extensively here. But what might matter most to some is that it's got a very generous rear cargo hold.

A local Leaf lessee I know who is ordering an i3 has been assured by the BMW rep that the battery compartment features an extensive heating/cooling management system, which keeps things at around a constant 20° C (68° F) constant.

This buyer, by the way, is going to opt for the SAE-CSS version, as it's assumed that the GoE3 L-3 at the Bookman's Sports Exchange here in Tucson (already wired with the plug, but waiting on the electronics card) will be ready by the time the cars get here. Ditto for the matching L-3 at Picacho Peak, which will make all-electric drives to Phoenix and back a fairly convenient reality in a car like the i3.

What remains to be seen how the i3's ICE range extender integrates with the electric drivetrain. I imagine some extensive test driving will occur with a near depleted battery so it can be seen how the car behaves during and after the transition to the ICE.

· · 18 weeks ago

This whole article would be a no issue if all electric cars came with a optional range extender. Bmw says they have a 650cc motorcycle engine with a 2.3 gallon fuel tank that will double the miles? Man if the leaf had that you wouldn't be able to buy one. Why ? Sold Out.

· · 17 weeks ago

I think number of drivers in this survey should be increased. From long travel to city drivers this will give us real insight .

· · 17 weeks ago

@davidmurre: The survey definitely needs to be more sophisticated. In the first place if it is '60 miles one way to a destination providing an opportunity to CONVENIENTLY recharge, then the distance ought to be increased to 120 miles. It also rules out drivers who need to haul more that 4 passengers - reasonable with today's market offerings but not with respect to the ability to build a car with today's technology that could haul as many people as any ICE-powered vehicle, albeit at a cost in range.

To return to the range extender theme, I'd like to see the response to question something like "how many miles a day do you ROUTINELY - or even MUST YOU - drive a day?" The question then becomes 'what percentage of one's daily commute must be electrically drivable for a PHEV like the Volt to make economic sense?'

In general, it appears this range extender idea could be pushed further to overcome EV design constraints imposed by present levels of battery technology.

· · 17 weeks ago

@world2steven : completely agree with you !

· · 17 weeks ago


Not to beat a dead horse, but I will add that nobody is asking you to buy one. The article only claims that many people would be a good fit for one based on their driving needs. If the i3 + REx intrigues you and works for your needs, great! If you get one (or even test drive one) be sure to share your experience with it. I plan on test driving one as soon as I can.

· · 17 weeks ago

@Steven, David . . .

The survey also "rules out" people who commute 200 miles to work and carry 10 or more passengers at supersonic speeds through a primarily non-nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, uphill both ways in snowstorms when it's 150° outside on the 9th day of the week . . . but I digress.

But seriously . . . what was attempted by the Union Of Concerned Scientist (did anyone actually click the hyperlink in the above article?) was to identify a sizable majority - 69% - of Americans who could readily adapt existing EV technology. That technology may not be ready for you, but don't take offense if you're part of the 31%. Hybrids and PHEVs are already here.

One of the things that struck me when I was publicizing the local National Plug In Day event a few months ago - specifically, when I found myself walking into businesses, asking owners/employees to hang a poster for me in their storefront window and quickly chatting with whoever was behind the counter - was that a sizable number of these reasonably intelligent people simply didn't know production electric cars exist and can be purchased today.

Many cited a vague reference to the "Who Killed the Electric Car?" movie and kind of assumed I never saw it or heard of it. I then had to tell them that a lot has happened since 2006 (much less the making of a sequel movie.) I'm going to assume that 69% of them - perhaps more - could exist very happily with an EV. The hard part is bringing them 7 years forward into the present day on this particular topic.

· · 17 weeks ago

Hardly an unbiased organization doing the research. The first rule of thumb for doing any research is impartiality.

· · 17 weeks ago

Well, Michael, which of your favorite Koch brothers-funded right wing
think tanks would you suggest to do an "impartial" study on electric cars?

· · 17 weeks ago

This a relatively accurate estimate of potential market based on physical parameters. I would just point out that this says nothing about the psychology of the individuals however, and whether they are open minded enough to accept new things without coercion. Surely once there are enough EVs out there that it becomes a visible and less slandered thing, many a follower will jump on the band wagon, just as with cell phones and flat screens. Most people do not make decisions based on rational input, but rather emotion and possibly group think. As I mentioned, they are followers. Fortunately, there are enough that do think about things to lead those that are fearful and resistent to change.
There are many things we can do that would be improvements in our lives, but astoundingly, many people cannot fathom altering there habits. It's one of the confounding tenets of humankind that so many are resistent to improving their lives because they are invested (both emotionally and financially) in the past.

· · 17 weeks ago

I can't think of a bigger waste of time than to try to convince a left wing Berkeley radical regarding the merits of a politically unbiased study.

· · 17 weeks ago

You nailed it, Kenny, and - once again - Micheal shows his true colors . . .
red, by way of Orange County.

· · 17 weeks ago

At least I am not waving a communist flag.

· · 17 weeks ago

No, but I would assume this one is more to your liking . . .

· · 17 weeks ago

@brotherkenny4 (et al): Umm, yeah - all this goofy political rhetoric aside, I'd like to get back to the spotlight Kenny has put on the key to tepid EV uptake - psychology. As buyers we aren't resisting EVs because they don't meet our needs, but rather because they don't meet our expectations.

What we expect is to pull a car running on fumes into one of the zillion gasoline dispensaries that dot the landscape and pull away a few minutes later ready to go a few hundred miles; what we haven't learned to want is NEVER going to ANY "station" because we plug in our cars when we get home, just like our cell phones.

What we expect are engines that roar and snarl and spew poisonous gas; what we haven't learned to want are cars that accelerate quickly and quietly and can't kill us no matter how long they're left running in a garage.

What we expect are portable powerplants so inefficient that the waste heat alone is enough to keep our vehicle interiors comfy in arctic temperatures; what we haven't learned to want are cars that warm themselves off the power grid while parked, getting our vehicle interiors toasty warm before we even get in.

What we expect is to scour the world to pump up the liquefied remains of prehistoric life so we can refine it into the precisely formulated chemical brew that is the one and only way to power our personal vehicles; what we haven't learned to want is being able to power those vehicles off a grid supplied by whatever is easiest or cheapest or most sustainable at the moment, be it coal or nukes or waterfalls or windmills or solar or composting garbage or camels on treadmills.

In short, what we expect is for cars to do what they've always done the way they've always done it; what we haven't learned to want is something different and overall better. But as Kenny optimistically observed, we can learn, as we have over and over through history. EVs are continuing to improve, and with each improvement the spectrum of viable use cases gets that much wider. I think the real point of this study is that the spectrum is already wide enough to cover the mainstream of multi-car households in America. As prices come down and battery capacities and charging infrastructure grow to increase effective range, the EV's intrinsic advantages in operating economy and energy sourcing flexibility will become more obvious as people see their neighbors reaping the benefits.

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