Survey: To Be Satisfied, Electric Car Drivers Want 150 Miles of Range

By · May 17, 2013

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (C.C.S.E.), based in San Diego, this week released the results of the nation’s largest survey of plug-in vehicle drivers. It conveys a clear picture of who is buying electric cars and plug-in hybrids, how they are using their vehicles, and their charging patterns.

As we’ve seen from past surveys, EV owners drive their cars an average of nearly 29 miles per day—well below the range capabilities of their vehicles. Nonetheless, 40 percent of survey respondents were dissatisfied with their cars's electric range. That once again begs the question about the ideal amount of range for an EV. Last year, J.B. Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer, told me, "A functional minimum we should aim for is the 125- to 150-mile range. I think it gets meaningful constrained when you get below that."

PEV Survey

Graphic: C.C.S.E.

Survey respondents essentially agree with Straubel. Fifty-seven percent indicated that it would take a range of 150 miles or more to be extremely satisfied. Of course, if you ask people what they want—without finding out what they are willing to pay for—you’ll get answers like this:

  • 32% want between 101 and 150 miles of range
  • 27% desire 151 to 200 miles
  • 30% want more than 200 miles
  • 10% are fine with 100 miles or less

These attitudes help explain why 94 percent of today's plug-in car drivers also own a conventional petrol-powered vehicle.

The survey, which was conducted in February and October 2012, was supported by funding from the California Air Resources Board.

Bear in mind that 97 percent of survey respondents are owners of the Nissan LEAF—mostly because the survey was administered prior to when rebates for other electric cars were available. It should be fascinating to see any shifts in demographics and sentiment when more owners of others EVs are included in the results.

Thoughts about Charging

Ninety percent respondents have home chargers (where they mostly charge at night). But I found it surprising that a sizable 37 percent of respondents also have access to workplace charging, and 82 percent of those workplace chargers are free.

Free remains a magic word, because when employers require a fee, 66 percent of EV drivers reported using it less than once per week. Two-thirds of drivers who only charge occasionally in public are willing to pay $1.00 per hour, but those numbers quickly decline as the price goes up or if charging is conducted on a daily basis.

Who Are These Guys? And They Are Mostly Guys

PEV Survey

Graphic: C.C.S.E.

It’s not surprising to learn that EV drivers are primarily well-to-do men in their middle years. These cars are high-tech and relatively expensive, so that’s the logical demographic of early adopters. Based on answers from 2,039 respondents, we know that EV drivers are:

  • 71% are male
  • 52% have post-graduate degrees
  • 32% are between the ages of 45 to 64; and 28% between the ages of 55 to 64

Meanwhile, just 21 percent are 35 to 44 years of age, and merely 3 percent are 25 to 34. Forty-seven percent earn more than $150,000 a year, and another 20 percent make between $100,000 and $150,000.

Where They Live

California is the nation’s largest plug-in car market with some 30,000 vehicles, roughly 35 percent of the U.S. total. Roughly 1 of every 40 new car transactions in the state is a plug-in electric vehicle.

C.C.S.E. this week also released a new interactive online map that tracks plug-in electric vehicle rebates in California. You can filter by county or zip code, which make it a fun time-waster, as you click around to see where EVs are taking off. I was proud of my small zipcode in Berkeley, which indicates that 39 people received an EV rebate for putting a zero-emissions vehicle on our roads.

But that was dwarfed by San Jose’s 95120, with 244 plug-in vehicles and $553,500 in rebates. That’s the biggest adoption in the state (and logically the entire United States). It makes sense that high-tech Silicon Valley would lead the way on EV adoption. Mike Ferry, transportation program manager at CCSE, told me that downtown San Diego is technically the highest, but its numbers include 300 electric Smart cars used by car2go, the carsharing program.

On a county basis, L.A. County leads the way with more than 6,000 EV drivers. Only two California counties, Colusa and Alpine, have absolutely zero plug-in cars.

Full survey results are available on CCSE’s website.


· · 5 years ago

I hate the use of averages when talking about miles driven. It is used to make people look whiny - "I need a car that can go 300 miles" - "yeah, but your average mileage is 40 miles / day".

I drive about 20,000 miles / year. That's about 55 miles / day on average. My Leaf can do that easily, even in winter, considering that I can plug it at work. BUT the Leaf can only take me about 8,000 miles / year. Why? Because I frequently drive 250+ miles in a day for a weekend trip - that's 500 miles round trip. I take such trips about 15x per year. Those all add up to the other 12,000 miles / year. I would need either a 300 mile range, or a 200 mile range with reliable quick charging infrastructure in order to actually ditch the hybrid.

It turns out, Tesla is doing both of these things. So my third option is to save up for one of their cars, but most people aren't willing to do that.

· · 5 years ago

Personal experience today. my wife took the leaf (my usual commuting car (today is 'bike to work day!')) but felt she needed to call me to confirm it was OK to do an extra ~9 miles (a recycling center run) at the end of her day.. Her entire drive today will be only ~55 miles. If this were a regular commute it would be no problem, but with the uncertainty of the extra errand distance coupled with the distrust of the Nissan 'range' number both she and I felt some level of range anxiety. I was fine, and reassured her, once I ran several distance lookups and range Nissan's route/energy calculator.

range anxiety can be solved with more range (this survey) or with more information like very accurate nav and range info in car.

· · 5 years ago

@Brian Schwerdt

Yeah, I thought Brad Berman was smarter than to fall into this trap. Many people do not simply drive the same amount every day. They may only drive 10 miles per day on average, but once a month they need to drive 500 miles.

I'm using a wild example to prove the point, but NO, 11 mile range is not adequate for this driver all the time.

· · 5 years ago

"Forty-seven percent earn more than $150,000 a year, and another 20 percent make between $100,000 and $150,000"

Oh well, then with my 17k+ euros a year I can hope to maybe one day buy an electric blender.

· · 5 years ago

I have a number of relatives right at 250 miles. Therefore, a 150 mile car with a quick charge mid way would be feckin awesome. Waiting for Bluestar, I guess. Meantime, it's LEAF plus an old Prius, or LEAF plus rentals or the bus.

· · 5 years ago

I think that the 100+ miles range is a good idea just for adverse conditions. There's the actual number of miles you average per day, and then there's the actual amount of energy consumed on a daily basis. You don't notice these things when you drive a gas car, because except for AC, nothing really affects the mileage (cabin heat certainly doesn't) beyond driving style and terrain.

But if you can make a car with 150 miles of range on the EPA test cycle, then even people in Edmonton won't complain much about what cold weather does to how far you can drive.

· · 5 years ago

This mileage survey reinforces what I have suspected all along. EVs are going to have to offer more practical range, if they are going to displace large numbers of ICE vehicles and appeal to more than tree-huggers and early adopters. Car companies need to stop making excuses for their limited range and offer more, even if it costs more as an option. Tesla offers battery choices and customers have responded postively.

I'd love to have a LEAF to get to work and back. But, I drive to San Diego a couple of times a month and it doesn't have the range. I can't justify spending $35K on an EV if I have to fire up my F-150 on weekends. I'm hoping the i3 with a REx will do the job.

· · 5 years ago


Glad to see someone else waiting for the Tesla Blustar! I have a 2012 Leaf that will probably go to a family member when the Blustar's released.

I still can't believe that none of the other car makers are following Tesla's lead: offer different battery sizes!

· · 5 years ago

Sorry to say I will be moving to an 2013 Altima soon from my Leaf. Love the smooth quiet ride but range has been an issue at times and with the Altima getting 38 mpg now it is hard to ignore. The biggest issue is I am having to travel 180 mile trips once a week and sometimes more and while I could probably do that with the Leaf there is just no time for stopping and charging along the way. Swapping over to my old Titan was getting old and well costly. I like to keep my Titan for special trips and towing and working around the house.

· · 5 years ago

In California, the RAV4 EV can be had for about $30K after incentives and sales tax if you find the right dealer. Its range is in the 100-150 mile ballpark, depending on how you drive.

That said, I find the Tesla S far more appealing and hope to eventually buy one used at a discount. Our LEAF would then become a second car for local use only. What appeals to me about the range of the Tesla S is that we would no longer need an ICE car. The Tesla's combination of efficiency, space for a family, and performance is unmatched.

I certainly hope for continued, significant improvements in battery technology, because range truly is a BIG DEAL and high capacity batteries need to become more affordable.

· · 5 years ago

So, the survey tells us that most of the Leaf buyers are rich, old and well educated men?

I don't mind the rich and educated part, but "old"? Nobody want to buy an "old men" car...

Anyway, I am glad that at least the "smart and educated" people are buying the Leaf. That is NOT surprising since it takes a little bit of math to easily justify the cost of the Leaf. It is almost a nobrainer with the current leasing deals.

@Red Leaf,

Doesn't a PHEV/EREV make more sense than a 38mpg Altima? Altima's 38mpg is only achievable if you drive slowly on the hwy. A PHEV can easily meet your need for short distance EV miles while still has high MPG for the longer range...

· · 5 years ago

Like the man said: there is lies, damn lies and statistics. It's great that 90% of people statistically drive less than 40miles per day on average but that isn't going to do EV adoption any good if 99% of people expect their vehicle to be able to cover all of their driving needs.

I think people base their decision on the furthest distance they regularly drive, probably relatives living relatively far away but within reasonable driving distance. If the car doesn't have that range it seizes to be interesting.

The Model S proves it: if the range is there, the interest is there.

· · 5 years ago

Here's another good example of how using average miles driven per day doesn't tell you a whole lot. At the moment, I average about 45 miles per day average. I can get by with a lower range EV, right? Not so. Once every week, I have to make a 240 mile round trip. The average goes down to 45 because the other days of the week I only drive about 10 miles a day.

· · 5 years ago

@Chris O -- Well stated, and right on the money -->It's great that 90% of people statistically drive less than 40 miles per day on average but that isn't going to do EV adoption any good if 99% of people expect their vehicle to be able to cover all of their driving needs.

EV advocates love to bang their head against the wall on this one again, and again, and again, and again. They'll never win. You're absolutely right that most people (BTW, early EV adopters are not most people) think about their longer, even longest, trips in terms of the range they want, or "need."

That's why 94% of EV owners have a gas car. Of course, the whole, I "need" 300 miles of range for that one trip I make to grandma's per year is, on a certain level, pretty ridiculous. But, so to, is individual car ownership, a model which sees 95% of us drive at most 1, maybe 2 hours a day, and then sees our car sit for 22-23 hours per day, unused.

Widespread car sharing with electric powered 100 % computer driven vehicles makes the most sense for large numbers of people, especially those in urban/suburban areas. But we'll probably never see this because the idea that we've got to individually own everything we have, is pounded into us from birth. It just doesn't make sense, and is, in fact, highly inefficient.

· · 5 years ago

@Bret F.

"Customers have responded positively".

Consider how many buy the 85kwh version, and how many WOULD buy a BIGGER battery if it was only offered.

· · 5 years ago

I'm definitely right in there with that "give me at least 150 miles/charge" group. I love my 2011 Leaf, and it does provide ~90% of my driving most months, BUT...

1. There have been numerous times where I've laid out a trip that fits the ~70-mile range and then find that something comes up where I need to drive half again that range, so I wind up driving home, firing up our 2nd car, an ICE, and then driving back to complete whatever was needed.

2. Public charging simply is NOT really a solution - at least in its current form. Why? Because 1. It takes too long. 2. The units are either broken, all in use, or blocked by an ICE and therefore CANNOT be depended on.

Having an EPA range of at least 150 would allow me to drive almost worry free for close to 98% of the time. Only Tesla Motors seems to "get it".

· · 5 years ago

There are those here on Plug In Cars (I won't name names) who have emphatically stated in the past that pure EVs are a fundamentally flawed idea until one is available that can drive an uninterrupted 300 mile trip at 80mph with all comfort accessories (A/C, heat, etc.) operating at optimal levels and then be able to be recharged within 5 minutes.

Oh yeah . . . it's also got to cost less or about the same to purchase as a comparably equipped ICE car. For the sake of not banging our heads against the wall, we can admit that this group will remain unimpressed with any sort of 150 mile affordable EV that might be on the horizon anytime soon.

This said, I think a 150 mile range EV (OK . . . call it a 100+ mile one under real world semi-hostile driving conditions) will bring a significant number of new people to the table who have, so far, remained unmoved with the current crop of relatively affordable sub-100 mile pure electrics.

But . . .

About a year ago I remember a PIC article about a San Francisco based college educator whose one way commute from home to work was one or two miles beyond the stated range of the Leaf and this was what persuaded him to go with the Volt, even though he would have preferred a pure electric for a variety of reasons that centered mostly around a stated environmental commitment.

And so it will go with a whole new crop - the ones who live about 155 miles from their job site - who will crawl from out of the woodwork on PIC, when the 150 mile EVs finally arrive, to declare that these cars are still not going to do it for them (this could bring up the observation that anyone who makes a daily 80 mile one way work commute - much less a 150 mile one - should probably consider moving to a different house. But I digress.)

The affordable 200 mile EV that can be recharged in 10 or 12 minutes? Same story.

Conclusion: It's going to be a combination of batteries with better energy density and quick charging that can occur more than once per day in a package that's priced right to bring aboard the sort of numbers that everyone wants to see. We'll get there. But we'll probably get there in stages.

· · 5 years ago

I think 150 miles is the right number, because it means an 80% charge yields around 115-120 miles, and that's a good number. We had a Leaf for about 20K miles, and I was always disappointed with the range, but we live in a big metro and we were always looking for a charging station. Now we have a Volt and RAV4 EV, and no more hunting for stations. After 4K miles on the RAV I've only charged 3-4 times outside our house, and I'm pretty sure we could have made it home every one of those times, plus we've never once charged it to 100%. The Volt is more problematic, since I hate when the gas engine kicks in, but it never leaves you stranded.

· · 5 years ago

Some people talk about how if your commute is a long one, you should move closer to work. That solves one problem, but you have to consider why they live so far away in the first place. Chances are, there are really good reasons why they don't live closer.

Downtown city areas often have sky high costs of living, with housing costs literally preventing a lot of people from being able to live there. People have spouses who work, and where they can work might be limited by the specialization of their fields, making it difficult to find two jobs close together. School districts can be a huge factor. In KC where I live, the KC school district is so bad it recently lost it's Missouri Board of Eduction accreditation. No way I'm going to put my kids in those schools, which means I will not consider anywhere in that district, regardless of what other benefits it might have.

Move closer to work? Sure, suggest people consider it. Just realize that it's not a simple choice, and there are almost always other factors in the decision.

· · 5 years ago

The GM EV1 with a modern lithium battery pack would have at least 150 miles of range. It shows how to do this - make the car itself more efficient. It is the lowest aero drag car yet produced (until the VW XL1 is sold) and we need to build this kind of car, again.

The drag from the air is about 50% of the load on the drivetrain at only 30MPH. So, aero drag matters more than anything else on a car, other than the efficiency of the drivetrain itself. With EV's, the drivetrain is as near to perfect as we could hope for - and we just need to address aerodynamic drag.

I'm in the process of building the lowest drag car I could think of - Icall it CarBEN EV5, and here's my blog post on designing and building it:

In about a year, I hope to have a rolling chassis, and then install the battery and the rest of the drivetrain in the year after that. If it can consume ~150Wh/mile at ~55MPH, and if I have a pack of 50-55kWh, then the range will easily be 300-400 miles.

I think that consumption approaching 100Wh/mile @ ~55MPH is possible. Edison2 Electric VLC is probably going to be capable of this, and we need all EV builders to build the most efficient cars they can.


· · 5 years ago

"The GM EV1 with a modern lithium battery pack would have at least 150 miles of range"

But that is a 2 seater. There are already plenty of people complain that Volt is a 4-seater instead of 5. So, what prevents people from complaining that it is 3 seats short?

· · 5 years ago

Im within the above 8%, My current commute is 73miles roundtrip, Next year it will go unto about 110miles round trip. Any EV or ER-EV with 100-150mile range would be ideal for anybody in the current day of driving. I am the one exception as my commute is at the extreme and many, many commuters are much below my daily commute.

My previous '12 LEAF was awesome, commute was perfect in the warm weather and if I had a '13 with the ability to re-juice at 6.6kWh vs the 3.3kWh (also standard on the current VOLT) I would of kept the LEAF. Again i have an extreme commute. So the VOLT works in my case.

Back on the topic of a good range, If the LEAF was able (even at the lower recharge rate of 3.3) to obtain another 20miles of range from lets say a 30-35 kWh battery? I could see sales double each month. too many individuals frown upon anything that can be so limited to under 100miles (originally advertised by NISSAN). We can see this in the current TESLA Model S where the smaller 40 (previously) and 60kWh battery sizes with an ample amount of range do so well.

120-150mile range is the sweet spot i can agree with. I still strongly believe a larger infrastructure on the DC Quick Charge (CHAdeMO, SAE Combo and TESLA Superchargers) will push the ability to maintain the less expensive, smaller battery EV's for mass adoption and the abilities for anyone to drive longer distances with reliance on DCQC's.

· · 5 years ago

GM is rumored to have had a 4 seat version ready to go. The problem I have is the Volt's back seat is too small for my family, not so much that it is a 4 seater.

The Edison2 VLC is a 4 seat car, and my CarBEN EV5 will be a 5 seat car. The point is, low aero drag is what we need to make EV's much longer range.

The Mitsubishi CA-MiEV concept would be amazing if they built it and sold it for a reasonable price - and if it had 150-180 mile range.


· · 5 years ago

Here, Skotty, is the article I was referring to . . .

Interestingly, the subject of that piece was someone who lived in metro San Francisco but needed to make more or less regular work commutes to an outlying smaller town. What I largely took issue with then was the article sounded just a little too much like a Volt commercial, starring the statistical everyman who - of course - just so happens to live outside the range of a Leaf. Statistically, as this most current article points out, that sort of person is very much in the minority in relation to most American drivers.

Urban sprawl and inner city decay are big problems and there are no easy solutions. That said, I still don't find an overwhelming amount of sympathy for those who are doing particularly well in their posh metro jobs, yet complain about a long commute back to the suburbs to flee from "the undesirables" when the clock strikes 5:00.

· · 5 years ago

Yeah, I think just over a 100 miles or so should be fine. People will always want more. But when gas starts costing $5 or $6 per gallon, they'll start running the numbers and realize that 100 miles will work out fine for the vast majority of their driving.

· · 5 years ago

IMHO the LEAF works best for situations where you have a "pool" of cars for a family for whom the LEAF is appropriate of the large majority of driving trips. Thus the LEAF(s) are used on appropriate trips and the ICE car(s) are used on trips where range might be an issue (or where you need AWD, or where you need more space, etc.).

But the key premise to making this work is that the family has to give up the idea that each person has their own car instead of a shared pool of cars ... and this is something many people really struggle with. If everyone has to have their personal car, and everyone feels that their car has to be able to meet all the possible driving needs that might occur at any time (range, number of seats, off-road, luggage capacity, etc.) then in the large majority of situations an EV won't work.

And that's too bad because if a family can move to a model of a "shared pool of cars" there are huge potential cost savings awaiting them. If you are smart your acquisition costs of a LEAF can be kept very low, factoring in the various incentives. And as we know the operating costs of EVs in most cases are far lower than that of an ICE car. In our family almost 90% of our miles are driven in our LEAFs - this not only means much lower per-mile costs, but it also means that the costs of the ICE car goes down because it now logs relatively little miles, and thus won't need replacement nearly as often.

· · 5 years ago

For many of us in the Northeast(or just North), the issue of how many miles also includes how much of the range is decreased by using the car's battery to run the heater. My I-MiEV is giving me about 78-80 miles of back road commuting range(in the warmer weather)---my commute is about 35 miles, so it is not a problem at all. That leaves me plenty of range remaining for doing errands etc. However, in the winter, the cold really zaps the range. My 75-80 becomes 40-45 or so, if I use the heater. Take away the 35 mile commute and I am left with 10-15 miles of remaining range if using the heater. Not good. Plus, until I get a 240V EVSE installed, there's not enough time to charge overnight so that I can maximize my range. My employer is going to install 240V charging stations soon, so that takes away most of my anxiety. Many people, though, don't have that option. If upgrading the battery technology is going to take some time, maybe ugrading(completley changing) the in-car heater technology so that it doesn't draw from the car's battery will minimize that range anxiety. 60 miles range(allowing for reduction in range just from cold temps) is more than enough for most days.

· · 5 years ago

I agree that EV adoption will come in stages as Benjamin Nead has said. As prices come down and range and options go up, more people will be willing to make a leap of faith. But I also believe the ability to drive cheaply on gasoline will become more difficult over time forcing not only EV adoption, but all sorts of economizing on transportation, farming, consumption, and leisure activities. People will refuse to commute in a gas vehicle more than 40 miles each way because it will be too expensive ... those who know how to use a calculator can justify an EV through a TCO calculation. Those who can't or won't will find themselves more in debt and eventually realizing they must move closer, take public transportation, find another job, or go bankrupt. I think this is a natural and good progression towards more efficient use of resources. Of course, it assumes gasoline prices will go up either through market demand or public taxation of external costs (i.e., a carbon tax). Eventually we'll get there ... it is just a matter of when and with what measure of collateral damage.

· · 5 years ago

@JKDLOU: The heat has to come from somewhere. I suppose one could add a liquid-fuel tank. Of course, pouring something terribly dangerous and flammable like kerosene or (gasp) gasoline into a storage tank attached to a carriage seems totally insane! Why would anyone do that?! :-)

(In days of yore, before ICEs, some carriages had kerosene heating.)

· · 5 years ago


Agreed. I just was pointing out that as currently designed, the heater drains the battery to a degree that it radically reduces range...that if only that one aspect could be changed and one not be forced to use the car battery, a good deal of the range anxiety would evaporate.


· · 5 years ago

Regarding all the comments on value, even though I don't own one currently, I'm attracted to the base level Leaf for 2013. This is just a basic EV (no navigation, incandescent headlights, 3300 watt charger, no Bose Radio, etc) but the price is very, very attractive, and you get as much range as any other Leaf, just at a much lower price.

As Ev's go, an excellent value. Hopefully, the dealers will stock some of this base model even though their markup is probably higher on the higher trim versions.

I'll show up in my Roadster sometime to a Nissan dealer, and while using their charger, I'll bug the salesmen to show me an entry level Leaf, and cause a bit of a fuss if they don't have one, hehe.

· · 5 years ago

@Bill Howland, While the base S model of the LEAF is inexpensive, be aware that it comes with the old-style resistance heater rather than the heat pump found on the SV and SL models. That could make a difference in range for those who live in areas where they will need the heater. So, not necessarily "as much range as any other Leaf" for the S.

The S is also missing some basics such as cruise control and charge timers with start/end times and days of the week. The S has a single end-time-only charge timer. Not really a big deal for most but some people with limited windows for the lowest electric rates have found it annoying. With no Carwings one can't remotely control charging or preheating/precooling. And there's no energy screen for monitoring energy in and out of the battery to help with efficient driving.

The S is a good car for the price but it is missing some nice features of the SV and SL. And it is hard to find at dealers; my impression is that they aren't making very many of them.

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