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.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.