100% electric vehicles are fantastic. They’re zippy, require less maintenance, save money on gas and are generally pretty cool. Given these attributes, it might seem logical to assume that every new car buyer would opt for an electric vehicle (EV). Yet only 5.8% of vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2022 were electric, and 94.2% of brand-new cars sold last year were not. Why?
As part of our Sustainability Study released in April 2023, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey of 2,050 Americans and probed their reasons for buying or rejecting EVs. Here is what we found:
Cost is the single largest barrier to EV adoption. The lowest cost internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle currently on the market has an MSRP of $17,650. Over two dozen ICE vehicles are available for under $25,000. Meanwhile, General Motors announced that it was discontinuing the lowest-cost EV on the market, the Chevy Bolt (MSRP $25,600), in favor of producing higher profit-margin pickup trucks. Tax credits for EV purchases help, but they're limited to U.S. produced vehicles, and the low-cost options on that list are scarce. For EV adoption to take off, it has to be accessible to all car buyers, not just high-earning early adopters.
After price, charging is the next big barrier to purchasing EVs. Thirty-four percent of respondents said they wouldn't purchase an EV because they do not have charging available at home or work. This aligns with the 36% of American households living in rental properties less likely to have on-site charging than single-family homes. Public charging is part of the solution, but the availability of public charging varies considerably by city and state. Even in states with relatively high levels of EV penetration, like California, there are cities without a single non-Tesla public charging station (I'm looking at you Mammoth Lakes, CA). The U.S. currently has 56,256 charging stations with around 147,700 individual charging ports. Still, McKinsey & Company estimates that if the U.S. wants to reach the goal outlined in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recommending that 50% of all vehicles sold yearly be zero-emission by 2030, it will likely need 1.2 million public and 28 million private EV charging stations. It's important to note that this number falls short of what is required for achieving 100% EV adoption.
The following three barriers to EV adoption in our survey were "I don't know enough about them," "They take too long to charge" and "I don't think they're good for the environment." These three issues can be countered by better communicating the benefits. EV owners spend a lot less time charging their vehicles than people spend at gas stations. Most non-EV owners don't realize EVs typically charge overnight 2-3 times a week. Plugging and unplugging an EV takes less than 30 seconds. So EV owners spend fewer weekly minutes physically charging than ICE vehicle owners spend standing in front of gas pumps.
EVs are also unequivocally better for the environment than gas-powered vehicles. Most arguments suggesting otherwise are premised on faulty assumptions. One argument states that the electricity produced to charge EVs is worse for the environment than gasoline. While coal is still responsible for about 20% of U.S. power production, it is rapidly being replaced by wind and solar. Even accounting for current coal and natural gas-powered electricity emissions, research shows that an EV is typically responsible for lower levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) than an average new gasoline car. Battery manufacturing is also frequently cited as being bad for the environment because it takes energy to mine Lithium and manufacture batteries. Here's a comparison of a typical gas-powered car's lifetime greenhouse gas emissions and a 300-mile range EV.
Perceptions of EVs also vary by generation and ethnicity. Communication campaigns must address knowledge gaps within multicultural segments to ensure the successful adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). These communities may have limited exposure to information about EVs compared to other racial groups. For instance, our multicultural research indicates that Asian Americans, in particular, are more prone to experiencing range anxiety compared to other groups which may make them less likely to adopt EVs.
Making EVs more affordable and expanding charging infrastructure will help accelerate the transition to a greener transportation system. Clear and accurate communication about EV charging times and their environmental benefits is also essential in dispelling misconceptions and encouraging broader acceptance.
Policies must consider that renters and people of all income levels and ethnicities buy cars. EVs can't be playthings for the well-to-do and pipe dreams for everyone else. Addressing these challenges and promoting EV adoption is crucial for achieving the sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation system the U.S. and the world needs.