Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Who Wants to Buy an Electric Vehicle?

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An EPRI survey reveals who is interested in buying an electric vehicle and how incentives might help.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that passenger vehicles contribute about 17% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Utilities recognize that electric vehicle (EV) adoption can help reduce emissions in their service territories. Indeed, in setting greenhouse gas reduction targets, utilities are factoring electrified transportation in their strategies.

However, with scarce data on consumer interest in EVs, it’s hard for utilities to know how best to encourage their customers to purchase them.

“Utilities want more of their customers to buy EVs, but they don’t know where to start,” said EPRI Data Scientist Jamie Dunckley.

With funding from eight utilities, Dunckley’s team designed a survey to determine which demographic groups are most interested in EVs and which incentives might entice people to buy them. They surveyed 3,200 utility customers planning to buy a new vehicle within the next 5 years, and about 35% said they would never purchase an EV, regardless of financial incentives or other circumstances.

“For these people, we could have offered a $10,000 rebate, and they were not going to get an EV,” said Dunckley.

About 16% said they would buy EVs in any circumstances—even if EVs were more expensive or local charging infrastructure was sparse.

That left about 50% who said they could be convinced to purchase an EV given the right conditions. Respondents in this group are younger, have higher household incomes and more education, or have had some experience with EVs.

“Experience with EVs—even a little experience—is important because there’s a lot of misinformation about them,” said Dunckley. “People think they don’t have as much acceleration power as a conventional vehicle, but in reality they have more power and the power is instant. Being in an EV dispels those myths, so people who have experienced one are much more likely to consider a purchase.”

This underscores the value of an EV test drive. For example, Drive Electric Northern Colorado found that the number of people who consider themselves “likely” or “very likely” to purchase an EV increases by 15% after test drives. “Just getting people in the seats really works,” said Dunckley.

The survey found that people with higher incomes are more likely to consider a battery-powered EV, but there was not a correlation between high income and interest in plug-in hybrids—possibly because plug-in hybrids are generally more affordable.

The most effective incentives depended on the incentive levels and the region. In low-traffic regions, for example, a $300 discount on an EV purchase price may be more effective than free carpool lane access. The opposite may be true in high-traffic regions. Free parking was more appealing in urban areas than in rural areas.

“As utilities consider strategies to encourage EV ownership, they need to take regional differences into account,” said Dunckley. “Offering an incentive that addresses a pain point in a region is a good place to start.”

Women were more likely than men to respond favorably to perks such as free parking, carpool lane access, and cheaper electricity. Incentives had more impact on customers who had no experience with EVs, suggesting that skepticism among EV novices can be overcome with more cost-effective options.

Dunckley says that utilities can use the survey as a starting point when developing strategies to encourage EV adoption. With 50% of new car buyers open to the idea, utilities may have a good opportunity to engage with their customers.

Key EPRI Technical Experts:

Jamie Dunckley
For more information, contact