Survey Says: Northeastern U.S. Primed for Electric Car Boom

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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Increasingly, electric cars are inevitable. Though they currently account for a small portion of automobile sales, global investments in manufacturing and charging infrastructure, an impending proliferation of new models, and changes in consumer opinion are setting the stage for a boom in electric vehicles (EVs).

Barriers to EV adoption remain, however. According to a new study* conducted by Drive Change Drive Electric**, consumers in the Northeastern United States agree that future vehicles will be electric, but they remain concerned about the up-front cost of purchase, charging station availability, and driving range.

And that means Drive Change Drive Electric must focus on educating consumers about these concerns, especially women and older car buyers.

Younger People Are Ready for EVs

Volkswagen ID Electric Vehicles
Younger consumers are ready to make the switch to electric vehicles, and all potential EV buyers want to see greater variety in terms of body styles and vehicle types. Volkswagen is poised for success when its new I.D. family of EVs debuts. (Volkswagen)

 

Generation X doesn’t get much credit for anything, but the men of this age cohort were the early adopters of EVs, according to Sarah McKearnan, Senior Policy Advisor at the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), which represents the states involved in the Drive Change Drive Electric campaign.

More than half of the latest study’s respondents (53%) express lack of confidence in their knowledge of electric vehicles, and when these people are separated by gender the majority are women (64%). Outreach is necessary to help all people, but especially women, better understand how a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), battery electric vehicle (BEV), or fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) will fit into their lifestyle.

Additionally, the study finds that only 38% of Baby Boomers are open to going electric with their next vehicle purchase, compared to 66% of Millennials. However, while 52% of people in both demographic groups claim they will consider an EV for their next vehicle, 82% agree that they would like to see more choice in terms of models and body styles before making the switch.

EV Prices Cause For Concern

Kia Soul EV, Soul X-Line, Soul GT-Line
Tax credits, rebates, and incentives help to lower the cost of an EV, but the models offering the most driving range remain expensive in comparison to their gas-fueled counterparts. Here, the Soul EV is on the left, in lime green. (Kia)

 

Price is a problem when it comes to EVs. The technology is expensive, and window stickers reflect that cost. Federal tax credits, state rebates, and local incentives are key to ensuring EV adoption by consumers.

The latest Drive Change Drive Now study underscores the importance of these discounts. According to survey respondents, 85% of potential EV buyers are worried about up-front costs, even though 64% believe they’ll save money in the long run.

McKearnan says this is why bipartisan legislation that will extend the federal income tax credit is so important. The Driving America Forward Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 9, 2019, extends federal tax credits from 200,000 vehicles to 600,000 vehicles per manufacturer, and with no expiration date. Automakers and electric utilities support the bill, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

If signed into law, not only would this legislation help companies like General Motors and Tesla, which have already hit the existing credit’s 200,000 unit-sales mark and are winding down the availability of the federal tax break, but it would also encourage new companies to invest in electric vehicles. This would spur faster adoption and greater competition for customers.

At the same time, however, these tax breaks could cost the U.S. government billions of dollars. Donn Bailey, writing for Seeking Alpha, said: “I cannot see this legislation getting through the Senate and signed by President Trump. The costs could be insanely high, producing little, if any, benefit for our citizens.”

Dude, Where’s My Car Charger?

Man Plugs Electric Car Into Charging Station
Potential EV buyers are worried about finding a charging station. The infrastructure is growing, and consumers should remember that the majority of EVs are charged at home, overnight. (Chevrolet)

 

In addition to the vehicle price, another significant barrier to EV adoption is consumer concern about charging infrastructure. People aren’t convinced that they’ll be able to find and use a charging station while they’re away from home.

Baby Boomers are more concerned about this than are Millennials (87% vs. 79%), and 80% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose an EV if there were more charging stations in their area.

“In the Northeast, hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in building out charging infrastructure to meet growing demand. In the last year alone, the number of public charging stations increased by more than 20 percent in the Northeast, and there are plans to add even more stations in 2019,” said Elaine O’Grady, Policy and Program Director at the NESCAUM, in a statement.

“Also, people without electric cars often don’t realize that most charging takes place at home overnight,” Grady emphasized.

In the Northeastern U.S., consumer concerns about charging infrastructure may be changing. More than half of survey respondents say they have noticed improvements in charging infrastructure in their respective areas.

Range Anxiety is Real

Gray Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid on Highway
Just like a traditional car, which can run out of gas, an EV can run out of battery power. However, it isn’t as easy to find a charging station as it is a gas station. A plug-in hybrid like the Honda Clarity can solve that problem. (Honda)

 

Despite improvements in electric driving range, running out of juice remains a significant concern among consumers, with 80% of survey respondents citing it as a barrier to EV purchase.

Steve Douglas, Senior Director, Energy & Environment, at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, knows this perception remains a problem. “Customers can choose from battery electric vehicles that can go 250 miles on a single charge, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that offer a combined range from electricity and gasoline to up to 600 miles, and fuel cell electric vehicles that can go up to 350 miles on a single tank of hydrogen,” he said in a statement.

Not only is this true, but consumers also need to understand how EV range and their actual driving habits match.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, men aged 35-54 put the most miles on their cars every year, averaging 18,858 (51.7 miles daily). Most of those people are members of Generation X, the demographic that adopted EVs the earliest. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers average 9,809 miles annually (26.9 miles daily).

Furthermore, as the charging station infrastructure expands, new technology makes it possible for the latest EVs to soak up a significant amount of range in a short period of time. Find a DC Fast Charger near your favorite coffee shop, and by the time your barista takes your order, makes your latte, and you drink it while checking email, the fastest charging stations will give your EV an 80% charge.

Plug-in Hybrids are the Bridge From Yesterday to Tomorrow

Blue 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
New plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles are arriving on a regular basis and in a variety of styles. Shown here, the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is a plug-in crossover SUV that offers a wide range of capabilities. (Christian Wardlaw)

 

People concerned about driving range and charging infrastructure can dip their toes into the EV pool by choosing a plug-in hybrid vehicle as a bridge from where we are today to where we’ll be tomorrow.

A PHEV can run purely on electricity for a limited time, and then a gasoline-fueled engine starts up to provide a longer driving range, just like a traditional car. You can drive a PHEV every day using little or no gas, but get into one and drive across the country without ever plugging it in.

If that sounds like the best compromise for you, for now, be sure to check out our list of the 10 best PHEV models under $40,000.

* In March 2019, the study surveyed 1,500 people in the Northeastern region of the U.S. Majority (58%) lived in suburbs, with 21% in urban/city areas and 21% in rural areas. Half reported a median annual household income under $75,000.

** The Drive Change Drive Electric campaign is a collaboration between seven Northeastern states and 16 auto manufacturers to educate consumers in the region about plug-in hybrid, battery electric, and fuel-cell electric vehicles.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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