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Short-term owners miss out on electric car savings

Car buyers are failing to see the benefit of going electric, thanks to a consumer tendency towards replacing vehicles every three to five years, new research suggests.

This means that consumers miss out on the long-term savings that come from the lower running costs of EVs over their combustion car rivals. Put simply, consumers don’t keep their cars long enough to reach a breakeven point-where the initial higher purchase price of an EV over a petrol equivalent is recouped in lower ‘fuelling’ costs.  

New plug-in models like the C-Max Energi hybrid will help encourage consumers to make the switch to EVs

New research from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) suggests that this is not the only reason why consumers are failing to fall for EVs in their droves, with factors including the concerns about driving range, recharging and high prices all playing their part in suppressing sales.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,300 US motorists in 21 large cities, during autumn 2011, to discover that the perceived drawbacks of EVs still outweigh the benefits for most consumers.

However there were exceptions, with citizens in some cities including San Jose, San Fransisco, Chicago and Boston much more receptive to buying an electric car.

Changing times

Of course, since the survey was conducted over a year ago, the market for electric cars has much changed in the US; with new models including the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus Electric and Toyota Prius Plug-in all helping to expand and encourage the market for electric cars.  With new ‘range-extended’ electric cars on the way, including Ford’s new C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, concerns about battery range and charging facilities should start to evaporate.

The findings were published online by the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, in advance of its January 2013 issue. Sanya Carley, assistant professor in SPEA, is the lead author. Other co-authors are Rachel Krause and Bradley Lane of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Early-adopters of electric cars were found to be predominantly highly educated, males, concerned about the environment and worried about American dependence on foreign oil. They are also more likely to have previously owned a hybrid vehicle.

"Those interested in electric vehicles at this time are attracted to the environmental imaging associated with electric vehicles and are typically technology pioneers," Carley said. "It's helpful to know this information, because it can help manufacturers identify their early car-buying population, and it also reveals which consumer types are not being reached by current marketing campaigns."

The authors of the study say one of the more interesting results of their research was the city-by-city variation in intent to purchase an electric vehicles. The interest in buying a plug-in electric vehicle was rated on a 10-point scale; the average score was 2.67. Cities with the highest intent-to-purchase ratings were:

  • San Jose/San Francisco -- 3.72
  • Chicago -- 3.25
  • Boston -- 3.03
  • Seattle -- 3.02
  • Los Angeles -- 3.01

Cities with the lowest ratings were:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth -- 2.17
  • San Antonio -- 2.21
  • Indianapolis -- 2.21
  • Detroit -- 2.24
  • Nashville -- 2.36

Interestingly, the University’s native Indianapolis and the first US city to commit to converting its entire municipal fleet to EVs (see story), scores one of the lowest results. 

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Faye Sunderland

Filed under: Electric cars

1 comment

James Thurber

What the study does not consider is that the car buyer avoids significant battery depletion and the cost of replacing the batteries by replacing it after five years. In other words, the reason that many people are not buying electric cars is not because they don't understand the long term economics of EV ownership. It's because they do.

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