The coming year will be a big one for EV enthusiasts with a flood of new products, such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, GMC Hummer and Volkswagen ID.4, charging into showrooms. Although interest is clearly growing, a new Consumer Reports study finds that the vast majority of American motorists aren’t yet ready to plug in.
On the positive side, fully 78% of the millennials surveyed by the influential magazine said they’re open to buying a battery-electric vehicle, plus seven in 10 U.S. motorists overall showing interest in the technology. But the active phrase is “at some point,” with only a minority among any age group ready to purchase a BEV the next time they’re in the market.
A variety of obstacles remain in the way of broader acceptance of battery cars and trucks, the survey found. Top of the list, the magazine was told over and over, is a lack of public charging stations. According to federal data, there are now about 25,000 charging facilities in the U.S., but there are more than 150,000 fueling stations across the country, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
It’s been barely a decade since the first mass market BEV, the Nissan Leaf, was launched. In the subsequent years, automakers began rolling out a number of other offerings, starting with relatively short-range models as the Ford Focus EV, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Volkswagen e-Golf. Now, however, a new generation of products delivering significantly longer range, more features and better performance, are starting to reach showrooms.
At the same time, the CR study found that awareness is rising among consumers. The study found that 98% of Americans are aware of the technology, with nearly 30% saying they knew “quite a bit” or “a lot” about EVs. And, of the 3,392 adults with a valid drivers license, 71% had at least “some interest” in eventually purchasing a battery-powered vehicle. But the figure plunged to just 31% when those motorists were asked if they plan to make it their next vehicle.
Those numbers, on their own, are up substantially from a few years ago when awareness was minimal. And the increases mirror several factors, such as the increasing number of BEVs coming to market, as well as the constant stream of headlines related to Tesla, the current leader in the battery-car market.
Tesla itself has been ramping up its product line-up, with four current models and several more, including the Cybertruck pickup and Roadster sports car in development. But the number of new entries from other new entries, such as Lucid and Fisker, as well as established manufacturers like VW, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Nissan, is escalating even more rapidly. General Motors plans for 20 BEVs by 2023 and last month announced that the figure will rise to 30 by 2025.
But this product wave alone doesn’t completely assuage public concerns. Fully half of those surveyed listed the lack of public charging stations as a reason they won’t buy an EV, at least not until some point in the future. While there are plenty of public facilities in some parts of the country, notably California, they are all but completely absent in other regions, such as the Midwest.
In reality, however, studies have found that even where public chargers are available, 80% of BEV owners still do most or all of their charging at home, according to ChargePoint, one of the nation’s largest public charging providers.
“Drivers are used to plentiful gas stations,” said Chris Harto, senior sustainability policy analyst at Consumer Reports. “Even though our research shows that the typical driver would do as little as six stops at a public charging station per year, a more robust network of fast-charging stations would help alleviate buyers concerns about switching to an electric vehicle.”
The good news is that the major charging companies, including ChargePoint, Electrify America, EVgo and GreenLots, have plans in place to add tens of thousands of additional outlets this decade.
And manufacturers are taking steps to address other EV obstacles, increasing range, dropping prices, improving performance and adding more and more product choices in virtually every market segment. There are currently plans to have as many as a dozen different battery-electric pickups on sale by mid-decade, for example. Seven in 10 of the CR study’s respondents said they want more product choices.
“Everything that’s needed to change consumers’ minds is happening,” Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst with IHS Markit, told TheDetroitBureau.com. “But the big change is that there’s a lot more product coming. And, with more products, consumers are going to see things coming together.”
If anything, advocates believe that the arrival of so many products will give American motorists the chance to see and experience the benefits of electric vehicles.
“Consumers can save a lot of money in the long run by switching to an EV,” Harto said. A separate study he authored in October found that when factoring in both energy and maintenance, a battery-electric vehicle costs roughly half as much as a gas-powered model to operate on a per-mile basis.
The incoming Biden administration has indicated plans to bolster EV demand by addressing some of the key obstacles to acceptance. President-elect Joe Biden has called for having 500,000 public chargers in place by 2030, and there appears to be support for expanding current federal incentives for buyers.
Such moves would garner strong public support, according to the CR study. Six in 10 support broader incentives for buyers – with only 12% opposed. And, noted the magazine in a summary of the study, “Fifty-five percent of U.S. drivers say ‘the federal government should invest money to increase the availability of plug-in electric vehicle charging stations,’ with only 17% opposed to this policy action.”
While the new Consumer Reports study suggests that the majority of Americans won’t be buying electric in the next few years, it does indicate that sales could grow well beyond the 2% of the market that battery-electric vehicles currently make up, with that number growing to just around 6% when conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are included, as well.