For now – EVs are for a niche consumer
via Greg Brannon, Director of Automotive Engineering Research, AAA
If you’re an avid consumer of news, then you’ve seen media story after media story about the rise in popularity of electric vehicles (aka EVs). But when asked, consumers tell a different story. AAA has been conducting an annual survey since 2017, which gauges consumer interest and objections associated with purchasing an EV. In the early days of the study, interest was relatively low – with 15% of Americans saying they were likely to buy an EV for their next car. But that wasn’t surprising since EV options were limited. Over time, options have increased dramatically – but many are expensive or not practical for most people. So, it begs the question, what is the key to unlocking broader consumer interest in EVs?
Over the last six years of conducting our survey, appetite for EVs has remained basically stagnant – hovering around 20% with interest hitting its highest point – 25% in 2022 and in 2023 it was 23%, but not a statistically significant change from previous years. The lack of meaningful change in consumer interest in EVs is surprising for a few reasons. For one, automakers are investing a lot of money into developing, researching and producing EVs. And secondly, the variety of models available has grown considerably, including the addition of more desirable options such as trucks and SUVs.
What seems to be happening is that there is a ceiling related to consumer adoption of EVs. In its concept, people may like the idea of owning one but when it comes to actually spending their hard earned money, they realize it may not easily fit into their lifestyle.
Some things to consider about how to overcome the EV ceiling:
- It Might Take Two: According to a survey AAA fielded last year, most owners of EVs (78%) have one or more gas-powered vehicles in the household in addition to their EV. For an easier transition to going electric, having access to a hybrid or gas-powered vehicle may lessen the anxiety. This allows people to enjoy the benefits of owning an EV without feeling like they are disrupting their current lifestyle or travel plans.
- Where You Live Matters: Public charging is a challenge and expensive. People who live in a freestanding home can purchase and install a charger for their EV to fully “refuel” overnight. Or, depending on their driving habits, they may be able to manage their charging needs with a normal 110-volt outlet. But for people who live in an apartment or condo, these options for charging are likely not possible. If we want to move the needle on EV interest and adoption, public charging must become more accessible, reliable, affordable and convenient.
- Hybrid as a Bridge: If you aren’t ready to jump all the way into the EV pool with both feet, a hybrid vehicle is a good option. It gives you the best of both worlds – the experience and benefit of owning an EV with the backup of gas power if you need (longer distance driving, less charging options, etc.).
Change is difficult – especially for big things like the type of vehicle you drive. So, deciding to make the full leap to electric may feel overwhelming. The key is understanding the benefits and limitations. An EV might be a great choice for many 2+ vehicle households, or for others it might mean changing mobility tactics and some Americans might not be willing or able to do that. As it generally does, consumer demand will dictate the future and my prediction is that we will have a mix of EVs, hybrids and internal combustion vehicles in dealerships and on the roads in the US for many decades ahead.