By on May 5, 2021

California PHEV

Electric vehicles are one way to carbon neutrality. Yet 20 percent of California PHEV owners have gone back to gas-powered vehicles.

Published in Nature Energy on April 26th by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, the study found that PHEV buyers in California were abandoning the technology at a rate of 20 percent, as were 18 percent of battery electric vehicle (BEV) owners.

According to the researchers, dissatisfaction with charging convenience, and not having level two, 240-volt charging at home, were the primary reasons.

The National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST) funded the analysis. The US Department of Transportation supported the University Transportation Centers program. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) paid for the questionnaire portion. They are one and the same agency that sniffs tailpipes for excess emissions.

Researchers Scott Hardman and Gil Tal had a premise: In order for EVs to be successful, it meant buyers needed to repurchase EVs. Abandoning the technology would prevent EVs from reaching 100 percent market share. They methodically surveyed California households who had purchased PEVs between 2012=2018. EVs’ success relied on adopters continuing to purchase EVs. 18 percent of EV owners and 20 percent of PHEVs were dissatisfied enough to return to gas-powered vehicles.

As noted by cnet.com, the problem centers around at-home charging. Level 2, 240-volt charging, or a lack thereof, is what led to discontent. Without the ability to recharge your EV at home, all the benefits of EV ownership go out the window. The lack of fast public chargers is a problem. Chargers that aren’t fast enough in comparison to refueling your car also diminished the EV experience.

Half the owners who bought another EV had Level 2 charging access, yet 30 percent who had access to Level 2 charging still decided against buying another EV. Their conclusion? It was pretty much even whether California PHEV owners decided to buy another EV or not. As the technology improves and charging installation is bundled with the purchase of an EV, it should help the green movement grow.

[Image: Mercedes-Benz]

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43 Comments on “California PHEV Owners Return to Gas Power...”


  • avatar
    GrayOne

    Apartments, condos, and city streets need to have chargers before EVs can really take off.

    Also 100 KW or faster fast charging needs to start being a standard feature. Why are EVs like the Bolt still shipping with 50 KW “fast” charging?

    Hyundai has the right idea with their new Ioniq 5 – 350 KW fast charging. 5-to-80 percent in 18 minutes. Not that you could actually find a charger that can do 350 kw.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    The future is electric.
    There’s no doubt the fedgov is going to subsidize electric and penalize petroleum.
    At some point most people will take the economic path directed by govt.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    It is CA’s own fault. Many people bought PHEVs and EVs for one of two reasons. Car pool lane access and the rebate of up to $7,000. The problem is that there was a limit to those rebates, both in the amount of funds available for rebates and that an individual could only get the rebate up to tow times, and fleets had limits too.

    So once that incentive ran out some people didn’t find it worth it.

    For most PHEVs you don’t need access to Level 2 charging, the convenience cord supplied with the vehicle will fully charge it overnight or a couple of hours depending on the battery size.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      We get 40 miles of battery range in a 2018 CT6 2.0E plug-in which covers daily drives with ease.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        What does it do with a Trifecta Tune?

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Norm, What made you go with the CT6-e? Is the trunk usable for a weekend getaway with the family and luggage? How are the seats for long distances?

        One of GM’s most interesting vehicles in a long time and one they probably didn’t know how to market.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “For most PHEVs you don’t need access to Level 2 charging, the convenience cord supplied with the vehicle will fully charge it overnight or a couple of hours depending on the battery size.”

      Exactly! I’ve been using a Level 1 charger for my 2013 Volt for 5 years now. It just rolled 105K miles which means I’ve put 70K mostly electric miles on it since buying it used. Some days a Level 2 charger would keep me from burning gas but that’s pretty rare.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        We use Level 1 for our C-Max Energi. Occasionally it gets fully depleted in the morning, returned home, fully charged and then used again later in the day. Having Level 2 would help because there certainly are some occasions where it only gets partially charged before going out again. Neither case however is all that common.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Some PHEV owners probably tire of dealing with two fuels. I still believe this is a big downside to the former Volt and any PHEV today. A PHEV is great for a very small niche of the market – much smaller than BEV, especially as BEVs improve.

    As for Level 2 charging at home – WTF. It’s not that expensive or difficult to install. I blame the owners for not doing their homework, but I also blame the mfrs and dealers for not making EV ownership easier for people.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Tire of dealing with two fuels? Sorry but it really isn’t a hassle going to get gas once a month or so. At this point we go 6-8 weeks between stopping at the gas pumps while at Costco.

      While there certainly are cases where it is relatively cheap and easy to install Level 2 equipment, there are still more cases where it isn’t cheap, easy or even possible for those living in rentals, apartments, condos and houses that they may own but do not have off street parking. Plus with a PHEV it is far from needed.

      This is just another case of the unintended consequences of public policy that isn’t thought out at all. EV proponents in Europe are spreading the same BS because their tax incentives made it more economical to purchase the PHEV even if they have no access to a home charger, or that won’t plug them in at home because it is a company supplied vehicle and the company will pay for the gas but they won’t pay for electricity used at home.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “Some” PHEV owners would be the 20% cited in the report. Your experience would be the other 80%.

        No doubt charging infrastructure improvements are needed, but that’s not the issue here.
        Q: Why would someone take a BEV home without having the right charger for it?
        A: Because the dealer told them it could charge on 120V, without telling them how slow that is.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          PHEVs and BEVs are two entirely different things and are broken out in the study.

          Q: Why would someone take a PHEV home without having a way to charge it at home?

          A: Because it was cheaper than buying the ICE version thanks to the big tax incentives.

          Also important to note is that this claims they didn’t switch to a BEV they went back to ICE so what they tired of, if anything was plugging in their car every night.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            … or range limitations or range anxiety or having to wait for a charger or charging taking too long.

            Pretending that there are not sacrifices with EV ownership is ostrich thinking. Use case dictates whether it makes sense.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Installation of a level 2 charger needs to be a part of the vehicle sales process.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      SCE to AUX doesn’t sound like he has ever had to plug in his car.

    • 0 avatar
      MeanOldGuy

      Unless you live in a condo with a multi story underground parkade, then it is very very very expensive to install and would require 80% of the owners to agree and pay for it. So that means impossible. Not everyone lives in house with 200 amp service, I would love to have an electric for my wife as she drives 50 miles a week but if I can not charge at home it is a dead deal. And no we are not allowed to charge an electric car with the random plugs in the parkade and it says in our bylaws, no electric vehicle charging from common property plugs. So maybe do your homework before scolding others.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “then it very very very expensive to install”
        Actually, it’s relatively cheap, but I admit that’s a relative term. I’ve gone through upgrades myself and am getting ready for more. It’s actually not the EVs causing the need for the upgrades, but other things.

        One low cost method is to just add NEMA 14-50 RV outlets without the chargers and have everyone get their own to plug-in. What a multifamily unit can do to recover the costs is to go though a company like charge-point and charge the users and get a portion of the profits. so, maybe do your homework next time.

        Driving 50 miles a week with most EVs you could quick charge once a month and be fine. At the high end, there are now 400 mile range cars and you could go a couple of months with that. In maybe 3 or 4 years 400 will be the low end with the new batteries that are starting to go into production.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No it doesn’t require the others to pay for it. I’ve seen personal charging equipment installed in underground condo parking. However in that case there was already electrical panels with a spare meter spot. They did need to get board approval and had to pay the full cost of the installation. Had there not be power panels already on that floor then it could have got real expensive real quick.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I doubt many tire of plugging in a regular 120 charger into their car at night. Assuming they have their own parking. For those who don’t, it makes no sense.

      PHEVs do cost a good bit more than a gasser. And often reduces luggage practicality.

      Pure BEVs, OTOH, do leave an awful lot to be desired as far as universality of use is concerned. Even more so in the “increasingly-less-intermittent blackout” state.

      For most people, a normal hybrid is the simplest way of reaping the most obvious benefits of driveline electrification (greatly reducing the amount of inefficient ICE idling in heavy traffic, and recovering energy used to increase speed, when time comes to decrease it, which is a common cycle in urban driving.) PHEVs and BEVs do bring more electrification benefits in some situations, but at a great cost in many others. They’re better for some, but starting to get pretty far out on the diminishing returns from electrification curve, while bringing with them other problems.

  • avatar
    giovane

    Alex on Autos explains well this study:
    “This study included just over 4800 cars and customers in California, only 2399 of those were model year 2011-2017. Why is that important? Because the 2018-2019 MY vehicles are so new that they are unlikely to have been turned in yet even in the average lease cycle. During that time, 198,537 pure EVs were sold in California, so this is a small sample set.

    The next problem is the combination of PHEVs and BEVs in his number, a common mis-step in my opinion.

    Of this data set in the 2011-2017 rage, the most popular models were the Leaf (644 units), the Model S (588 units), Bolt (299 units) and 500e (124 units). These sample sets are tiny. Out of these only 150 folks got a new car that wasn’t an EV (6%). most of those were Fiats. In fact, in the study the highest rate of not buying another EV was with brands that stopped making (at least temporarily) an EV. Fiat at 38%, Ford at 27%, Toyota at 24%, VW at 18%.”

    Long story short, the study analyzes mostly early EV and PHEV adopters. New EV have much longer range and better technologies.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @giovane: Good info! It’s annoying that TTAC has “truth” in its title. You’d think they’d do a little research and not mindlessly reproduce articles they read on other sites. Fine, take the articles from other sites, but dig into them. The Voltswagen story could have been uncovered along with this story and others if some research was done and a little logic applied. Posting articles people have already read on other sites days or weeks ago isn’t a way to generate traffic. Analyzing those stories and digging into them to discover the truth will get traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “New EV have much longer range and better technologies.”

      Yet, obviously not enough of either, for a good share of existing EV owners, to spring for these new and improved ones come replacement time.

      A pandemic driven “get the heck out of cities” trend, probably didn’t do EVs any favors, either. Springing for a Tesla, probably doesn’t seem like the wisest 80K, if one is entertaining the idea of perhaps leaving the Bay Area for Wyoming in the next few years.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Another way of saying “20 percent of phev owners returned to gas power” is:

    “80 percent of phev owners did NOT return to gas power.”

    While not an expert in public policy, I think that’s pretty damn impressive.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    No surprise, cars are all about convenience, if the car you own is a hassle then it’s inconvenient. Until they can figure out how to charge EVs for apartment and condo dwellers people will not adapt. How far would the automobile have progressed if roads and infrastructure had not improved for the automobile?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That’s not what this is about.

      This is about people who – after taking home an EV – discover they need a better charging system than 120V can do. I blame the dealers for misleading them, and the buyers for not doing their homework.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “and the buyers for not doing their homework.”

        Normies aren’t going to do that.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I blame the gov’t quotas for causing the dealers to push them out the door anyway they can. If they don’t sell enough PZEV or ZEV vehicles I’m sure they are afraid it could cause the mfg to lower their allocation of profitable ICE vehicles to hit the mix required by law.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It is simple the apt and condo dwellers can just use public charging stations, too bad the dealer isn’t going to tell them that will make it more expensive to drive than an ICE powered car.

      Fact is the automakers need to meet their quota which means the dealers do too. So yeah they aren’t going to say a BEV isn’t really suitable for your use case.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Vehicle range and widespread access to fast charging are not fringe issues and the BEV fans that prefer to hand-wave it away don’t do their advocacy any favors.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Speaking as someone who’d probably buy a BEV if I had a place to charge it up all the time, I don’t think “fans” of this vehicle type “wave” charging and range concerns away. I understand the vehicles aren’t for everyone at this point. But that’s the state of affairs in 2021, and I think access is going to increase pretty rapidly, if for no other reason than the increasing demand for EVs. And if the Feds get behind funding EV infrastructure, that process will accelerate.

      As for the folks who think “everyone should drive an EV because I do” are concerned, they’re dingbats anyway. Whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        “I don’t think “fans” of this vehicle type “wave” charging and range concerns away.”

        You must not spend much time on the ‘other’ site. Expressing concern about an hour long recharge every 250-300 miles might as well make you the antichrist.

        “I always take long breaks to eat on road trips, don’t you???!!!!”

        “Travel time isn’t everything!!!”

        “Only weirdos can’t get by with 300 miles of range!!!!”

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Travel time isn’t everything…it is the only thing.

          Things will improve when we are back to flying but I have no desire to add hours to already 14-15+ hour drives. I’m sure my company doesn’t either as those hours are billable.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            I’m with you.

            The last thing I want when traveling with my kids is finding a way to entertain them for extra hours while stopped.

            God forbid I bring this up as a real concern though. Apparently every EV apologist eats hour long sit down meals at multiple stops per trip, and I’m the crazy one for just wanting to arrive quickly.

          • 0 avatar
            dantes_inferno

            I second that motion.

            My primary objective when traveling is to reach my destination as soon as legally possible. Charging stops significantly alter that equation.

            Unless of course said EV drivers have a desire to listen to an extended version of the classic hit “Are we there yet???”

        • 0 avatar
          dantes_inferno

          @jack4x

          On a certain game show, those quotes fall under the category “Things EV Cultists Say”

          :)

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    One of the best looking K-cars and 224HP in that package is darned respectable.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I had a Le Baron Turbo. Junk. But was cool when did not break. But always broke.
    Interesting if this one had independent suspension?

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    I bought one just to get on the carpool lane for free, and now that deal is over I am no longer going to buy an EV / plug in. If the price is right I might consider in the future but at the moment I like my gas car better.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I have a PHEV, and my next car is going to be a gasser, because I want to do some track driving. But, I’m certainly an edge case. I may keep the PHEV to use as an additional car, because it’s been such a good car and I won’t get that much money for it.

    If I didn’t want to drive on the track, I’m not sure what I’d get. EVing around town is so much nicer than driving a gasoline powered car, it would be hard to give that up, but I don’t see an EV that I’d really like. Since what I have has been so reliable and cheap to run, I’d probably just keep it for a few years and see if something else I really liked came along.

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