Survey Suggests Americans Still Doubt EVs [UPDATED]

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
survey suggests americans still doubt evs updated

While plug-in vehicles are catching on in Europe, representing 21 percent of all new registrations in the first quarter of 2022, they’ve been less popular in the United States. Only about 5.2 percent of American registrations were of the plug-in variety (representing hybrid and purely electric vehicles) during the same timeframe. Despite the industry spending billions to develop and market these vehicles, with some progress being made, the overall take rate within North America remains underwhelming.

Ardent fans of battery based powertrains will undoubtedly disagree. But a couple of studies came out this month that drove the point home. Autolist’s Annual Electric Survey dropped earlier this month, effectively outlining why EVs haven’t been able to make more headway in the states.

Having surveyed more than 1,300 American car buyers, Autolist determined that there are several key factors prohibiting the segment’s growth. Some of the reasoning has changed within the last 12 months. However, despite the surging energy prices, people’s general acceptance hasn’t changed all that much. This was reinforced by a recent J.D. Power study that reported 24 percent of its 10,030 respondents (surveyed between Feburary and April) said they were “very likely” to buy an electrified car. But that represents a modest increase of just 4 percentage points over the last year — something it attributed to the forthcoming deluge of battery electric pickups.

Ed. note: After publication, Autolist boss David Undercoffler sent us the 2022 survey. It’s linked here.

The actual take rate has been smaller, representing something like a 2.5-percent increase of national EVs sales between Q1 of 2021 and 2022.

Autolist suggested this was down to a few key factors — with the limitations of all-electric range taking being the most important. Roughly 61 percent of surveyed individuals said this was the main reason they would avoid purchasing an electric car. Price also played a role, with 50 percent of respondents saying EVs were simply seen as too expensive. Charging was the third biggest item, with 49 percent citing long charging times and a lack of infrastructure to support the vehicles on a level akin to what’s already available for gasoline (or diesel) automobiles.

Charging and range are of particular interest to those driving in the United States or Canada. Americans have historically driven more miles per year than anyone else in the entire world. This is due largely to the geography of the region and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System helping to supplant rail travel. But cheap, accessible gasoline and tons of fueling stations dotted around the country hasn’t hurt. As such, 70 percent of the people Autolist spoke to said charging at home would be an “essential” factor in the decision to purchase an electric car.

I suppose the good news is that range anxiety is likely to come down as vehicles continue improving battery capacities. There also doesn’t appear to be much of a social stigma around owning an EV — with just 3 percent of respondents suggesting embarrassment might keep them from buying one. David Undercoffler, editor-in-chief of Autolist, suggested the other issues may also resolve themselves as time went on.

“Two years is a long time in the world of electric vehicles, and buyers today have more models to choose from and more places to plug them in,” he said. “That’s helped ease concerns about price and charging while pushing range to the top of their list.”

From Autolist:

Shoppers’ reduced concerns about EV prices are likely from two factors.

For one, battery technology has continued to get cheaper. In 2019, the average cost per kWh was about $157. By 2020, that had dropped to $140, according to Bloomberg. By 2023, it’s estimated that battery packs will average $101 per kWh, making battery electric vehicles as cost-effective and profitable as their gas counterparts.

While most consumers aren’t keeping close tabs on these trends, they are helping to erode the perception that EVs have to cost more.

Secondly, consumers in 2021 are faced with an ever-growing number of EVs to choose from. These include the Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID4, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the Volvo XC-40 Recharge.

While these newcomers aren’t necessarily cheaper than what was available in 2019, the new additions are closer to well-known gas models in terms of size, vehicle type, execution, and perceived value than earlier electric cars were.

This is confusing because the outlet literally goes from discussing how EVs are getting cheaper, to stating that the latest models “aren’t necessarily cheaper.” Worse yet, they may not actually become more affordable in the coming years. Battery prices are set to balloon by at least 22 percent between now and 2026. That may not sound earth shattering in itself. But the batteries that go into all-electric vehicles frequently represent the single largest per-car expenditure for the manufacturer and prices seem to have bottomed out for the time being. Though this may not matter if other material prices spike by similar levels (which seems possible) or people decide that buying a slightly more expensive EV is worth it in the long run.

“Car buyers are less price-sensitive about EVs when the models you’re showing them look like the gas vehicles they already know,” said Undercoffler. “So a Ford Mach-E feels more value-oriented today because it looks like many other non-electric crossovers in the $40,000 – $50,000 range.”

“Consumers had a harder time making that math work several years ago when the only non-luxury EVs they saw were small hatchbacks that cost $40,000 before incentives,” he added.

Something tells me this goes beyond a matter of perception, however. A majority of respondents indicated they wouldn’t be willing to wait more than 30 minutes to restore 300 miles of range on an EV — with a third saying they wouldn’t even bother waiting that long. Presently, this is only achievable via the latest and greatest DC fast-charging points speckled around the grid. While one might believe this will be remedied as the technology evolves, engineers have noted that placing cells under higher charging loads is likely to diminish their lifespan. This has been one of the biggest issues holding back solid-state batteries. However researchers at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science now believe its possible to allow them to take on high levels of charge (shortening wait times) without upsetting their chemistry. The automotive industry is also working on this. But it’s difficult to trust that a breakthrough is right around the corner when we’ve been fed that line for years.

[Images: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

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  • JaySeis JaySeis on May 30, 2022

    I commute 90 miles round trip daily in our BEV and averaged 3.5 Mi/KWh in 22,000 miles. I’ve had a couple of longer trips over the Cascades and Rockies in winter and late spring. 1st gen early adopters in our rural county are like 1 (Tesla 5 years ago) and there are a couple of Teslas and Mach Es now in a county of 23,000. Our power at $.0634 per KWh is not the cheapest in WA but damn low. I save about $100 a week in gas costs over the twin turbo Flex which I averaged 25 mpg. My equivalent eMPG is around 115 eMPGs or so. I charge at home nightly on a NEMA 240V plug on a 40 amp breaker (former dryer service). The Level 2 charges at 32 amps and puts 90 miles back in about 5-6 hours from ~7 pm to 1 pm. My gear head friends love the BEV. They are 70’s hot rodders. They say “It is the future”. My 5.0 driving friend will definitely be shopping for one in a few years to replace his Prius. Of course electrical power is cheaper here so that’s a plus. My grandfather was a master electrician and master machinist. He oversaw the crews installing the generators in the No. 1 power house at Grand Coullee Dam. Dad was a journeyman electrician and worked there as well. Both would’ve marveled at BEVs as electrical generators/ motors were part of their life and powered/ran scads of industrial machines and home appliances. I recall the home he and mom purchased in ‘62 had coal bin in the basement, left over when the home was converted to an oil furnace in the 50’s and since converted to a heat pump driven by electricity. We’ve two cars and one is a BEV & the other is an ICE (Flex). I’d imagine we’ll be that way for about a decade.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 30, 2022

    Had a discussion this weekend with my college senior daughter who lives away from home. She spends ~$180/month on gasoline which is probably $80 too much vs. something with more reasonable fuel economy. $80 takes her X hours to earn. Not ideal, but not the end of the world, and would make little sense to spend $$,$$$ to get a more fuel efficient vehicle right now. Will an EV eventually make sense for her on a teacher's salary? Yes, probably so.

    • Jeff S Jeff S on May 31, 2022

      That will be when more adopt EVs when it makes more economic sense to buy an EV over an ICE vehicle. With the complexity of modern ICE and the turbo 3s and 4s in vehicles that should have bigger engines that will make EVs more attractive to many. Also with fewer younger people wanting to become mechanics and fewer willing to work on older vehicles it will be harder for those who are not do it your selfers to find skilled mechanics to repair their ICE vehicles. This is already happening with many repair places that are unwilling to work on older vehicles.

  • Slavuta Must be all planned. Increase price of cars, urbanize, 15 minutes cities. Bee poor, eat bugs
  • Sid SB Not seen a Core without the performance pack yet. Prefer the more understated look of the Core vs the Circuit, but both are great fun to drive.
  • El scotto Tesla has one team making EV's because that is all Tesla does. Farley -rolls eyes- decided to split Ford into two huge warring factions: ICE vs EV. Hey Jimbo, it says "FORD" on the buildings.Lord only knows what GM did internally because it's GM. I'm betting it's like Ford pitting ICE vs EVs. With GM being GM every existing division will be divided.Stellantis will keep building Challengers and Rams. Someday they may figure out that Jeep is the fugu fish of the automotive sushi world and unload to some Chinese. EV's? no, not really.If this site was The Truth About HVAC (TTAH) some on here would tell us that central heating and air causes unknown illnesses, will be bad, and cause a degradation of our nation's moral fiber. By golly they shoveled coal and carry ash buckets and that shouldn't change.
  • El scotto -channeling my inner Kenneth Mars- It is a coupe because Merzedes say's it est une kupe! Quiet schweinhunds! Dis is zee best kupe in zee vorld! Merzedes says so! Zee best or nothing Mein Herrs!
  • Sobhuza Trooper With "Lunch-Bucket" Joe and his faithful Number One Son Hunter on the side of the UAW, how can they lose? Both know what 'sweat-of-the-brow' work is all about, having come from nothing and demonstrating a firm understanding of the plight of the common working man against the evils of their capitalistic bosses. Workers of the World Unite! All power to the Soviets!😀