In April, 2021, researchers at the National Center for Sustainable Transportation and the University of California – Davis Institute of Transportation Studies published the results of their most recent electric vehicle study. Rather than study the habits of EV adopters, this multi-year research focused on what caused people who had previously adopted EVs to discontinue use of them. If you’ve spent any time thinking about the benefits and challenges of EV adoption, the results likely won’t surprise you.
This report came from the results of five separate surveys, conducted among California-based plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) adopters between 2015 and 2019. Of these surveys, four were cohort-based, and the final one in 2019 was a panel survey where members of the four cohorts were all sent questionnaires at the same time and asked to participate. For purposes of this survey, PEV adopters were comprised of two groups: battery electric vehicle (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) adopters.
It’s worth noting that although this report was published in April, 2021, it’s based on results gathered primarily between 2015 and 2018, with the 2019 survey reflecting additional questions asked of respondents from the 2015 through 2018 surveys. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
Overall, researchers received 4,512 survey responses. Of these, 20.96 percent of respondents who had purchased PEVs reported a decision to discontinue ownership. If you’re wondering about a difference between those who purchased outright vs. those who leased, the numbers are surprisingly stable between the two groups. From this small sample size, it appears that purchasing vs. leasing wasn’t a significant determinative factor.
The main drivers of discontinuance, according to this study, were the following:
- Dissatisfaction with charging convenience
- Lack of level 2 charging at home
- Simply preferring other vehicles that may have lower MPG
One interesting question asked of survey respondents involved having them design their ideal PEVs. The results showed that at the time of the survey, no vehicle currently existed that had both the range and charging speed they wanted, at a price they were happy to pay. A friend of mine has long joked about creating the Journal of Stuff I Could Have Told You, and it feels an awful lot like that answer belongs on the cover.
There are three correlations drawn from these surveys that I’d like to call your attention to. One is that those who discontinued PEV ownership were less likely to own homes, and therefore less likely to have access to level 2 charging. A second is that they were more likely to have lower household income. A third is that those lower-income individuals who discontinued ownership were more likely to be female.
All these items are recorded separately, rather than considered together. Generally speaking, people who have less access to fast charging will likely not find living with PEVs to be as convenient as we might wish it to be. Additionally, while PEVs are gradually gaining price parity with piston-powered vehicles, we’re nowhere near where we need to be, either with two-wheeled vehicles or four-wheeled ones.
Finally, the gender pay gap is a well-documented thing, with a Morningstar survey released in February, 2021 showing that even at the executive level, women earned 84.6 cents for every dollar that men made as of 2019. If PEVs are demonstrably more expensive to begin with, and you also can’t reliably access fast charging because you don’t own your own home (which could also have to do with making less money), it’s no wonder you’d think twice about continued ownership.
We want electric vehicles to succeed, and we love technology here. However, when you add all those factors together, discontinuance is more about simple math and less about a whole lot of other ancillary factors, including gender. Better infrastructure, lower cost of entry, and improved range would almost certainly encourage both new and continued ownership of PEVs going forward, from a wider variety of owners.