Here’s What Electric Vehicle Buyers Really Want

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

If only one word could be used to describe electric vehicle buyers’ main motivation, it would be “practicality.” The California Center for Sustainable Energy recently revealed the results of its Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) User Survey administered between October 2013 and May 2014, which included vehicles bought after September 2012 and up to April of this year. At least in the Golden State, the biggest factor in buying decisions was fuel cost savings, though environmental and commuting factors also weighed on many EV buyers.

It’s about the money

Of the nearly 8,500 respondents in the CVRP survey, 37 percent said “saving on fuel costs” was the primary reason they opted to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle in the past 19 months. That overwhelmed the second-most cited answer, “reducing environmental impacts,” which 21 percent said was their primary reason for buying an EV.

What about the higher MSRP of EVs, one might ask? In addition to the $7,500 in federal rebate, California offers $2,500 in state rebates for fuel cell vehicles, all-electric models, and even some “range-extended” cars (plug-ins with gas motors) like the BMW i3 REx. Knock $10K off the price of a green car and consumers in the country’s biggest auto market are clearly ready to play ball.

Operating costs were not ignored by any stretch. The CVRP survey showed a majority knew of special EV charging rates, with 62 percent of respondents taking advantage of these rates when juicing up a car’s battery. Throw in the cost of fuel savings over five years for a car like the Ford Focus Electric — estimated at $9,000 — and EV drivers have good reason to know where their bread is buttered. Californians didn’t forget about the energy independence or their commute to work, either.

2015 focus electric

Following the fuel cost savings and environmental benefits, the third largest segment of respondents said they chose to buy a plug-in EV for the access to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on California freeways. Anyone who buys a plug-in in California gets access to the fast lane, and 90 percent of respondents said they had already applied for HOV access decals or currently had one in their car’s window. Hybrids don’t make the cut for this privilege.

Political motivation and cultural convenience

Some of the most progressive political policies of the United States originate in California. In the case of electric vehicles, 7 percent of respondents said their decision was based on a desire for increased energy independence. A look at the top five U.S. oil suppliers reveals there are three — Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia — that often don’t advance U.S. national interests. The typical EV can save 2,500 gallons of gasoline over the course of five years, which decreases the need to bargain with such nations.

The availability of charging stations in the workplace also factored into buying decisions. Nearly half of the CVRP User Survey’s respondents said access to charging ports at work were moderately important to extremely important to their decision to buy a plug-in.

Still, the most important factors related to consumer finance. Incentives to buy and incentives to charge help, but it is the fuel savings above all that are powering the EV industry. Range concerns factored very little into the discussion, which signals this element has less of an impact than some circles would like consumers to believe.