With gas prices taking a toll on people’s wallets, Consumer Reports (CR) has a new survey of what Americans think about battery electric vehicles and low carbon fuels. The nationally representative survey of 8,027 American consumers, which was fielded in late January and February, is the largest national survey sample in the history of CR, the nonprofit consumer research, testing, and advocacy organization.
71% of Americans express some level of interest in buying or leasing an electric-only vehicle: 14% would “definitely” buy or lease one if they were to get a vehicle today, 22% would “seriously consider” one, and 35% “might” consider one.
The 14% of American drivers who say they would “definitely” buy or lease an electric-only vehicle is up markedly from the 4% who said the same in a 2020 nationally representative CR survey of 3,392 licensed U.S. drivers.
Another key finding: Nearly half of Americans (46%) are unaware of the incentives available to purchase an EV. 53% say tax rebates or discounts at the time of purchase would encourage them to do so. Many consumers can save thousands of dollars on the price of an electric vehicle with existing federal, state, and local incentives, such as power utility incentives.
This suggests that incentives—and concerted efforts to make Americans aware that they exist—are important policy tools to help spur a transition to clean transportation. Resources such as CR’s free EV Savings Finder are available to help people find incentives available to them locally.
Consumers who buy EVs can also save thousands of dollars a year in fuel and maintenance costs, compared to owners of comparable gas-only cars, according to CR analyses from this year and 2020.
The survey was fielded January 27 to February 18, when the national average price for gasoline rose from about $3.34 to $3.52 per gallon. Today the average price is $4.87, according to AAA. The survey was conducted with support from philanthropic groups Breakthrough Energy and the Energy Foundation.
“A growing number of people want clean cars that cost less to drive,” said Dr. Quinta Warren, associate director of sustainability policy for Consumer Reports. “Getting to say goodbye to the gas pump is a big factor for people considering electric vehicles. Our findings suggest automakers and policymakers need to do more to address concerns about charging and costs, and educate people about the available savings and incentives for EVs.”
When asked what factors would make them consider an EV, 33% say it costs less to charge an EV than to refuel a gas car, 31% say lower lifetime costs, and 28% say lower maintenance costs.
Among those who did not say they’d “definitely” buy or lease an EV, the top three barriers are charging logistics, such as where and when they’d be able to charge it (61%), the number of miles the vehicle can go before needing a charge (55%) and costs involved with buying, owning, and maintaining an EV (52%).
Some progress is being made in these areas. There are more than 48,000 U.S. public EV charging locations, but low- and moderate-income communities need greater access. CR has found good wall-mounted home charging units for $500 to $700. While some of the priciest EVs generate huge attention, mainstream automakers are introducing lower-priced models. EV range is commonly around 250 miles, which is far more than most people typically drive each day, so overnight charging at home can satisfy most drivers’ needs. The survey finds experienced EV owners consider range to be much less of an issue than non-owners – 27% versus 56%.
Americans who have experience with EVs are more likely to be interested in purchasing one. Only 7% of Americans have driven one in the past 12 months, while 20% of those who say they would “definitely” buy or lease an EV as their next vehicle have driven one.
“Some of us have questions about the transition to electric vehicles, as many of us are unfamiliar with them. Expanding charging options and elevating incentives, combined with education campaigns and getting more people to experience EVs personally, can all help drive adoption,” Warren said.
Low carbon fuels
61% of Americans say the impact on the environment is important to them when buying or leasing a vehicle – 18% say “very important,” and 43% say “somewhat important.” Running vehicles on electricity is one way to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions in transportation. Another is a shift to low carbon fuels, which produce less carbon dioxide than traditional fuels, but are not yet widely available.
Low carbon fuels can include ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, liquified natural gas, and propane. Some low carbon fuels are designed to work in regular gasoline-powered vehicles and others may require new powertrain technology. The survey focuses on “drop-in fuels” that could be used in current vehicles without modification.
While just one in four Americans (25%) had heard of low carbon fuels prior to the survey, 67% say they would use low carbon fuels in their personal vehicle if the cost per gallon was the same as the cost for traditional fuels. And one-third (33%) say they would be “very likely” to choose a flight on a plane that uses LCFs if the cost of the ticket was the same as flying on a plane that uses traditional jet fuel.
“As automakers roll out more electric vehicles, there are other low carbon fuels that could eventually complement this shift to more sustainable transportation,” Dr. Mohammad Tayarani, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, said. “Plus, there is huge potential for low carbon fuels to power planes, boats, and other transportation for both freight and people.”
CR will share the survey findings with automakers, federal and state officials, and other stakeholders as it advocates for solutions to help consumers save money on transportation, reduce emissions, and improve public health.