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Survey provides fascinating insight into the reasons people buy electric vehicles

A survey of California EV owners came up with some interesting results about, among many other things, the main reasons people choose to go electric.

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Ever wonder what motivates people to make the big transition to owning an electric vehicle, either battery electric or plug-in hybrid? The California Air Resources Board (CARB) wanted to know this and a great deal of other information concerning electric vehicles, so it conducted a detailed survey of EV owners in the state. The results are intriguing to anyone who follows the industry.

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) administered the survey on behalf of CARB. Conducted between October 2013 and May 2014, it asked California residents who had purchased an electric vehicle, either a BEV or PHEV, between September 2012 and April 2014. In total, more than 8,400 owners responded to the survey; Californians have purchased over 83,000 electric vehicles between March 2010 and March 2014.

People buy electric vehicles primarily to save money on fuel

Overall, 37% of respondents said the primary motivation for their EV purchase was to save money on fuel. This was followed by 21% for the purpose of reducing environmental impact, 15% for coveted HOV lane access, 7% for increased energy independence, 6% for embracing the newest technology, 6% for vehicle performance, and 5% supporting the diffusion of EV technology with the remainder qualifying as “other.”

The responses are similar overall for both BEV and PHEV types, though 33% of battery electric owners cited low fuel costs as primary motivation and 41% of plug-in hybrid owners reported the same. The survey also breaks the results down by automaker, which is particularly interesting.

Primary motivation of EV buyers, broken down by automaker

Chevrolet, which sells the plug-in hybrid Volt and battery electric Spark EV, checked in at 43% of respondents citing low fuel costs as the primary motivation. Ford and their plug-in models Fusion Energi, C-Max Energi, and Focus EV scored very close to Chevrolet in all categories. Nissan’s LEAF attracted 47% of buyers with its low fueling costs and 24% with reduced environmental impact.

Tesla, to nobody’s surprise, destroyed the vehicle performance scores of the other automakers with 21% of respondents listing it as the primary motivation for purchasing a Tesla. Interestingly, only 12% of Tesla owners cited fuel savings but 23% attributed their purchase to lowering their environmental impact. Finally, Toyota rounded out the major players with an intriguing result. 36% said saving money on fuel was their primary motivation, but a whopping 30% cited HOV lane access, far more than any other automaker.

But wait, there’s more!

The survey also collected data related to: incentives (an overwhelming number of respondents cited federal and state incentives as important to their decision); demographics (21% of respondents reported household income below $100,000, 65% below $200,000); special electricity rates and solar panels (62% get reduced electricity rates for EV charging, 42% have or plan to install solar panels); dealership experience (on the whole, responses were quite favorable); and most important information sources (you’ll just have to explore for yourself, there is just too much information).

We encourage you to go to the CCSE survey dashboard, which you can find at this link, and explore the data. It is very well laid out and fun to play with. The main conclusion from the survey could be the overall importance of fuel cost savings to EV buyers, which may indicate that marketing of electric vehicles should feature the economic benefits of EV ownership more prominently. Your move, marketing teams.

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Brian Keez (not verified)    June 19, 2014 - 9:23AM

Being an EV driver, it's hard to believe that manufacturers have can't understand that I bought my car because I don't want to buy gas. Gas is expensive and electricity is not. Seems pretty simple to me.

No surprise abot the PIP and HOV lanes.