Californians Buy Nissan LEAF to be Green, Volt to Save Money, Prius PHEV To Get HOV-Access, Study Finds

With so many different cars to choose from on the market today, it goes without saying that the reasons people choose to switch to a plug-n car — and more specifically choose one model of plug-in over another — are wide and varied. Over the years, we think we’ve heard most of them, from domestic energy security and environmental responsibility to better performance, lower running costs and yes, even sex appeal.

Are you in California? Why did you buy your EV?

Are you in California? Why did you buy your EV?

In the main however, we assumed the reasons each individual chose the plug-in car they wanted would vary from person to person. Yet a recent study from California’s Center for Sustainable Energy suggests that the reasons people choose for switching to a plug-in ally depend on the actual plug-in car they end up buying.   Most Nissan LEAF drivers, for example, cite environmental concerns as their primary motivator for choosing an electric car, Chevrolet Volt owners say the Volt’s high mpg and potential fuel savings was the biggest motivator, while Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid owners say single-occupant access to California’s HOV lanes was the biggest influencer.

The CCSE February 2014 Plug-in Electric Vehicle Report was carried out by contacting the 8,756 plug-in car owners who had received a purchase rebate from the state of California under the stat’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project towards the cost of their car  AND had owned their vehicle for at least six months as of March 1, 2013. Of those people, 3,881 people responded. Unlike previous surveys which consisted primarily of Nissan LEAF drivers, this round of the Survey was made up of multiple different types of plug-in vehicle owners, with the majority of respondents owning a Nissan LEAF (57 percent) followed by Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (22 percent) and Chevrolet Volt (17 percent). Other car types accounted for 4 percent of respondents.

(It’s worth noting of course, that since the survey was carried out, more than 19,650 rebates were given out to Californians buying all-electric vehicles under the CVRP, and a further 17,227 rebates given out to plug-in hybrid owners. Since not all of these recipients had owned a plug-in car long enough to take part in the current survey, expect the next round to provide an even clearer, more comprehensive representation of plug-in owners in the state and include a much wider cross-section of plug-in owners, including Tesla Model S, Ford Focus EV, Honda Fit, Toyota RAV4 EV and Fiat 500e drivers.)

Statistics on plug-in charging is very interesting.

Statistics on plug-in charging is very interesting.

 Motivating Factors

Of those questioned, 38 percent of Nissan LEAF drivers, 18 percent of Chevrolet Volt and 16 percent of Toyota Prius plug-in Hybrid owners said that environmental concerns topped their reason for buying a plug-in. Meanwhile, 34 percent of all  Volt drivers, 20 percent of all LEAF owners and eighteen percent of all Prius PHEV owners said saving money was their biggest concern.

But perhaps most telling was the impact single occupant HOV-lane access eligibility was for those questioned.  As a fully-electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF is eligible for California’s unlimited-in-number white HOV lane access stickers, yet just 16 percent of those LEAF owners surveyed cited it as the number one reason they chose a LEAF. Yet for owners of the Prius PHEV and Chevrolet Volt — cars which are eligible under Californian law for the limited-in number and rapidly dwindling green HOV-lane stickers — 57 percent and 27 percent of respondents respectfully said it was the number one deciding factor in their purchase.

This not only reinforces the commonly-held belief that the Prius Plug-in Hybrid was created specifically to allow its owners to benefit from the HOV-lane program, but portrays drivers of the shortest-range plug-in vehicle on the market as  wanting nothing more than a few extra minutes saved every day on their commute.

Plugging in Less

That stereotype is further perpetuated by the news that while 64 percent of the respondents had a domestic Level 2 charger at their home, only 11 percent of Toyota Prius plug-in Hybrid owners had a domestic Level 2 charging station, suggesting that the majority of Prius PHEV owners either don’t charge at home at all, or make do with the 110-volt portable charging unit which came with their car.

In comparison, 88 percent of all LEAF owners, and 46 percent of Volt owners said they had a domestic Level 2 charging station at home. Since 93 percent of all respondents owned their own home, and 88 percent of respondents resided in a single-family, detached home, we’re curious as to why such a high percentage of plug-in owners don’t have a Level 2 charging station at home.

Highly Educated, Affluent Middle Aged Buyers

The majority of plug-in owners are in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the southern San Francisco Bay area.

The majority of plug-in owners are in San Diego, Los Angeles, and the southern San Francisco Bay area.

Questioning respondents about their family income and education levels, the survey has proven yet another stereotype that plug-in car owners generally the highly educated, affluent middle classes.

Of those who responded a massive 57 percent said they had a Graduate’s degree, while a further 33 percent had a Bachelor’s degree.  As a consequence, a massive 50 percent of all of those questioned had an annual household income of $150,000 or more. That income bracket accounts for a far larger share of the plug-in car market than the 15 percent market share the same demographic has of the conventional gasoline car market. Meanwhile, those with a gross annual household income of between $100,000 and $150,000 accounted for 18 percent of the plug-in vehicle market only a few percent more than the 14 percent market share the same demographic shares of the conventional car market.

Meanwhile, only ten percent of those responded had annual household incomes which fell between $50,000 and $100,000. Since the mean U.S. household income in 2012 was just $51,017, the survey demonstrates what we already new: electric cars remain out of the reach of the majority of Americans.

More Range 

One of our favourite statistics from the survey has to be the discovery that while everyone said they wanted their plug-in car to have a larger range, LEAF drivers desired the longest range between charges.

Despite a rapidly improving satisfaction with public charging, LEAF owners said they wanted their cars to travel far further up to a desired range of 200 mile per charge vs a real-world achievable range of 78 miles. This ties in nicely with the suggestion that Nissan is looking to extend the range of future LEAF models to 150 miles per charge. Volt owners were next, saying they wished their cars had a real-world range of 100 miles vs the actual EPA-approved 38 mile range.

LEAF owners wish their cars could go up to 200 miles per charge.

LEAF owners wish their cars could go up to 200 miles per charge.

Plug-in Prius owners meanwhile, said they’d be content with a 50 mile all-electric range vs the 12 miles or so their cars can do at the moment.

Do you agree? 

You can view the entire survey for yourself here and find plenty more snippets of important information. With the survey due to repeat this year, we’re hoping to see an even clearer and more representative section of Californian plug-in owners represented, and we’d also request that you consider filling out the survey if you happen to live in California and are contacted for your assistance.

But do you agree with the findings? Do you follow the majority of your fellow plug-in car owners, or do you buck the trend? Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.



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