Plug-in Cars Suitable For 42 Percent Of U.S. Households, Study Finds

Those who have read Douglas Adam’s celebrated series The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy will be familiar with the ultimate question to life, the universe and everything. And of course, its answer: 42.

More people could go electric than you think...

More people could go electric than you think…

But perhaps the ultimate question relates to the tailpipe, emissions and plugging in, because a recent study by Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that a massive 42 percent of U.S. households could make the switch from a gasoline vehicle to a plug-in car without any problems whatsoever.

Not only that, but the study’s conclusion revolves around car which are readily available today — not future models that offer hypothetical tipping points that consumers would need to see before making a purchase decision to go electric.

The phone-based study, which was conducted in late September, asked 1,000 randomly selected Americans aged eighteen or over a range of questions relating to their current driving requirements and car, such as their daily commute, who travelled with them in their car,  what parking eligibility they had and if they knew what charging capabilities they currently had at home and work.

The UCS even came up with this really neat infographic to explain its findings.

The UCS even came up with this really neat infographic to explain its findings.

The study focused on three key criteria:

  • Access to parking with a wall outlet or charging station.
  • Four or fewer passengers (since most EVs on the market today seat either four or five adults)
  • No hauling needs (since most EVs on the market today are not designed for hauling)

Of those questioned, 42 percent met all three criteria, with work or home-based charging marking them as suitable for either an all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. Interestingly, another 33 percent met all but the charging criteria, making them ‘a plug away’ from being EV-ready.

This, as the study points out, is often due to a lack of electric outlets next to parking spaces at apartment complexes, other multi-family dwellings or at work. This reinforces what many advocates have been saying for years: the real barrier between someone buying an electric car and not buying an electric car is a simple wall outlet.

Moving on, the study details that a further 12 percent of those questioned could meet all but the towing/hauling requirements for owning an electric car. While this 12 percent may currently be excluded from plug-in eligibility, it is expected that cars like the Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid — which will come with towing capability as standard — could help at least some of that 12 percent meet plug-in eligibility.

Within range

In addition to the core eligiability questions, the study also examined people’s attitudes towards electric cars and how far they travelled on a daily basis.

A massive 76 percent of those questioned reported weekday travel totals of less than 60 miles, making their travel needs well suited to any electric car on the market today — placing them even within the 62 mile EPA-approved range of the Mitsubishi i-Miev.  Given most people questioned said they would prefer a plug-in hybrid over a pure EV however, it’s likely that none of these questioned would find themselves unable to add extra trips during their average workday due to range limitations.

Attitudes positive, but education key

The study asked respondents how knowledgeable they were about plug-in cars, as well as how likely they would be to purchase one. As you might expect, those who said they were most knowledgeable were also most likely to buy an EV, with 74 percent of those who said they knew a lot about plug-in cars saying they would consider purchasing one.

Only 47 percent of those who said they knew nothing or little about EVs would consider purchasing one, while concerns about repair costs and range — followed by charger availability — proved the biggest barrier to ownership.

What does this tell us? Like other recent studies, it highlights a need for better plug-in education among car buyers and the general public. Like the early days of any new technology, the amount of time spent educating consumers is directly proportional to the rate at which that technology is adopted.

You can find out more about the study at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website, or read the survey’s full methodology and data here.


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  • Dennis Pascual

    As a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide Trilogy (yes, I know there were more than three books, but I just preferred the first three…) I like the tie-in with the number 42…nnnHowever, I feel that the number SHOULD be higher than 42%… However, the point about access to an electrical outlet in multi-unit dwellings does raise to mind the need for more progressive governments to modify building codes to make room for that oversight and the number should soar.nnnNow, if only adoption takes off as well.

  • Most surprising statistic: only “56% of U.S. households have access to charging”. nnWhy only 56% can plug-in when 99% of households have electric service? The average American household owns 2.28 cars, with over 50% of households owning two or more vehicles. But, many households don’t have a single vehicle (eg: in NYC ownership is less than 50%). A list of non-owners in U.S. metros: the largest factor to having “access to charging” is household parking situation vs. access to electric service. Shared, or public parking present challenges as not every parking spot can be charging enabled and policies to installation and use vary widely. It would be interesting to know the percent of household owning a car having private, shared, or public parking. nnWhile 42%, or 33% seems low, it really implies millions of households could meet their needs using a electric vehicle today. IMO the gap is awareness and in education that they have access that meets their needs, and of the economics in owning an EV. Seeing a friend, or neighbor plugging in can be a real eye-opener that they can too.

    • vdiv

      People living in multi-dwelling units cannot park their car “at home”. They usually park in a shared garage or a parking lot some horizontal and/or vertical distance away. Very often they do not even have a dedicated parking spot. Of the spots available, very few are usually within a practical reach to an outlet. And of the outlets available very few are allowed to use them for charging.nnnI find the statistics quite the opposite. Plugin cars being suitable only for 42% of the population is rather low considering that PHEVs and EREVs do not have to be plugged in, and that most people in the US have more than one car. 56% of households having access to charging seems rather high considering the multi-dwelling folks as discussed above.

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