If we ignore the differentiation between plug-in hybrid and fully-electric cars, there are two main types of plug-in car on sale in the U.S. today: those which were built from the ground up as an electric car, complete with their own brand-new platform and model; and those which are essentially plug-in conversions of existing gasoline or diesel models.
Tesla’s all-electric Model S and the Nissan LEAF are examples of the first, while the Ford Focus Electric, Toyota RAV4 EV and Volkswagen e-Golf are examples of the second.
Today, vehicles like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt — both built as distinct plug-in models — account for the lion’s’ share of all new plug-in car sales. And as various plug-in sales studies have shown us, buyers of such cars tend to be younger and wealthier than average hybrid car buyers, with a better credit score and a healthy interest in the latest computer tech.
Those who opt to buy an electric car version of a mainstream model tend to have higher salaries, are younger in age, and know how to track down a good deal.
But what about those who buy plug-in variants of mainstream models like the Honda Fit EV, Fiat 500e and Chevrolet Spark EV? Do buyers of these less-obvious plug-in vehicles share a similar demographic to plug-in owners in general, or is there a subtle difference?
That’s what car valuation site TrueCar (via USA Today) tried to find out when it compared buyers of conventional gasoline-powered models with those who buy the electric or plug-in hybrid version of the same vehicle. Comparing buyer information for both gasoline-powered and electric variants of the Ford Focus and Fiat 500e, it looked to see if there were any trends that set apart the two groups.
Its findings seem to back up the wider picture: those who opt to buy an electric car version of a mainstream model tend to have higher salaries, are younger in age, and know how to track down a good deal.
Comparing Ford Focus buyers versus Ford Focus Electric buyers, it found that the average age of the a gasoline Focus customer was 46 years of age with a household income of $77,000 a year. Electric Focus buyers were three years younger on average and earned an average household income of $199,000 per year.
That ties in with previous studies painting plug-in owners as wealthier and younger than your average new car customer. But they’re also better at spotting a bargain: according to TrueCar, only fifty percent of gasoline Focus customers said they purchased their car because of decent prices and any available incentives to sweeten the deal. Eighty-two percent of plug-in Focus customers gave financial incentives as a reason for their purchase decision.
The same was true for plug-in customers for Fiat’s 500e versus the gasoline Fiat 500. Fifty-two percent of Fiat 500 customers said that they were lured by the deals on offer at the dealership to buy their car, while 67 percent of 500e customers said it played a part in their decision-making process.
In terms of age and income, Fiat 500e drivers studied averaged an income of around $145,000 per year and were 45 years of age. Fiat 500 gasoline customers were two years older, with an average household income of just $73,000.
At first glance, the study does seem to back up other studies that paint the mythical ‘average’ electric car buyer as being a young to middle-aged, well-educated white male with plenty of disposable income. Based on our own anecdotal experiences, we’d have to agree that the majority of plug-in car owners we met do seem to fit into that category, although we refrain from asking such personal questions when meeting fellow plug-in owners at a charging station.
For a start, we’d like to note that the study doesn’t make clear if the values being quoted are mean, median or modal averages. While we’re not going to give you a math lesson to explain each, the differences can have a massive impact on the overall data, especially if the data sets are not equal in size.
We’d like to remind readers that the world of statistics can be a veritable minefield of misdirection and confusion.
That data set too, can’t be all that large for either vehicle. Both the Fiat 500e and Ford Focus Electric are compliance cars: vehicles built by automakers in limited numbers to satisfy zero emission mandates in states like California. As an illustration, we’d like to note that only 124 Ford Focus Electric cars were sold in the U.S. last month, less than ten percent of the total number of Nissan LEAFs delivered during the same period, and less than one percent of all Ford Focus sales during the same period.
Fiat’s all-electric 500e sales figures are a closely-guarded secret, with Fiat refusing to differentiate between its electric and gasoline models in the sales charts.
If we assume that Ford’s sales data — just 124 Focus electric sales for the month of April — forms the basis of TrueCar’s analysis, we’re sure a ninth-grade math student could spot the problems that representing statistics could provide. Assuming the study quotes mean values (most do), even a few high-earners in such a small data set could dramatically skew the resulting statistics.
A modal evaluation of the same data could give a very different set of results.
Without examining the data for ourselves, we can’t say for sure how it has been processed. But our point here is not to dispute the data but to point out that the way in which that data is interpreted can change the final results.
In the meantime, we’re curious to hear your experiences of plug-in variants of gasoline cars. Do you own one? Do you fit into the average age and wage brakcet suggested by this study? Or perhaps you’re a long way outside the bell curve.
Either way, leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.