EVs Are Hitting the Mainstream

It’s not just tech nerds who are buying battery-powered cars anymore.

November 15, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Electric vehicles are starting to go mainstream in the U.S., as a new cohort of EV enthusiasts purchase battery-powered vehicles, reports the New York Times. At first, EV buyers tended to be affluent, environmentally aware tech aficionados living in California—almost a cliché.

“Two years ago, it was the EV nerds,” Scott Case, the chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used electric vehicle market, told the Times. Now, this new set of EV purchasers belong to what he calls the early majority—"when the first sizable segment of a population begins to adopt the innovation.”

According to data from Cox Automotive, battery-powered vehicles are the fastest-growing segment of the auto market. Sales were up 70% in the first nine months of 2022 year over year, while internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles were down 15%. EV’s share of new vehicle sales increased to 5.6% from 2.9% year over year.

The data also found that EV buyers in 2021 were more likely to be female and younger than the average EV purchaser in 2019.

The Times garnered over 3,000 responses from EV owners for stories on electric vehicle purchases, and although many said they were EV drivers for environmental reasons, lower costs are a major factor to buying an EV, and many said they use rooftop solar panels to charge their cars at home, potentially lowering costs further.

One respondent, David Kreindler of Northern Vermont, powers his entire home and EV through the sun. He designed and built his home to run on solar panels and batteries because of the high cost of a new utility connection. His home gives him more power than he needs, so he uses the excess to charge his Volkswagen ID.4 SUV.

“I’m my own utility,” Kreindler told the Times.

Another respondent, Tracy Miersch, who lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick, said she travels 3,000 miles a month for work, so she purchased a Tesla in early 2021.

“I had been kind of averse to all the new technology,” Miersch told the Times, adding, “My purpose was getting rid of gas.”

She said she can charge her Tesla at home for six Canadian dollars, saving over 600 Canadian dollars a month, or about $440. She purchased her Tesla Model 3 used for 70,000 Canadian dollars.

The price of a Tesla or another premium EV model, which make up the majority of the EV market, can be unaffordable for most Americans, even used. In order for wider EV adoption to occur, cheaper models will have to be introduced.

Some car makers have affordable models available, including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt, and Chevy will introduce an electric Chevrolet Equinox SUV next year for around $30,000. Chevy is one of multiple car companies with plans for affordable EVs in the coming years, but it will be awhile before there are enough cheap EV options and can be sold as used vehicles.

“I don’t have the disposable income to throw $50,000 or $60,000 at a car just to help the environment,” Russell Grooms, who purchased a Nissan Leaf, told the Times. “It really came down to numbers.”

Another barrier to wider EV adoption is lack of convenient public charging options. This was a large frustration of those who responded to the Times.

One respondent, Ruth Milligan, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, attempted to take her daughter to Michigan State University in her Volkswagen ID.4—a four-hour trip. She thought she had planned out where she could charge her SUV along the way, but she didn’t take into account that her battery would deplete quicker due to the weight of her daughter’s things and her husband, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

Two hours into their journey, she realized they were not going to make it to her planned charging stop in Toledo, so they stopped off in Findlay, where there were four charging stations available. However, one was behind a locked gate, another was at a Toyota dealership, the third was a Tesla charger and the other was recently installed but inoperable. The family had to spend the night and complete their journey in a rented van.

However, Milligan still likes her EV SUV. “In general, I’m happy with the car but I’m going to be cautious as I push its bounds,” she told the Times.

Some Times respondents said the charging stations that are available lacked cover, and they felt unsafe.

“Women don’t want to sit in a dark parking lot waiting for their car to charge,” Caroline Gambell, who bought a Chevrolet Bolt last year, told the Times. “Range anxiety is real. If you are trying to get stuff done, and you have kids in the back, the last thing you need is, ‘Is my car going to get there?’”

Some EV owners supplement their EV with an ICE vehicle to avoid range anxiety. One Times respondent said her husband and daughter have gasoline-powered cars, but she has a 2017 Mercedes B250e, which cost her $19,000 and can make it 80 miles on a full charge. She told the Times it’s enough for her daily needs. “I absolutely love this car,” she said.

Also, EV owners who live in apartments face the obstacle of not being able to charge at home. One respondent said she has to use a public charging space three blocks from her apartment to juice up, and 20% of the time, it’s out of service. But like many of the Times respondents, she is happy with her decision to own an EV.

“Overall,” she told the Times, “for someone in my situation I would recommend it without reservation.”

The Convenience Matters podcast, “Where Do EVs Make the Most Sense?” examines the findings from a Fuels Institute study looking at life-cycle emissions for EVs and fuel-powered vehicles. NACS also has a topics page on electric vehicles.

Join the Fuels Institute’s John Eichberger and Jeff Hove for a free webinar tomorrow as they review and discuss two recent reports, “EV Charger Deployment Optimization” and “A Best Practice Guide for EVSE Regulations.” Register now for the 1 p.m. ET webinar, Reality of EV Transitions.