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Study: Nearly 20% of California electric car buyers go back to gas

Researchers found many owners think charging is too much of a hassle

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Photo (c) Tetra Images - Getty Images
Surveys have consistently shown that consumers have not yet displayed much enthusiasm for electric vehicles (EV). But the auto industry, under pressure from various governments, is increasingly committed to producing mostly EVs in the years ahead.

Now there’s more troubling data for the industry. A study published in Nature Energy looks into the reason that many California EV buyers have gone back to gasoline-powered transportation. In short, the researchers found that a number of EV owners consider the cars a hassle.

“We show that discontinuance is related to dissatisfaction with the convenience of charging, having other vehicles in the household that are less efficient, not having level 2 (240-volt) charging at home, having fewer household vehicles, and not being male,” the authors write.

The volts supplied by the outlet charging the vehicle appear to be a key factor. Standard home outlets -- the kind you might have in your garage -- supply only 120 volts of electricity. It could take days to fully charge an EV battery.

To address this issue, Tesla designed a “supercharger” power outlet delivering 450 volts of electricity. Plugged into that a Tesla can be fully charged in about an hour.

But few, if any homes have a Tesla supercharger. These public charging stations have begun to appear at convenience stores and other high-traffic locations but they still require about an hour to charge.

20% of buyers have gone back to gas

The study by researchers at the University of California Davis questioned California consumers who purchased an EV between 2012 and 2018. It found that nearly 20% no longer drove one, having traded it in for a gasoline-powered car.

“For the market share of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) to continue to grow and reach 100% of new vehicle sales, adopters of the technology, who initially buy PEVs, will need to continue choosing them in subsequent purchases,” the researchers wrote.

Kelley Blue Book (KBB) reports consumers are showing new interest in EVs. It says shopping for electrified and fuel-cell vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles (EVs), hit new heights in the first quarter of 2021. However, the report doesn’t say how many were first-time buyers or consumers buying their second or third EV.

While sales of electrified vehicles, including hybrids are increasing -- nearly doubling between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021 according to Cox Automotive -- they still made up less than 8% of total U.S. auto sales.

Ford hopes to change the game

Ford is aiming to change that, introducing an EV version of America’s best-selling vehicle, the F-150. In a demonstration Wednesday evening in Detroit, Ford told industry analysts that the F-150 Lightning goes from zero to 60 in about three seconds, has a top speed of 130 miles per hour, and has a driving range of up to 500 miles.

When the truck goes on sale next year, it will have a base sticker price of around $40,000. That will make it less than Tesla’s pickup and put it well below the current average cost of an EV.

Ford is positioning the Lightning as a work truck, pointing out it has the power and capabilities of current gasoline-powered models, with one additional feature. The truck’s massive battery can serve as an electric power source, eliminating the need for a generator on the job site.

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