In CR’s largest-ever nationally representative survey, more than a third say they’d consider buying an EV today
A growing number of consumers are eager to buy a battery electric vehicle, especially if certain concerns related to EV ownership are addressed, such as creating greater access to charging, extending vehicle range, and lowering purchase prices, according to findings from the largest-ever nationally representative survey from Consumer Reports (PDF).
The survey of 8,027 U.S. adults found differences across racial/ethnic and income groups in terms of how people perceive EVs and the potential purchase barriers. Almost half of respondents also reported being unaware of existing federal and state incentives that would defray the purchase price of many EVs, sometimes up to $7,500 for the federal credit, key knowledge that might sway someone to make an EV purchase.
With improvements to the nation’s charging networks, more lower-priced EVs coming to market, and increasing range from battery technology advances, many barriers to EV ownership are showing signs of breaking down over time. The survey results bear this out: We found that 14 percent of American drivers say they would “definitely” buy or lease an electric-only vehicle if they were to buy a vehicle today. That’s up markedly from the 4 percent who said the same in a 2020 nationally representative survey from CR of 3,392 licensed U.S. drivers.
Overall, our latest survey found that more than a third of Americans would “definitely” or “seriously” consider buying or leasing an electric-only vehicle) if they were to buy a vehicle today. Among their reasons: More than 3 in 10 U.S. adults say that it costs less to charge an EV than to refuel a gas car (33 percent), overall lifetime costs are lower (31 percent), and maintenance costs are lower (28 percent).
“The survey shows that there is clear interest among Americans in reducing costs for transportation and lowering their environmental impact,” says Quinta Warren, PhD, CR’s associate director of sustainability policy. “It underscores some key concerns, but fortunately, many of these barriers to owning a battery-electric vehicle EV can be addressed through experience and education.”
There’s no denying soaring demand for electric vehicles and hybrids. Gas prices are at record highs, and Americans increasingly are turning to electric vehicles. EV sales rose 76 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, according to Cox Automotive, an information and services company. EVs promise reduced operating costs, and there are more choices on the market, with more models from various categories on the way.
Consumer Reports conducted the survey to better understand demand and awareness of battery EVs and low-carbon fuels. It was partially funded by the environment-focused philanthropic group Breakthrough Energy and the Energy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to a safe, equitable economy powered by green energy. It was fielded Jan. 27 to Feb. 18, 2022, when the national average price for gasoline ranged from $3.34 to $3.52 per gallon. The price of gas has surged to a national average of about $5 per gallon for regular as of late June. (Download a PDF of the survey report.)
The survey results illustrate an EV landscape in transition, as more Americans become aware of the purchase option in a societal atmosphere of increasing concern about climate change and the role fossil fuels are playing.
CR is committed to supporting sustainable transportation, reducing harmful emissions, and saving drivers money—so much so that fuel economy is a key factor in the Overall Score that we give to every car we purchase and test. As a result, the Overall Scores elevate good all-around models that are energy-efficient, helping shoppers make their purchase decisions and encouraging automakers to prioritize energy efficiency. CR also launched a Green Choice designation last year using vehicle emissions data from the Environmental Protection Agency, highlighting the vehicles that are among 20 percent lowest contributors to smog-forming and greenhouse gas emissions for their model year. You can find these Green Choice vehicles on our website and in our print publications. They are denoted by a green leaf icon wherever our ratings are presented.
Highlights From the Survey
EV visibility: Four in 10 Americans (44 percent) have seen a battery-electric vehicle in their neighborhood in the past month.
EV experience: 17 percent of all Americans have been a passenger in an electric-only EV in the past 12 months, and only 7 percent have driven one. Only 2 percent of Americans currently own or lease a battery electric vehicle.
Views on climate change: Seven in 10 Americans say the issue of climate change is personally “very important” (35 percent) or “somewhat important” (35 percent) to them. Three out of 4 Americans agree that human activities contribute to climate change.
Erasing barriers: Charging logistics (61 percent) is the top barrier to getting an EV, followed by the number of miles the vehicle can go before needing a charge (55 percent) and the costs involved with buying and maintaining an EV (52 percent).
EV incentives: Almost half of Americans (46 percent) have not heard about any incentives available for electric-only vehicle owners.
Demographic viewpoints: Our survey found that some groups are more likely than others to buy or lease an EV as their next vehicle:
• Males are more likely than females.
• Younger adults are more likely than older adults.
• Americans with a higher education are more likely than those with a lower education.
• Americans with a higher household income are more likely than those with a lower household income.
• Americans who live in urban areas are more likely than those living in suburban or rural settings.
Low-carbon fuels: Overall, two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say that given a choice, they would be likely to use low-carbon fuel in their personal vehicle if the cost per gallon were the same as the cost of traditional fuel.
Experiences With EVs Affect Attitude and Desire
Americans who have experience with EVs, including simply being a passenger in one, are more likely to be interested in purchasing one. Overall, only 7 percent of Americans have driven one in the past 12 months, whereas 20 percent of those who say they would definitely buy/lease an EV as their next vehicle, have driven one. This makes sense because EVs are relatively new and in some ways quite different from a traditional gasoline car.
“Many EVs are enjoyable to drive, with quick, silent acceleration, and balanced handling, aided by their large, low-mounted battery,” says Gabe Shenhar, associate director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. “In short, they are often quite a treat to drive.”
EV Sticker Shock
Of Americans who said cost-related factors were holding them back from getting an EV, almost 6 in 10 said purchase price was the biggest barrier. Of those, a larger percentage of white (60 percent) and English-speaking Asian Americans (66 percent) surveyed say “purchase price” is one of the cost considerations holding them back from getting an electric-only vehicle, compared with Hispanic (55 percent) and Black Americans (46 percent).
The attitude toward purchase price may be influenced by the attention given to pricey models currently on the market from Audi, BMW, Lucid, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rivian, and Tesla. But mainstream automakers are introducing lower-priced models, including the Kia Niro, Subaru Solterra, and Toyota bZ4X. Some shoppers may be surprised to learn that prices for the Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV, Hyundai Kona, and Nissan Leaf have dropped. The 2023 Chevy Bolt now starts at just $26,595—putting it around $20,000 less than the price of the average new car.
And for many EVs, the true purchase price may be even less than the sticker price because of federal, state, and even power utility incentives. Almost half of Americans (46 percent) are unaware that there are incentives available. “Tax rebates and other incentives can reduce the purchase price of EVs by thousands of dollars,” says Warren, CR’s associate director of sustainability policy.
It can be tricky to determine which incentives are applicable to a given model because federal tax credit eligibility is based on overall sales volume. To make this easier, Consumer Reports’ Electric Vehicle Savings Finder highlights local and federal incentives and tax rebates, based on your ZIP code and the model you’re researching. This feature is part of our free membership at CR.org, requiring just an email address to access.
Cost of Vehicle Ownership
“Most EVs are less expensive to own than similar traditional cars,” according to Warren, “even when factoring a higher purchase price for a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle.”
And yet, just over half of Americans (52 percent) who weren’t already committed to buying an EV said the costs of buying, owning, and maintaining it would prevent them from leasing or purchasing one.
The views and concerns vary among different groups. Of those who say cost-related factors would prevent them from getting an EV, a larger percentage of Black (54 percent) and Hispanic (48 percent) Americans than white Americans (37 percent) say maintenance and repair costs are holding them back. However, a previous study by CR, conducted in 2020, revealed that EV owners spend around half as much on maintenance and repair over the vehicle’s typical lifetime as gas-only car owners do. EVs have fewer moving parts and fluids that need to be changed. Even the brakes tend to last longer. Plus, the cost of powering the car is also far lower, especially now with $5-per-gallon gas.
Charging an EV
About 6 in 10 Americans who weren’t already committed to purchasing an EV say concerns about where and when they would be able to charge it (61 percent) and how far that charge will take them (55 percent) have been holding them back from buying. In particular, concerns for charging logistics are greatest among white and English-speaking Asian Americans at 67 percent for each group.
The good news: There are now more than 48,000 U.S. public charging locations, often with multiple charging connections, and many more on the way. Fifty percent of Americans say free public charging stations are the charging option that would most likely encourage them to buy or lease an electric-only vehicle, followed by 47 percent who say it is the ability to charge where they live, and 45 percent who say easy access to fast-charging public stations. Only 10 percent considered workplace charging to be the most important option.
For those who can charge at home, CR has found good wall-mounted charging units for $500 to $700. Installing one costs from $492 to $1,191, according to HomeAdvisor. EV range is commonly around 250 miles (far more than most people typically drive each day), meaning that overnight charging can satisfy most drivers’ common needs. Experienced EV owners consider range to be much less of an issue than non-owners, supporting this assertion.
For those not ready to commit to a full-on EV, hybrids can be a smart alternative and save owners a lot on gas. A hybrid combines a gasoline engine with an electric assist, allowing the powertrain to optimize its operation for maximum fuel economy. With a regular hybrid, the engine and brakes generate electricity, so you never need to plug in the car.
As an example, trading in a 2017 Chevrolet Equinox V6 for a 2022 Toyota RAV4 hybrid (another small SUV) could save $1,775 a year in fuel costs, based on our tests and gas at $5 per gallon. That’s almost $9,000 in fuel savings over five years. Moving to a pricier Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid would yield even greater savings, while providing a balance between 42 miles of local electric-only driving and the long-distance range and convenience that gasoline provides. (For the RAV4 Prime, the total range per tank and one charge is 540 miles.)
The Promise of Low-Carbon Fuels
Running vehicles on electricity is just one way to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions in transportation. Another is a shift to low-carbon fuels derived from clean, often renewable sources. Some low-carbon fuels are designed to work in regular gasoline-powered vehicles, and others may require new powertrain technology. The term “low-carbon fuels” refers to a range of solutions, but it is most often associated with ethanol and biodiesel developed from plants. It also encompasses other energy sources such as hydrogen, liquified natural gas, and propane.
The survey focused on “drop-in fuels” that could be used in current vehicles without modification. The results show that Americans are quite receptive to the possibility of using these in their own personal vehicles, and they see the value in their use for other applications, such as aviation.
Two-thirds of Americans said they would be likely to use low-carbon fuel instead of traditional gasoline in their personal vehicle if the cost per gallon was the same as the cost for traditional fuel.
Those who are more likely to purchase an electric-only vehicle are also much more likely to say that they’d use low-carbon fuels in their personal vehicles and if they had the choice would choose a flight on a plane that uses low-carbon fuel.
The survey showed that there is the willingness to shift to another fuel type for its environmental benefit, however, it is important that the cars be designed to use it. Today’s regular gas typically is 10 to 15 percent bio-ethanol, a plant-derived fuel. Higher concentrations require a flex-fuel engine designed to handle the different chemistry, including a special fuel pump and fuel injection system.
“When it comes to reducing fuels’ carbon emission, there are several things we can do,” says Mohammad Tayarani, PhD, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports. “As automakers roll out more electric vehicles, there are other low-carbon fuels that could complement the transition to EVs. Plus, there is huge potential for low-carbon fuels to power planes, boats, and other transportation for both freight and people.