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AAA Report: Driver Uncertainty Slows Electric Car Adoption

Only 16 percent of Americans say they are likely to purchase an electric vehicle, according to the report. Most drivers cite concerns about the lack of charging stations as a prime reason they won't buy one.

Never mind that more than 1.2 million electric cars have been sold in the United States in the last eight years, Americans remained mixed on how quickly they might purchase the carbon-free vehicle.

A recent report by AAA found that less than half (45 percent) of Americans believe most cars will be powered by electricity in 10 years. While a nearly equal share — 42 percent — believe electric vehicles will constitute a majority of cars on the streets.

The findings by AAA were not surprising, said Lisa Chiladakis, manager of technology and programs at Veloz, an electric vehicle advocacy group based in Sacramento, Calif. “Although Americans are becoming more aware of electric cars, generally, many do not consider one for their next purchase,” she said.

Only 16 percent of Americans said they were likely to buy an EV as their next auto purchase, according to AAA, a statistic unchanged from 2018. Millennials and Gen-X buyers — 23 percent and 17 percent respectively — were more likely to go electric than baby boomers, where just 8 percent of those surveyed said they consider an electric car as their next purchase.

"Like any new technology, it takes time to see widespread adoption,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “AAA believes that the industry should provide as much information as possible about the benefits as well as the limitations of electric vehicles since this will be an important step toward increasing consumer awareness and ultimately adoption. This is the reason that AAA continues to invest in testing and research of EV technologies.”

Education and awareness-building are key missions behind groups like Veloz, which has launched its Electric For All media campaign. “There are so many benefits to driving electric, such as reduced monthly costs, reduced maintenance, convenience of home charging and most importantly they are fun to drive,” said Chiladakis. “But until more people experience these benefits for themselves, we need to continue to message these benefits and raise awareness through our Electric For All campaign.”

Columbus, Ohio, has taken active steps to demystify EVs with its Experience Center, a place consumer can go to test-drive the cars and learn more about them. The city has also launched a range of programs to offer incentives to both ride-hailing drivers and taxi fleets to switch to electric vehicles. Charging network provider Greenlots recently announced a partnership with Columbus Yellow Cab to install DC (direct current) fast-charging stations at its depot facility along with several other heavily trafficked routes in central Ohio as part of an effort to transition gas-powered cabs to electric.

Another development is the EV charging project run by JuicePlan, which offers home charging units from eMotorWerks, a California based company. JuicePlan is essentially “charging-as-a-service” where eMotorWerks will install a level 2 charger in your home as part of 60-month $19-per-month plan. Since the upfront costs of buying and installing a high-voltage charger that can power up a car in a few hours can be expensive, the JuicePlan service can significantly lower the entry fee for buying an EV.

"There’s a continued need to democratize access to electrified mobility globally," said Preston Roper, president and general manager of eMotorWerks, in an email. "One of the barriers we’ve found to greater adoption is the selection and installation of an EV charging system at home, where the vast majority of vehicle charging takes place today. The resident is responsible for paying for the electricity. However, following the 60-month agreement, the user owns the charging unit.

Charging an electric vehicle remains a persistent concern among shoppers. The AAA study found that six out 10 Americans who are unlikely or unsure of buying an electric car report they are concerned about not having enough places to charge the car. It’s for this reason advocates and policy makers say a wider public charging infrastructure is needed to allay some of these concerns.

"California has the most robust electric car charging system in the U.S., and the most hydrogen refueling stations,” Chiladakis pointed out. “With this growing network, we are optimistic that refueling electric cars will continue to be convenient and affordable as the market grows.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.