Electric Cars: Why You Want 'Em, Why You Fear 'Em

CARS.COM — Even amid an upward trend for gas prices of late, motorists who remember shelling out more than $4 a gallon a few years back are likely unfazed by the current $2.40 national average. And if the contents of your wallet aren't being siphoned off into your gas tank, where's your incentive for buying an electric vehicle?

Related: Top 10 Best MPG Bang for Your Buck

As it turns out, Americans are motivated by reasons other than their own bottom line. According to a just-released study by travel-services giant AAA, these are the top reasons people are still considering going electric for their next car purchase:

  • Concern for the environment
  • Lower long-term costs
  • Desire for the latest technology
  • Access to carpool lanes

In fact, AAA says, despite gas prices being 40 percent lower than five years ago, the number of Americans likely to buy an EV for their next car — 30 million — is nearly equal to that of the undisputed top-selling automotive segment in the U.S.: pickup trucks. Survey results revealed that 15 percent of Americans are strongly considering an EV for their next purchase, a figure that jumps to 20 percent among millennial shoppers. Moreover, nearly a third of Americans are likely to buy a gas-electric hybrid vehicle, and 70 percent of all motorists rate fuel economy as a major purchase consideration.

Fueling the interest in electrics, AAA says, is the rabid brand awareness of Tesla, which has helped broaden the appeal of the segment with its stylish, performance-oriented cars and cutting-edge tech. AAA chose the Tesla Model X 75D as the overall recipient of its 2017 Top Green Vehicle award, a list that also includes the Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier, Volkswagen e-Golf SE, Lexus GS 450h F Sport, Tesla Model S 60 and Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew in those vehicles' respective segments.

Still, intent to buy and buying remain two very different things, and pulling the trigger on an EV purchase continues to come down to a fear so specific it has its own name: range anxiety.

"While electric vehicles are an attractive option for car shoppers, AAA found that more than half of Americans are hesitant to make the switch due to 'range anxiety,' — the concern over running out of charge or having too few locations to charge a vehicle," AAA said in a statement. "This fear persists despite the fact that U.S. drivers report an average round-trip commute length (31 miles) and time (46 minutes) that are well within the range of the more than 100 miles of range that most electric vehicles offer."

Indeed, the Tesla Model S' range ranges from the low to high 200s to the mid-300s depending on the battery and driving conditions, while the Chevrolet Bolt EV has an estimated range of 238 miles. Meanwhile, another factor of range anxiety is a dearth of charging stations, but that number reportedly has quadrupled in the past five years to 15,000 across the U.S.

Could increasingly long, anxiety-reducing ranges be the key to getting car shoppers plugged back into an EV market diminished by low gas prices and a shift toward crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks? Perhaps this study presages the next shift in consumer behavior, but for now, what people say they want and what they buy is not matching up. In 2016, the U.S. saw the annual window-sticker fuel economy — the average EPA-estimated mpg of all new light-duty vehicles sold domestically — decline for only the second time since tracking began a decade earlier.


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