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Who Likes Electric Cars? Rich, Educated, Middle-Aged Men, That's Who

By: Alex Goldmark

This post also appears on Transportation Nation

A study from Norway sheds a little light on what kind of person is buying electric cars, and how they drive.

The Institute of Transport Economics in Norway concludes that the typical early-adopter of an electric vehicle is likely to be a man, probably middle-aged, living in or near a big city who has a high income and education level, according to a literature review of various studies from multiple countries. One French study found the early adopters also tended to work in industries that exposed them first hand to EVs before buying one, such as electricians, or government workers in municipalities with EV fleets.
This scan of studies paints a picture that EV adoption is still far from widespread, but that the very act of owning an EV might change the owner's behavior and government polices can influence the choice to own an EV.
The early-adopters tend to live in households with other cars, hinting that EVs are being used as a second car and potentially replacing public transit use rather than gas driving.
That said, EV owners drive differently, the researchers conclude. Drivers of electric cars tend to use their EVs for commuting and choose their routes more carefully than gas guzzling drivers, and thus tend to choose toll roads more often too.
Explaining why needs more research, but presumably an EV driver is more aware of wasting mileage out of fear of running out of battery, indicating that fear of running out of energy is a far better incentive to choose the most direct route than having to pay extra for wasted gas. The researchers write:
"Adjustments drivers have to make when driving an EV include better planning of journeys – due to battery limitations – and adoption of a smooth (non-erratic) driving style. Motives behind the purchase are the special regulatory advantages (such as in Norway), environmental considerations, lower operation costs and simply the convenience and fun it is to drive these vehicles. Taxes and incentives play a large motivating factor in increasing EV adoption, and also guiding who does that adopting."
Much of the study dives into Norwegian EV adoption and the impact of polices there to encourage EV use, such as tax waivers and letting EVs drive in bus lanes.
In the Norwegian studies, which are more detailed than the international ones cited, people drove more once they got an electric vehicle. That makes some sense considering that each additional mile is cheaper for an EV owner than a gas-powered car. As it turns out, some of that increased driving was due to people who were using EVs as a substitute for public transit.
The literature review also scanned surveys of popular perceptions of EVs across countries and found wide variations with two common negative perceptions: range anxiety and battery charging hassle factors. People didn't want to have to take the time to charge their car, and they feared running out of juice on the road. People who actually own EVs, however, were less likely to cite range worries, according to one French study. Interestingly, price complaints were less commonly cited.
Positive perceptions were pretty much as one might expect: EVs were credited as being environmentally-friendly and making less noise. They were also associated with easy parking, presumably because in some countries, parking spaces are reserved for EVs to charge in, of parking fees are waived. In Norway, EVs are given free parking permits.
All of this is just a small glimpse at that demographics and behavior of a small group of auto consumers. It's early yet to say who will come to like the electric car. One lesson from this research seems to be how easy it would be to change the face of EV ownership through policy. The more incentives there are to go electric, the more people--and the wider range of people--who will do it.
Read the full study here.

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Photo: Alex Goldmark

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