The false dichotomies of plug-in electric vehicle markets

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An archetypal electric vehicle (EV) driver has emerged in the public consciousness. This archetype can generally be characterized as a high-income, highly-educated, urban-dwelling, married, middle-aged white male who owns his home and values the latest technology and/or the environment. For those who see the widespread market for EVs as an important element of transportation decarbonization, this archetype has pluses and minuses. A plus is that if one follows the aphorism, “you can tell a lot about a person by the car they drive,” EVs are now widespread enough to have something to say about the identities of their drivers. Potential minuses include “false dichotomies” associated with the demographic characteristics of this archetype, with associated unintentional exclusionary effects for prospective EV drivers and unintended biases in analyzing latent EV demand. 

This report revisits the demographic and values characteristics of the EV driver and the vehicle shopper who might become an EV driver, in the context of the dramatic changes in the vehicles offered for sale in the U.S. in recent years. After a short overview of some of the changes in model year 2016-23 battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle offerings in the U.S. market – by body style, range, and price – the bulk of the report focuses on how the vehicle shopper relates to the changing supply of EVs. We start with reflections on what it means for someone to “own” an EV over this time period and on the importance of body style preferences for all U.S. vehicle shoppers during this time period. We then explore how consumer purchase and consideration of PEVs has evolved over this period, as structured by the demographic characteristics of income, geography, gender, age, race, and to a lesser extent, education and home ownership. We also discuss some of what is known about the values associated with the EV owner and consider how these values relate to consumer shopping criteria and reasons why uninterested consumers “reject” PEVs. The report concludes with a discussion that recaps the main findings in our exploration and considers their implications for the archetypal EV driver and the broader market for PEVs in the U.S.

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