US consumers less open to electric vehicles than other countries

10 December 2019 3 min. read
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American consumers are much less likely than consumers in other industrialized countries to purchase an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid, a recent report from management consultancy OC&C Strategy Consultants found. The survey polled 10,000 consumers in the US, China, France, Germany, and the UK on preferences towards EVs, autonomous vehicles (AVs), and car-sharing.

The OC&C survey found that only 53% of US consumers said they would consider buying an EV or hybrid car, in contrast to 94% of Chinese respondents and 77% of French consumers.

Only 10% of US consumers said their most recently purchased vehicles is an EV or hybrid. In the US, only 2% of annual car sales are currently electric vehicles.

The survey found that US consumers are hesitant to switch to EVs because of concerns over access to charging stations away from home. Charging stations for EVs in the US have yet to see wide scale deployment, with high “demand charges” limiting the cost-effectiveness of high-speed top-ups, according to a McKinsey study.

Another top concern for consumers is driving range, which is particularly troublesome for rural and suburban residents, and at odds with the vastness and sparseness of much of the country. Combine that with a shortfall in charging infrastructure, and EVs have little practical traction for many US consumers.

US consumers less open to electric vehicles than other countries

Price is also a huge factor for consumers, with the median EV sitting at $55,600, according to Cox Automotive. Car buyers outside the luxury segment are very price sensitive, so premium EV prices and the relatively cheap cost of gas make them less attractive to Americans.

The people who would be more likely to purchase an EV because of environmental attitudes (namely millennials) have less money to spend on an EV, however. A report from the Federal Reserve found that millennials have much less money than Gen Xers and baby boomers did at the same age. Add higher costs of living and higher levels of student debt to the financial morass, and green-conscious millennials are less able to pay the premium price of an EV. 

"While the evolution of the way we transport people and goods is a key pillar in the race to decarbonize transportation, the younger generation in the US are constrained by their finances in purchasing greener EV and hybrid vehicles," said Nicholas Farhi, a US-based partner at OC&C who specializes in the automotive industry.

Government policy and incentives are obviously a key lever to increase EV uptake, by either subsidizing EVs, increasing taxes on gas and internal-combustion-engine vehicles, or both. California has long offered strong financial incentives on EVs, and consumers in the state account for nearly half of EV purchases in the country.

US consumers are still firmly tied to car ownership, with 84% saying that having their own car is “essential to getting around” – the highest proportion of the five countries surveyed by OC&C. Sixty-four percent of Americans said they expect to own their own car in the future, which was second to only Chinese consumers.

Car-sharing and short-term rentals were unappealing to Americans and Europeans, because they want a vehicle “when and where they need it” and because picking up a vehicle is “too much of a hassle.”

Nearly 70% of Americans and Europeans said they wouldn’t trust an autonomous vehicle, compared to the 72% of Chinese consumers who would trust an AV. 

"America remains the spiritual home of the individually owned automobile and the open road, with few willing to adapt to innovation,” Farhi said. “Dwindling incentives and static or loosening emission standards have failed to push more Americans to consider electric vehicles."