Consumer survey on EVs reveals perception vs. reality

CarGurus polled car shoppers to check in on how they really feel about electric vehicles.

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An orange electric car at a charging station.

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Electric vehicles (EVs) have been getting plenty of attention recently, and not always for the right reasons. Their sales growth has slowed, automakers are resetting expectations and timetables, and concerns persist about their viability as a replacement for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

In an effort to get a better sense of what may be driving this shift and to check in on how consumers feel about electric cars, the CarGurus Insights Team polled 1,050 U.S. car shoppers in March and April 2024.

Survey Findings: Perception vs. Reality

The goal was to measure shoppers' perceptions of EVs and compare them to the reality of these vehicles. Closing the gap between the two could help key stakeholders put electrified vehicles into the hands of more consumers by breaking down important barriers to wider adoption.

Below are some key characteristics of EVs that consumers raised as concerns in CarGurus' survey, and how they compare to the facts.

Perception 1: EVs Don't Have Enough Range

When respondents were asked to estimate the median driving range for a 2023 model year EV:

  • 58% underestimated the median range of EVs, saying it was 250 miles or less
  • 27% got it right (estimating 251-300 miles)
  • 15% overestimated the median range, saying it was more than 300 miles

What's more, when respondents were asked to select all of the reasons they might be hesitant to consider an EV, "Range" and "Access to a Charging Network" topped the list, with 60% of respondents selecting each.

Reality:

  • According to the Department of Energy, the median range for EVs in 2023 was 270 miles.
  • Federal data from 2022 also shows that people, on average, drive 13,476 miles a year, or 259 miles per week.
  • A total of 80% of respondents in CarGurus' survey said they themselves drive 250 miles or less each week.

What This Means:

EVs may be more suitable for consumers' weekly use than they realize. Whether it's federal data or CarGurus' own respondents, the numbers show that most drivers need their vehicles for fewer miles each week than the average EV runs on a single charge.

Yet in multiple surveys by CarGurus and its sister company Autolist, consumers have repeatedly made clear that they don't think EVs have enough range to suit their lifestyle.

This is a key challenge EVs have always faced. Despite the recent headwinds for electric vehicles, it's clear that many existing models would be more than adequate for consumers' weekly use.

Since a majority of car shoppers underestimate EVs' median range, it creates an opportunity for the EV industry – automakers, car dealerships, electric charging companies, etc – to boost EV adoption by making this case to consumers.

Perception 2: EVs Are Too Expensive

Image of graph results showing “New average listing price by select powertrain” and “Used average listing price by select powertrain”.

CarGurus

Another recurring issue consumers have with EVs is their perceived cost; this showed up repeatedly in this CarGurus survey as well as prior surveys and consumer studies. Here's how it played out this time:

  • "Cost to Purchase" was the #3 concern shoppers had about EVs (behind "Range" and "Access to Charging"); 53% of respondents cited EVs' cost as a barrier to entry. Many consumers remain unaware of incentives that can help defray the cost of a new or used EV.
  • 41% of respondents said they were not aware of any federal or state benefits or incentives that might reduce the cost of any EV.
  • Of the remaining respondents who were aware of incentives, fewer than one-third (28%) were aware that these can apply to used EVs.
  • This compares to the 44% of respondents who said they were aware that these can apply to new EVs.

Reality:

  • EVs continue to drop in price. CarGurus data shows that in April, the average listing price of new EVs was down 4.8% YoY (excluding direct-to-consumer brands like Rivian and Tesla), the eighth consecutive month prices have dropped. On the used side, prices in April dropped 19.3% YoY, the 17th consecutive month that they decreased.
  • In the used car market, the delta in price between gas vehicles and fully electric vehicles continues to shrink. Since June 2022, the difference in average listing prices between the two has dropped 74%, according to CarGurus' data.
  • The 10 used vehicles with the largest price drops in April 2024 versus 2023 were all EVs, except for Toyota's Mirai hydrogen fuel cell model. These vehicles' prices dropped between 30% and 38% YoY.
  • There are now significantly more used EVs available overall, and many used EVs are now eligible for the used EV tax credit. As of April 2024, 36% of all EV listings were under $25,000 (the threshold for the tax credit), up from 18% at the same time last year.
  • As used EV prices have dipped, interest has risen significantly. In the first quarter of 2024, views on CarGurus.com of used EVs were up 35.6% year-over-year.

What This Means:

Pricing has an outsized impact on consumer interest in EVs, new and used. But so too does providing consumers with accurate info on how they can save money on them.

If a majority of consumers cite price as a key hurdle to buying an EV, and at the same time many of those same consumers are unaware of incentives that can cut their cost, that's a perfect recipe for slow EV adoption.

What's more, EVs' cost as a barrier to entry will continue to erode. Not only will the flow of used EVs into the market increase for years, but a greater percentage of those vehicles will be lower-cost models in the first place, to say nothing of the impact of incentives.

It's also worth noting that while the $4,000 rebate is clearly helping boost shoppers' interest in used EVs, its effect may have a limited shelf life. That's because that tax credit is only available once during each EV's used-car lifecycle, meaning the impact of this rebate on used EV sales may wane.

But keep in mind, the market will have evolved by then and the used EV landscape will look different.

There will be considerably more used EVs on the market just a few years into the future, which will naturally lower their cost in the same way this $4,000 rebate is doing today.

Perception 3: Opinions on EVs Are Based on Experience

Up until now, EVs' growth has been fueled by early adopters who were willing to overlook the inherent challenges that came with such a seismic shift in energy type, plus drivers in coastal states where charging infrastructure was more mature.

More recently, steep price cuts by brands like Tesla, Ford, Hyundai, and Audi, have also spurred interest from buyers on the fence about the switch away from ICE vehicles.

But now that EV demand is cooling – and automakers are hurriedly adjusting their expectations and investments accordingly – the assumption is often that shoppers have experienced EVs and are dismissing them for aforementioned reasons (range, price, and access to charging).

Reality:

Many consumers have limited, if any, experience in an EV, according to CarGurus' survey.

  • 60% said they hadn't ridden in or driven any type of electrified vehicle (full battery electric, plug-in hybrid, or hybrid) in the past six months.
  • 47% said they weren't aware of any friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors who owned an electrified vehicle (hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric).

What This Means:

More exposure to EVs – and electrified vehicles in general – could help drive growth.

As with any new technology – especially one that affects something as indispensable as how we get around – consumers are understandably wary of EVs as a whole.

People's key concerns about EVs haven't evolved much since these vehicles first hit the road years ago – yet the technology has and will continue to evolve significantly.

But if the narrative is always focused on what's different or challenging about owning an EV and if a majority of consumers (in CarGurus' survey) haven't even been in an electrified vehicle – let alone a fully electric model – there could be a very real group of people who might switch to an EV, if only they spent some time with one or had someone in their inner circle who shared their experiences with one.

The next wave of EV growth will have a lot to do with exposure and education. It will be essential for the stakeholders in the electric vehicle market to inform shoppers about if and how EVs fit into their lifestyle.

Respondents' Background:

Consumers in the CarGurus survey had broad experience with traditional ICE vehicles but limited exposure to electrified vehicles. Here's a snapshot of their background:

  • 87% owned at least one ICE vehicle currently (just 4% owned at least one EV currently).
  • 78% said that for their next vehicle, they were considering a traditional ICE gas-powered vehicle; 33% said they were considering a hybrid or plug-in hybrid; 16% said they were also considering a full EV.

Perception of EVs' impact on the environment was also evenly split among respondents. When asked whether they believed that EVs as a whole were better for the environment than gas-powered vehicles, here are the responses:

  • 30% said EVs were better for the environment than gas vehicles.
  • 38% said EVs were worse for the environment than gas vehicles.
  • 32% were unsure which was better for the environment.

This story was produced by CarGurus and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.






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