Electric Vehicles: Public Acceptance, Infrastructure and Policy

Organized Concurrent Session at the 31st IAEE/USAEE North American Conference - Austin, Texas

Tuesday, 6 November 2012 at 2:00 PM

Sanya Carley

Asst. Prof., Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana)

T. Donna Chen

Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas at Austin

Kara Kockelman

Prof., University of Texas at Austin

Rachel Krause

Asst. Prof., University of Texas at El Paso


In 2009, the U.S. government highlighted electricity as a promising alternative transport technology to petroleum – one that offers societal benefits in the form of reduced reliance on foreign oil, less greenhouse gas emissions, and the advancement of domestic industrial innovation – and established an official domestic goal of putting one million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015. In response to this goal and to associated government-sponsored manufacturer and consumer incentives, all major vehicle manufactures now have plans to offer personal passenger electric vehicles within the next five years.

Plug-in electric vehicles are becoming a visible presence in many communities and the auto industry guarantees a larger number and variety of forthcoming electric vehicles. However many are observing these trends with caution. What will be the fate of the electric vehicle this time around? While some consumers have expressed interest in purchasing an electric vehicle in the near future – a population often referred to as “early adopters” – it is not yet clear whether mainstream consumers will accept the electric vehicle and willingly switch from entirely gasoline powered vehicles to those run either entirely or partially on electricity.


This panel explores early plug-in electric vehicle trends in the U.S., with a series of papers that assess ways to increase consumer interest and market viability in light of current electric vehicle conditions. The papers consider the factors necessary to make plug-in vehicle market presence a reality; what drives plug-in vehicle purchase decisions; how knowledgeable are consumers about plug-in vehicle characteristics and incentives; how should plug-in vehicle infrastructure, such as public charging stations, be located so they are accessible to the greatest number of potential owners; and how can policy tools be designed to best inform decision-making in this field? The papers as a whole suggest several challenges exist for the electric vehicle market, including the need to address range anxiety, reduce the costs of infrastructure and vehicle components, and better inform the public about the characteristics of these vehicles and the availability of incentives. The panel will conclude with a discussion of some of the strategies that government and industry can pursue to give the first-generation plug-in vehicles a better chance of market penetration.


The first paper, entitled “Intent to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle: A survey of early impressions in large U.S. cites,”[1] draws from a 2,302 respondent survey on consumer vehicle preferences, conducted in 21 of the largest U.S. cities. The paper reports on the perceived advantages and disadvantages of plug-in electric vehicles among this potential car-buying population, and measures how strongly such perceptions shape consumers’ interest in purchasing these vehicles. The primary finding is that, given current battery technology and public perceptions, consumers’ intent to purchase both plug-in and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles is low. Interest in plug-in hybrid technology is somewhat larger than interest in all-electric technology. Individuals that express substantial early interest in adopting electric vehicles are typically highly educated, previous owners of conventional hybrids, environmentally sensitive, and concerned about dependence on foreign oil. Enhanced fuel economy, the primary advantage of plug-in vehicles, is recognized as favorable by respondents but fails to exert a strong influence on purchasing intentions. Each of the known drawbacks of plug-in vehicles – initial cost, recharging time, and limiting driving range – is significantly associated with diminished interest.


The second paper, “The electric vehicle  charging station location problem: A parking-based assignment method for Seattle,”[2] focuses on electric vehicle charging stations, the availability of which will have a significant effect on future adoption rates, vehicle use, electrified mile shares, petroleum demand, and electricity consumption. This paper uses personal vehicle trip and parking information from Seattle, Washington trip data in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s 2006 household travel survey. Parking demand is first predicted via regression analysis as a function of regional accessibility, local jobs and population densities, among other variables, and is then used as an input for an optimization problem that minimizes station access costs while penalizing unmet demand. The specification is then applied to determine the best locations for installing a variable number of charging stations across the Seattle region, showing how both spread and intensity respond to access and demand levels. Models suggest that parcels with high employment densities and indicators of high accessibility would serve as efficient charging station locations due to the longer duration of parking demand. The mixed integer optimization is shown to decrease walking access for a significant percentage of drivers compared to a simple parking demand rank location strategy.


The third paper, “Perception and Reality: Public Knowledge of Plug-in Electric Vehicles,” [3] addresses three important questions about the general public’s understanding of plug-in electric vehicle attributes and supportive policies:

1)      How knowledgeable is the mainstream public about the basic attributes of plug-in electric vehicles, particularly as they compare to standard vehicles?

2)      How aware is the public about existing state and local plug-in vehicle incentives?

3)      How could the dissemination of complete and accurate information affect the publics’ level of interest in plug-in vehicles?

The analysis uses data from the city survey that informs the first paper, described above. Its primary findings include that respondents hold significant misperceptions about basic features of electric vehicles. For example, about 45% of respondents do not gauge correctly the cost premium of an electric car over an otherwise similar gasoline vehicle. Over 70% of respondents are mistaken about the potential fuel savings associated with plug-in vehicles and almost 90% do not gauge properly their likely maintenance expenses. A full 65% are misinformed about plug-in vehicles’ maximum driving range on a single charge. The majority of incorrect responses underestimate the advantage or performance of electric vehicles. Respondents are also unaware of the state and local policies to promote electric vehicle ownership. Only 2.6% of respondents that live in jurisdictions with available incentives are aware of them, which suggests both that these policies are not being effectively communicated to the public and that they are unlikely to meaningfully affect either the perception or purchase behavior of mainstream consumers.


[1] Sanya Carley, Rachel Krause, Bradley Lane and John Graham

[2] T. Donna Chen, Mobashir Khan and Kara M. Kockelman

[3] Rachel Krause, Sanya Carley, Bradley Lane and John Graham

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