Addressing Consumer Pain Points to Electric Vehicle Adoption

Posted to Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) in the Customer Care Group
Nathan Shannon's picture
President & CEO, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative

Nathan Shannon is the President and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, whose mission is to advance consumer-friendly, consumer-safe smart energy through research, education and...

  • Member since 2015
  • 22 items added with 21,882 views
  • May 24, 2021

In just a few short years, electric vehicles (EVs) have come a long way. The number of available models has roughly tripled since 2016, and that path should continue over the next several years as automakers such as Hyundai, Volkswagen, Ford and Audi begin production on highly anticipated models.


At the same time, the average EV battery capacity has grown rapidly in recent years and is expected to double again from 2020 to 2030 as battery technologies continue to improve. States such as California and Washington have adopted EV mandates, and a 2020 forecast from DNV suggests that over three-quarters of all passenger vehicle sales in the United States will be EVs by the early 2040s.


Adding to this momentum, the Biden Administration has already announced several initiatives in support of electric vehicles, including a potential $100 billion for EV rebates, significant investments in charging infrastructure across the country and the transition to electric vehicles for various government institutions.


Yet despite these trends, many consumers are still uninformed about electric vehicles, their battery ranges, how to charge them, maintenance requirements, etc. At SECC’s 2021 Virtual Consumer Symposium last month, we convened a panel of experts to discuss how stakeholders can deliver easy-to-understand information to consumers, improve the EV customer experience and, ultimately, help them reap the potential benefits of EVs.


According to John Eichberger, the executive director of the Fuels Institute, one of the most important shifts has to do with the types of EVs that are coming on the market. In 2020, more than three-quarters of all vehicles sold in the United States were light trucks (meaning pickups, SUVs, minivans and crossover vehicles), and there has been a steady increase in available EVs in this category – with many more to come.


For example, Ford recently announced the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the F-150, which has long been the best-selling vehicle in the United States. Chevy, Tesla and Rivian all have electric trucks on the way, and there’s a long list of available all-electric SUVs, including options from Volvo, Volkswagen and Hyundai. Helping consumers learn about these newer options will be crucial for driving EV adoption in the near term.


An area for concern, according to BlastPoint’s CEO Alison Alvarez, is ensuring that the consumers that want to adopt EVs have easy access to charging stations at home and especially in their communities. Research from BlastPoint suggests that most EV adopters today are more affluent consumers who are able to install home EV chargers in their single-family homes.


However, we know from SECC’s consumer research that younger people who are highly motivated by environmental concerns are the segment that’s most interested in EVs. These consumers aren’t likely to have their own homes and would rely on chargers at multi-family properties, their workplaces and at other locations around their communities.


Fortunately, EV charging stations have proliferated rapidly over the past few years and should continue this path moving forward, especially if the Biden Administration’s infrastructure plans come to fruition. Ensuring that these stations are equitably dispersed in communities, however, is another must for helping consumers access EVs. As Alison stated at the Consumer Symposium, “EV infrastructure begets EV drivers begets EV infrastructure”.


Finally, according to Eric Cahill, Ph.D., senior strategic business planner of electric transportation at SMUD, an essential component of increasing adoption of EVs is meeting where consumers they are. To get consumers acquainted with a new technology like electric vehicles, messaging needs to be aligned with consumers’ priorities, their values and their concerns. Strategies like customer segmentation, focus groups and surveying can help stakeholders understand the values, interests and concerns of consumers and develop programs and messaging that direct address these.


All of the panelists at the recent Consumer Symposium stressed that while the recent growth and innovations in the EV space have been exciting, we’re still very much at the beginning of the transition to EVs. As the shift to electrified transportation continues over the next decade, it’s essential that stakeholders listen to consumers and ensure that the transition is equitable and consumer friendly.

Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)
SECC is a nonprofit organization that works to learn the wants and needs of energy consumers, encourage the sharing of best practices in consumer engagement among industry stakeholders, and educate the public about the benefits of smart energy
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 24, 2021

In 2020, more than three-quarters of all vehicles sold in the United States were light trucks (meaning pickups, SUVs, minivans and crossover vehicles), and there has been a steady increase in available EVs in this category – with many more to come.

It's great to see this. As much as I wish all drivers who had the means to do so would adopt electric because it's the direction we need to go, the truth is you need to meet drivers/buyers where they already are: whether that's SUV for the family, trucks for work, or even recognizing the cultural aspects of cars. This is a great rundown and it's exciting to see the direction it's all going-- thanks for sharing, Nathan!

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jul 6, 2021

Agreed - the point about the trucks doesn't get enough press.  Consumers clearly prefer SUVs and trucks, and commercial trucking puts too many miles not to be part of the EV conversation.  

I do worry that trucks and SUVs put special emphasis on the range perception challenges especially with commercial programs.  Business people use trucks ALL DAY, and for torque heavy applications that make electric motors attractive, but not if there's downtime associated with charging.

And on the consumer front, US buyers especially prefer SUVs and trucks, not the small commuter cars so typical of EVs around the world.  Solving for this category in range (or charging availability) really solves the consumer interest category.  That's one of the reason that so many manufacturers have done hybrids for their van, SUV, and light truck categories, but EVs remain on the drawing board to date.  It will be interesting to observe who satisfies consumers first and best.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on May 26, 2021

Nathan, You covered a very good topic. The growth in electric vehicles is reaching the tipping point. A few new companies are making only electric vehicles following in the world leader Tesla's path. The big trucks are coming like the Tesla Semi and many pickups from quite a few automakers. We are also seeing very small and super efficient 1 and 2 seat cars like the Aptera and Solo. 

   I live in Arizona where we now have 3 electric automakers with factories ready to roll out new electrics. 

   The Biden plans for vehicles, batteries and charging will help a lot if they can get approved by congress. But we still need to stop subsidizing big Oil. We need to stop allowing Fracking. All states need to adopt the California ZEV requirements. 

    What do you think would be the biggest step to get more electric vehicles available in every state? 

Peter Key's picture
Peter Key on May 27, 2021

I think the biggest thing needed to promote rapid EV adoption is the widespread availability of fast charging, although I don't know how to attain that availability.

Car makers know how to sell cars and that knowledge is not going to disappear as they electrify their vehicles. They will make EVs that consumers want. Consumers pre-ordered almost 45,000 F-150 Lightnings in less than 48 hours after Ford officially announced the truck.

The problem is charging. People don't give a lot of thought to buying gas now and they probably don't want to put any additional effort into charging their EVs. So, to speed EV adoption, I think we need to make sure they don't have to.

I agree with the SMUD executive who said an essential component of increasing adoption of EVs is meeting where consumers they are. So the thing to do is find out where they are on chargers. Do they want them at their residences, at their workplaces, at supermarkets, at the electric equivalent of gas stations, other places, or all of the above? I think if we can find that out and make sure the chargers are there, EV adoption will come.

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jun 1, 2021

Agreed, and I heartily endorse the consumer driven thinking.  I tend to like the focus on infrastructure and rebate support that makes EVs more affordable to consumers and charging more available and easier to manage for the daily driver.  Workplace and shopping site charging would encourage easier EV adoption for consumers, and rebates to make cars more affordable drives up demand.

Coupled with solving the EV Truck issue, a EV truck with size, towing capacity, and durability for days long use without charging would solve a major obstacle for consumer adoption.  So far, EVs exist as small commuter cars, sporty cars, and sedans, three categories in decades long declines as US drivers opt for bigger SUVs and trucks for their vehicle choice.  Let's find a way to meet customer demand and inspire more, and the industry will solve the charging and range issues.

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 9, 2021

Great point Peter. A big part (and big challenge!) of the education process is helping consumers shift their frame of reference when it comes to fueling/charging. I think a lot of the concern with public charging options comes from consumers who compare charging with fueling a conventional vehicle: They expect to see as many public EV chargers as gas stations. In fact, EV drivers who charge at home will rarely use a public charger. Who needs gas stations when every residential garage is a charging station? It will take some time for the infrastructure to catch up and for customers to grasp those differences and adjust their expectations.

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jun 1, 2021

Great summary and article.  As a dedicated "petrol head," I've reluctantly started paying attention to the EV revolution. I think your view that the shift to EVs is just beginning has merit over the constant drone of PR messaging from various sectors of the industry. EVs still have a few "chicken or egg" challenges for adoption, but the focus on the consumer seems well placed.  Range perception, for example, remains a primary stumbling block to consumer adoption despite the fact that most consumers don't drive more than 75 miles per day, well within the limits of most EVs.  And, that problem can be solved by either battery life improvements or charging station improvements.  Ironically, solving for battery life makes charging stations less relevant, and solving for (fast) charging stations reduces or removes the battery life/range conundrum.  Lot's of essential questions remain, but rebates to the consumer, support for charging infrastructure, and commercial vehicle success all drive the demand side.  If we've seen anything in US industry, when consumers demand something, the market usually figures out solutions fast.  Great article.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 1, 2021

As a dedicated "petrol head," I've reluctantly started paying attention to the EV revolution.

What's been the turning point for you, Mark? Is it new features from EVs that aren't available in ICE vehicles? The ability to plug in tools to the new Ford electric truck has been a great example of such, showing that EVs can be more than just substitutes for what we've been used to, but indeed improvements. What's made you start to pay attention the most? 

Daniel Duggan's picture
Daniel Duggan on Jul 6, 2021

Prior to writing this comment I Googled "USA new car purchase demographics 2021" to learn that:

1. Less than 1% of new vehicles of every type including sedans, trucks, SUVs, PHEVs, and EVs are purchased by young people (defined as 24 years old and younger).  

2. The average age of a new vehicle buyer is 53 years, and approximately 50% of vehicles are purchased by people over 55.

3. 60% of EVs are purchased by people who earn in excess of $100,000, the highest for any vehicle type.

4. 75% of EV buyers are male

5. 90% of EV buyers are home owners

6. 54% of EV buyers are over 55

7. 32% of EV purchasers are over 65, making pensioners the only age group which prefers EVs over any other vehicle type .



As less than 1% of new EVs (or any other of vehicle type) are purchased by young people, that market currently is of little interest to car manufacturers.

The majority of new EVs are purchased by older male home owners earning six-figure or higher incomes.

90% home ownership among EV purchasers implies that charging at home will dominate.

EVs are simply too expensive for most younger people on early-career salaries, and saddled with student debt,  mortgage payments, child rearing costs, etc.

Older, more affluent people can afford and have space to park two or more vehicles thereby mitigating the limited range of the EV in the family fleet, and/or, they are retired and drive relatively little.

Having worked many years in power generation I am more interested than most in moving to an EV, however in my case the facts do not support the claims of lower costs, and the limited range of EVs is a real negative, not "perceived" as EV proponents like to claim.  As for the environmental aspect; my current car, a VW Passat 2.0tdi is exceptionally economical (up to 60 miles/US gallon on the highway means a 1,000 mile range and as little as 175g CO2/mile).   This, plus NOx emissions of 0.1 gram / mile (almost nothing) mean there is little to gain from switching to electricity the production which according the App I check daily embodies emissions of 350g - 550g CO2 / kWh, and I suspect,  lots of NOx also.  

My cost conclusions are I suspect shared by the vast majority of new vehicle buyers who despite years of pro-EV propaganda, continue to chose gas powered vehicles.  To assume that new car buyers are ignorant of the facts around EVs is a condescending comment often seen in EV promoting articles, I'm pretty sure most people think very carefully before making a new car purchase decision. 


With the advancement of EV technology, this situation may well change, and an EV will sit in my garage, maybe my next car, or the one after that, but we are not there tipping point reached!



Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 6, 2021

These are really great points about the current EV demographics, Daniel-- thanks for sharing. I'll point out, though, that these are the market demographics today because of the nature of EVs of being more expensive, of needing reliable home charging and thus reducing the likelihood a renter will buy, etc. Many of these demographics can and will shift as the pain points of EVs get worked out-- e.g., a lot more young people and people with lower incomes will buy when the upfront costs are competitive with ICE cars, more renters will be interested in purchasing when public chargers are more ubiquitous at their workplaces, where they shop, etc. 

Daniel Duggan's picture
Daniel Duggan on Jul 6, 2021

Hi Matt, my point in a nutshell is; most folk are not dumb, they know the best deal, and adopt very quickly new tech which is useful and value for money, i.e. motor cars, electricity, air travel, the internet, and cell phones.  EVs have not become dominant because they are not better than the established ICE cars and trucks.  Forecasts that better VEs which will out perform ICE cars are about to be launched do little to help stimulate demand as we can only buy what is available today, in fact such forecasts are a clear message to wait before buying EV because today's technology will be quickly obsolete.  Please note that I am not at all anti-EV, quite the opposite.  However, lets stay real about the pros and cons of EVs in 2021. 

Nathan Shannon's picture
Thank Nathan for the Post!
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