Electric Cars In "No Benefit For Poor Communities" Shocker

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Presumably following studies on whether bears really do defecate in the woods and to which religion the Pope actually pertains, The Greenling Institute in California has released a new report suggesting that expensive electric vehicles aren't benefitting communities of low income.

The new study, entitled "Electric Vehicles - Who's Left Stranded?" highlights the issue that the large majority of electric car and hybrid owners are white people with annual incomes of over $75,000. According to the Institute, 60 percent of California's population are non-whites and not as affluent, so the potential air quality benefits aren't as high as they would be with greater EV adoption.

Here's why we think the study is badly flawed:

Poorer people can't afford expensive things? GASP!

Last time we checked, the coins jingling around in our pockets weren't enough to buy a shiny new iPhone. It stands to reason that in order to buy something, you need sufficient income for it. In this respect, it's no more of a shock that less affluent people are unable to afford an electric car than it is they're unable to buy a brand new BMW, or a house in the Hollywood Hills.

Cutting edge tech doesn't come cheap

Electric cars are still at the "early adopter" stage of the product lifecycle. They cost manufacturers a significant amount of money to research, develop and produce, and until consumers buy them in greater numbers, the cost remains high to remain commercially viable for carmakers.

Again - this is no more of a shock than it was that cellphones cost $5,000 when they arrived in the 1980s. We're willing to suspect that the first mobile phones were (shock!) also bought by wealthy individuals with no benefit to those less well-off.

Failing to understand that high-technology items are initially expensive is simply a poor grasp of basic economics and certainly nothing to do with consumers' color or background.

What became of the second-hand market?

We'll happily agree that hybrid vehicles and particularly electric cars are relatively expensive...

...When brand new. There's a large used market for hybrid vehicles making them much more accessible to the less wealthy. The study quotes that although white Californians make up only 40 percent of the population, they own 70 percent of the hybrids. If non-white communities were as interested in hybrids and EVs as the study claims, used uptake would surely be much higher.

The statistics for electric cars are particularly misleading, anyway. Pure EVs are still incredibly few and far between by the standards of regular vehicles, and even more so in 2009, the year from which the report's statistics were taken. The sample size simply isn't sufficient to make accurate judgements from.

Awareness of incentives - is it really that low?

The study claims that knowledge of incentive information could be quite low amongst certain communities and this may be affecting the potential customer base.

Sites like GreenCarReports are doing their best to educate the consumer on the process of choosing, buying and running electric vehicles and hybrids. That means ensuring our readers know about the latest federal and state tax incentives, benefits such as free parking or use of HOV lanes, the cost of home charging, the availability of public charging points, and more.

This information is available freely on the internet, is widely available from the manufacturers of electric and hybrid vehicles, and tax incentives are widely publicized by the relevant federal and state departments. Anyone even remotely interested in an electric vehicle shouldn't have the excuse of being put off by lack of information.

There's so much racial profiling in the report and so little useful information we're unsure quite what to make of it, but surely the whole, 17-page document (.pdf file) could have been summed up by one, simple sentence on page 10:

"For consumers to be willing to purchase electric vehicles, they need to know about tax and other incentives, and have enough money to pay for the vehicles."

Correct us if we're over-simplifying the issue, but does this not just mean "in order to buy something, you must first have enough money with which to buy it"?...

[Earth Techling]
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Comments (12)
  1. Did rich people get tax incentives to buy that $5000 phone?

    There is a very scary and real correlation between foreign oil dependence and the income gap in the US that goes all way back to the Iranian oil embargo.

    Thus, one could argue that we should be spending everything we can today to reduce foreign oil dependence as much as possible today.

    For instance, instead of tax credits for plug-ins, why not a tax credit the pushes poor consumers to buy a used hybrid or a 40 mpg vehicle instead of a used SUV? On a used car a $1000 tax credit could be a difference maker.

    Likewise, maybe there should be a mass-transit tax credit.

    The history of hybrids shows it will be decades before cheap battery vehicles seriously reduce just OPEC dependence

  2. That means that the longer we wait to attack foreign oil dependence, the longer we can be certain the income gap between the rich and the poor will increase.

    So, yes, let's keep focusing on how the rich can save America, it's obvious they do so a good job.

  3. "Awareness of incentives - is it really that low?"

    I agree with the author.

    I don't think awareness for incentives is a limiting factor for adoption in poor communities. Would they really care that the $400 Iphone has a $20 off coupon this weekend if they're busy struggling to put food on the table and pay for housing? The pricing means it's so far outside of their reach that tiny incentives will not change that fact.

    And I believe that the adoption by those who can afford it (i.e. the early adopters) will encourage competition, technology research, and future product improvements that will eventually make this viable for the masses.

  4. I regularly see folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum buying up and driving late model used SUV's that rich folks dumped when gas prices spiked last time. They can barely afford the gas to run the beast, but hey, they just bought $6,000 worth of 24" chariot wheels shod with P Zero rubberbands to impress their friends with.

  5. late model used SUVs tend to be a lot cheaper than new SUVs. any gas-guzzler tends to be a glut on the market when gas prices go up. Late model used hybrids are not a lot cheaper than new -- there aren't enough of them. Yet. It will all change.

  6. One thing to keep in mind about peole buying large vehicles is that sometimes they buy these knowing they will rarely use them. You will occasionally see someone buy one large vehicle for special occasions and an economy car for commuting. It actually, makes sense, because you have the right amount of vehicle for the purpose.

  7. That's absolutely right. The average U.S. household now has slightly more than 2 vehicles, and the average affluent U.S. household (which will buy a disproportionately large number of the early electric cars) has more than 3 vehicles. People seem to assume that electric cars like the Nissan Leaf will be expected to replace a Chevy Tahoe; they won't. Instead, a Leaf will replace a sedan or hatchback that's a second or third car.

  8. There is an element of us who only run one vehicle at a time who want to "early adopt" but honestly are going to have to be driven by that way of doing things because of the limited range. By that I mean we'd have to keep an ICE vehicle around, too, because of the limited range of all-electrics right now. It depends on your driving habits, but, a range of under 100 miles crosses the all-electric off of my shopping list. And will continue to. I like the Mitsubishi i but am waiting to see if a SUV like the Zotye will actually go 180 miles per charge, like Green Automotive says they will. Or BYD's e6, will it really go 175 miles on one charge. Those are my top 2 all-electric hopefuls right now that I'd even consider trading in for.

  9. If everyone who could afford an Electric car along with a home 5kw Solar system took responsibility into there own hands , then the demand for oil would be cut enough to stabilize gas prices which would benefit the people who are barley getting by day to day with lower gas prices at the pump, most homes have 2 cars anyways, Electric one would be for all the required city commuting and a second Ice Car for any long range weekend trips.
    of coarse this will not work for everybody. also keep in mind when the first cell phone came out in the early 80's no one could afford it cost $4000 and now a days even the poor are using them.

  10. Yeah, that's a shocker alright. Next thing you know we'll be learning that low income folks are not being helped by Tiffany products or Rolex watches (except those that the high crime rate low income neighborhood folks can steal from high income neighborhoods). We do spend a lot of money housing those low income folks in our prisons, so it all evens out. I wonder if those low income folks lack money? Let's get Obama to spend a couple of trillion to find out.

  11. Less demand for foreign oil benefits everyone. Lower birth defects, asthma, respiratory and heart disease rate will also benefit everyone. People who have homes adjacent to heavily trafficked roads and freeways, which statistics report as more likely poor than rich, would see more of these benefits.

  12. Even if a person is aware of the tax incentives, if you don't make enough or pay very much in taxes due to low income, that $7000 credit isn't going to do you much good.
    I desperately want an EV but even on a professional salary (they say I'm well into the middle class) I can't afford $30-$40,000. I'm hoping the I-Miev might be in my range, but only because I'll use gas money for the car payment.
    BTW, I have no credit cards, only $2000 in debt, no cell phone bill and have a reasonable mortgage. Currently own 2 1998 cars that are paid for. Still can't afford an EV.

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