95% Of All Trips Could Be Made In Electric Cars, Says Study

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Here at GreenCarReports, we often hear excuses from people who say they want to buy an electric car but feel unable to. 

Aside from increased sticker price, one of the more common excuses given is the worry that an electric car won’t meet their mileage needs due to range limitations per charge -- despite historical data suggesting that electric cars could easily handle around 80 percent of all daily driving in the U.S. 

Now a new study by two doctoral students at the school of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University has increased that figure, estimating that electric cars could meet as much as 95 percent of all daily driving needs of U.S. citizens. 

Using data obtained from the Department of Transport’s 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren analyzed the travel data of survey participants, concluding that 95 percent of the 748,918 recorded single-trip journeys by car were under 30 miles. 

More astonishingly, around 98 percent of all single-trip journeys were under 50 miles in length, with trips over 70 miles in length accounting for just one percent of all single-trip journeys. 

The average single-trip distance? Just 5.95 miles. And while rural respondents naturally traveled further on average than their urban counterparts, 95 percent of all rural-based trips were still under 50 miles. 

Analysis of Car Distance Trips in U.S. (Rob van Haaren)

Analysis of Car Distance Trips in U.S. (Rob van Haaren)

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But as Fizgerald and van Haaren point out in their study, with limited public charging stations for electric cars, single-trip distances aren’t the best way to evaluate just how suitable electric cars are for the average consumer. 

As a consequence, they turned attention to both average U.S. car commute distances, and total number of miles driven in a single day. 

Of the 106,681 survey participants who drove to work every day in a car, 95 percent of them travelled less than 40 miles to work, with the average commute distance being 13.6 miles. 

Because of how the study was conducted, 39 percent of cars owned by participating households in the 2009 NHTS were not driven on study days examining total mileage drive. But of the 179,848 cars examined that were used on what the study calls the Travel Day, 93 percent of them drove less than 100 miles.

The average daily drive total for urban-based cars was just 36.5 miles, while rural-based cars drove an average of 48.6 miles.

Admittedly, considering the number of cars on the roads of the U.S. today, it is only right to acknowledge that the sample size is a tiny proportion of the actual number of cars being driven daily. 

However, given the source of the data, we’re inclined to think it has been impartially and carefully collected. 

Now that plug-in cars have been categorically proven fit-for-purpose for even more U.S. citizens than previously thought, the real hard part begins: making electric and plug-in cars affordable for those who want to own them. 

And that takes more than just statistics.  


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Comments (14)
  1. The only barrier then is cost, when a leaf (or it's future equivalent) is the same price as a high end compact the factory will not be able to keep up with production.

    Once it easy for the consumer to make the case then they will buy, at present only a small % of consumers can make the case.

    In addition overseas competition will force down the price as overseas manufacturers are not under the same lobbying pressures as those in the USA. So there will be more choice of product. In the past the EV market was a fiction at best. I think it is real now.

    My first laptop cost a month's salary now it costs a day's. The market is set such that the same rules can apply to EVs. It is almost like we need a Moore's Law for EVs !!

  2. I am leasing the Leaf now for $445/month, but I am saving $200+ a month in gas and even without considering the $5000 I received from CA for 3-year ownership (~$100/month after deducting the down + 1st month payment), $225/month is cost effective for 3 years/45,000 miles of pure electric driving and I haven't even add the cost saving from maintenance (no oil change, no tune-up, brake last much longer due to regen). I estimated at $3000 saving/year (assuming gas doesn't increase beyond $4/gallon), this car will pay for itself in 10 years (buyout $16.5k). Now, what new car can you claim that will pay for itself? BTW, all of these is calculated using a electric rate of 20-cent/kwh, many area has cheaper rate that will make the ROI better.

  3. Now, that is a good believable article and Nikki is not sounding anti-EV. I don't think the problem with people buying EVs has ever been the battery but the cost and that only started when GM jacked the price of the Volt to $45,000 and started screaming "range anxiety". Tesla has always had a battery that can get 350 MPC. So, what is the big 3's problem with their batteries?

  4. People think they need more then they really do but they'll never take the time to figure that out. I've noticed when I eat out people tend to order something like a soda for example, they'll buy a large and then they don't finish it because it turned out to be more then they needed. I realized that I was doing this and started ordering a small because it's all I really needed. My advice for those thinking about purchasing an electric car is try for one week reseting your trip-odometer every morning then in the evening when you know your done driving for the day write down you milage for that day, you might be surprised. Or if you have a smart phone try BMW's EVolve app, it's an EV milage tracker and it's free.

  5. Owning and driving a Leaf would probably save you at least $15,000 to drive 100,000 miles, compared to say a Versa.


  6. great article and it corroborates my personal experience. i started driving my driving habits on Thanksgiving Weekend, 2003 when i ordered my first Prius. i took delivery of my Leaf just short of a year ago (Jan 18, 2011) and since that time i have parked the Leaf 12 times to take the Prius (QC options would have changed that to 4 times) so my personal experience states the leaf covers 94.2% of our trips but could cover over 98%

  7. This study matches exactly the distances in a Sustrans this afternoon... http://www.sustrans.org.uk/assets/files/connect2/guidelines%2016.pdf

    Do I get a PhD now?

  8. I don't think this analysis gives the full picture, since it is skewed by the many short trips, and I don't think it will help the EV case very much to use such a partial analysis even if it sounds great.

    The summarized daily driving is the more important number. It seems to be around 40 miles +/- 10 miles, so much higher than the average trip, and its round trip). Still, that sounds great, but it also means that *most* persons could be doing a lot of driving above the average, for example every third day, or weekend. More important would be to ask:

    What is the maximum daily driving in a week (including the weekend), and what is the maximum daily driving in 1 month or in 3 months. A single line in a graph can't even answer this question.

  9. Or perhaps you could put it like this:

    How many drivers would need to rent a car, how often per year, for an EV with a range of 40, 80, 120, 200, 300 miles, if that EV was their only car? And how many of them would be willing to actually do rent as often as needed, given the current lack of fast-charging networks? How many of them have a second car available which they could easily use instead?

  10. Or from another angle: The report says 95 percent of the 748,918 recorded single-trip journeys by car were under 30 miles.

    That would lead you to believe that the Volt ( range EPA 35 miles, inofficially 40-50 miles) could do almost all driving electrically. However, real-word experience shows that it is actually 2/3 electrically: out of 2 million miles driven by Volts as of August 2011, about 700,000 miles were by gasoline.

    So most is in fact electrically, but not as much as you might expect from the report.

  11. VoltStats.net shows the median for that sample group to be 80%. I think the 2/3 number is real, it's electronically collected data from all Volts, but I believe it includes quite a few fleet vehicles that are never charged. Just my theory, there was a story about GE allowing drivers who had no way to charge at home to simply buy gas.

    I've managed to get back up to 97% recently, after being about 99% for my first year. Stale Dealer gas @ 13 months made my % drop quite a bit...

  12. While it is true that for most people driving trips could be met by an EV doesn't take into account the many people like myself have family members that live more than 60 miles away and a cabin that is 57 miles away. In a month I drive at least 7 trips greater than 120 miles round trip. I seldom drive more than 160 miles round trip so a car like the Tesla Model S would be my choice. I could see using the Leaf as an urban commuter type car but I would be reluctant to try and go on a long trip unless I knew there was charging infrastructure in place for the city I was visiting. The Tesla Model S has twice the driving range of the Nissan Leaf and It is as just as good a car and as nice looking as any other car in its price range.

  13. Right, this study shows how much of an outlier your driving pattern is. I need to drive 85 miles one way once, twice or more, up to maybe a dozen a year, and I need to be able to carry a lot when I do. So I have to keep my old truck for those trips. I looked at a RAV4EV, but without a quick charge port it's useless for that distance.

  14. I think that really the biggest mistake of this study is that it revolves around the wrong type of chart and survey questions.

    The better question to ask would be:

    How many times a week,month, year does your trip exceed 50 miles?

    Then you can answer how many drivers have trips that are all within 50 miles in a week,month and year. And you can also answer how rare are the particular group of drivers have trips that require driving more than 50 miles in a week,month or year.

    While the trips that are more than 50 miles might be less than 15% in the trip frequency chart, the number of drivers requiring at least one trip that is more than 50 miles would be the vast majority.

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