Electric Cars Now Owners' Primary Vehicles In California

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Drag race between Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric cars (The Fast Lane)

Drag race between Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf electric cars (The Fast Lane)

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We often read statistics to show that the average American drives only a short distance each day, suggesting that even an electric car with a relatively short range would be suitable for most journeys.

A new survey seems to indicate that owners think so too--as households with electric cars are using it as their primary car.

The survey by the California Center for Sustainable Energy (via U-T San Diego) reveals that 85 percent of plug-in vehicle owners say that it's their primary car, though almost all owned a conventional car as well.

That means that owners are using their electric cars every day--but are also able to resort to a regular vehicle whenever a longer trip is required. Drivers are doing about 800 miles per month on average, or around 10,000 miles a year. Half of those surveyed drive between 15-30 miles per day.

Commuting, personal errands and shopping were all largely plug-in activities, while business travel and vacation travel were more often handled by the conventional vehicles.

1,400 respondents took part in the survey, sent out to people who had owned their plug-in for six months or more. That gave owners enough time to get used to battery charging routines, and settle into their commutes in the new vehicles.

Electric car ownership infographic (Image: California Center for Sustainable Energy)

Electric car ownership infographic (Image: California Center for Sustainable Energy)

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Charging habits

The survey also indicated the sort of owners to whom an electric car was most suited--97 percent lived in a single family home, with a driveway or garage allowing them easy access to charging equipment. Around two thirds of respondents did their charging overnight, allowing them to charge at cheaper electricity rates and also reducing strain on the grid.

Even for those unable to charge at home, 71 percent of those questioned said they had access to a public charging point, or had somewhere to charge at work.

Owners are on the same side as Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk when it comes to solar energy too--almost two-fifths of respondents have invested in home solar energy systems, making use of California's great weather to charge their plug-ins in the greenest way possible.

"Everyday use cars"

"These aren't hobby cars, these aren't weekend cars, they are everyday use cars" said Mike Ferry from the CCSE.

Still, there's work to be done on charging--both for those who live in apartment blocks, condos and other places where charging isn't as easy to find, and the 83 percent of respondends who showed varying levels of dissatisfaction to the current public charging infrastructure.

But the overriding impression from the survey is that owners are really getting use out of their plug-ins--even if they can't use them for all their journeys.

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