EV Project Tells Us How Drivers Use Electric Cars

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2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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Just how do electric car owners use their cars? It's the question everyone is trying to answer, as it could shape how electric cars of the future are developed.

Virtually every manufacturer with an electric car runs its own field trials or keeps data on its users' driving habits, but the EV Project aggregates data from different makes and models, and thousands of owners, who use the charging stations that are monitored by the program.

Most recently, the EV Project has revealed its fourth quarter 2012 results, and with over 60 million miles logged it's building an increasingly thorough picture to help answer that question.

Most of the survey's data concentrates on Chevrolet Volts and Nissan Leafs--as the two most prolific electric vehicles on sale. However, Smart Electric Drive models also feature.

Volt versus Leaf

It's comparison between the Volt and Leaf that proves most interesting, though.

The data fluctuates from quarter to quarter, but by the end of 2012, Volt owners charged more at home than their Leaf counterparts, at 81 to 76 percent respectively. Overall, the Project suggests that around 80 percent of charging is done at home.

At the same time, Volt drivers also charge more frequently--an average of 1.4 times per day compared to 1.1 per day for the Leaf.

This is interesting, not for its frequency (perhaps obvious given the Volt's shorter electric range), but the fact that Volt drivers must consciously be charging so they can drive using the car's electric power alone--rather than doing any extra distance on the gasoline range-extender.

At around 40 miles, Volt drivers actually travel around ten miles further than Leaf drivers per day, though drivers of each tend to recharge after a similar number of miles, on average--around 30 miles. This again suggests that Volt drivers really are making the most of the car's electric range, backed up by previous data showing around two thirds of all Volt miles are on electricity.

How important is public charging?

With all that home charging, just how widely-utilized is public charging?

That depends on where you are. For 240-volt Level 2 charging stations, there's significant variety between charging time and number of charging events per day. Notable immediately is that on average, stations are used less than once per day, and most for only a few hours at a time.

Some cities break the trend, however. Chargers in Oregon are used for 9 hours per day on average, but also only around once every five days. San Diego and San Francisco's chargers are used much more frequently, around 0.6 times per day, and for shorter periods.

The EV Project notes that San Diego's high figure is influenced by a car-sharing project there, car2go. Over half of all charging events at level 2 chargers are from the city's fleet of Smart Electric Drives.

Other notable numbers

So what else has come from the Project so far? Plenty, it seems. You can read all the data in the Project's fourth-quarter 2012 report (an enormous pdf file) and read other quarterly reports from the full list--but certain numbers stand out.

Among these are the 1.6 million charging events recorded to date, and the 1.9 million gallons of gasoline avoided by EV Project vehicles, instead using over 14,100 megawatt-hours of electricity.

By the end of 2012, the Project had also seen nearly 6,700 residential level 2 chargers installed, over 2,500 commercial chargers, and 56 DC fast chargers.

We expect all those numbers have climbed further over the first few months of 2013, and look forward to the next report.

With every passing month, we're learning more about how thousands of real-world electric car users drive their vehicles--and it'll directly influence the ones we'll be buying in the future.


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Comments (16)
  1. A credit card operated commercial charging station at my local Walgreen's charges $2/hr. for level 2. I have never seen an electric car use it. Hmmm, wonder why?.......

  2. So, to charge my Volt from 0 to 42 miles or so, it would take 4 hours and $8, so that's twice as expensive as one gallon of gas that would get me the same distance. No sale!

  3. That would only be useful for emergancy purposes only. Or if one is planning a rare, 150 to 200 mile trip.

  4. So, how is that useful if you are charging at 3.3KW?

    Those Walgreen L2 chargers are jokes.

  5. Most public access charging is capable of up to 6.6 kW charging for AC Level 2. The vehicle on board charger is the limiting factor...and those just started coming to market aT 6.6 kW in later part of 2012.
    DCFC with CHAdeMO connector is only availabl;e on LEAF (when optional equipment added) and Mitsubishi i.
    The US standard for COMBO COnnector was approved in Oct 2012 and will first appear on Chevy SPark later this year. ALl US and European Automakers will use COMBO Connector going forward (top portion is for AC L1 & L2 and the entire connector top/bottom is used for DCFC - aka DC Level 2).

  6. Reality of the business model and related costs for public access charging.

  7. The headline should read: EV Project Tells Us How "SOME" Drivers Use Electric Cars.

    The projects data would says little of how the 5000+ Tesla drivers use their EVs. Or, how Washington & Oregon LEAF drivers use their EVs, as they have better DC quick charge infrastructure.

    From the projects pre-project defined reports, it's hard to gain insight beyond the averaged values reported. It would be great if histograms of the data were available to see variations while maintaining privacy. One area that would be nice to have better data is public charge locations & power delivered.

    Much has changed in just 2 years of The EV Project. For example

  8. While I agree that the results aren't inclusive of all electric vehicles and therefore can't be considered definitive, I'd also note that while "much has changed", the survey is ongoing and does take account of these changes.

    By focusing on both Volt and Leaf, it does cover the two highest-selling electric vehicles. I'm not sure how much of a dent the Model S would make on the overall figures, other than perhaps slightly raising the length of time between charges!

  9. Please see my post below as to WHY this study is Volt and Leaf centric. The grant was written in 2009 and had to include 2010 SHOVEL READY (available) PEVs for 2010. These two vehicles just made it under the wire by releasing in Dec. 2010.

  10. Vehicles in the study when written under the ARRA funding available had to be in market by end of 2010. Volt and LEAF both released to public in Dec 2010.
    That's why the study is focused on these vehicles.

  11. Again, this just shows that most public charging infrastructure are misplaced...

    They need DC fast chargers along hwys and near public area such as malls and stores. L2 nears theaters, restaurants or medical offices. L1 and L2 at work places...

  12. Infrastructure can only be placed where there is a willing commercial host business. You can plan all you want where you want it (as we did in San Diego), but without a willing host site...you can't get them installed.

  13. Okay, many of the locations are "public" place and many of the early chargers are funded by the public money. So, at least there should be a recommendation to install them at the right places...

  14. Going over the report, the EVproject is relying on a very small sample of vehicles. So they are not getting a clear picture of what we do. A dump for drivers to send vehicle data to would be much more effectual.
    It would be great if driving an EV was a requirement as an employee of Ecotality/EVproject or at least drive one for a few weeks out of the year. That way they could make sense of their own reports.

  15. The EV Project by definition uses the "shovel ready" vehicles for 2010 release for the study via its 2009 federal application for the grant...HENCE LEAF and Volt centric. Smart cars are included primarily due to the inclusion of Car2Go in the project as a source of charging in San Diego for that EV car share program (over 300 vehicles). The only vehicle owners that qualified for residential charging installations were the LEAF and Volt.

  16. You Guys on the West Coast do things differently. In Texas, you sign a yearly subscription (eVgo) of 40.00 per month for unlimited charging at WalGreens. If you charged 40 miles per day(4 hour charge) for 30 days. In a month it would cost 0.33/Hr. No price gouging in Texas.

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