California Drivers Very Happy With Their Plug-In Electric Cars

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Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

Nissan Leaf electric car with eVgo quick charging station. [courtesy eVgo]

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With Chevy's Volt topping customer satisfaction surveys for the last few years running, it's no surprise to hear that other plug-in electric cars are also popular with owners.

A new survey from the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) shows that over 9 in every 10 plug-in drivers reports overall satisfaction with their vehicle.

That's impressive, given California is the largest market in the U.S for plug-ins.

Over 30,000 plug-in vehicles roam the state's roads, making up 35 percent of the U.S. total. It's a tally that increases every month too, to the tune of around 2,500 vehicles at the current rate.

Climate conditions, driving conditions and the state's healthy plug-in vehicle rebates mean there are few better places to own an electric vehicle, the CCSE survey confirming that those rebates were an important motivating factor for 95 percent of respondents.

It's worth noting at this point that the vast majority of respondents in the survey are Nissan Leaf owners, at 97 percent--it'd certainly be interesting to see more of a mix with Chevy Volt drivers and now that there are decent numbers on the market, the new Tesla Model S.

Enough range... but not enough range

Other interesting statistics stemming from the survey include just how far respondents drive.

On average, owners drive their cars around 29 miles per day, or around 910 miles per month. A full half of those surveyed drove between 15-30 miles per day.

That tallies with virtually every other previous survey, suggesting Americans as a whole drive little more than this per day--and confirms that even 100-mile electric vehicles comfortably cover the average driver's daily duties. Even so, drivers would still prefer a little more--a whole 40 percent are dissatisfied with their vehicle's range.

How much range is enough range? 150 miles seems to be a suitable figure--57 percent would be "extremely satisfied" by this point.

A telling statistic is that 94 percent of respondends own a regular, internal combustion vehicle--so EVs don't quite replace their regular cars in all scenarios.

Electric cars at charging stations at Disney Family Museum, San Francisco [photo: Wendy Bartlett]

Electric cars at charging stations at Disney Family Museum, San Francisco [photo: Wendy Bartlett]

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Charging for charging

The survey suggests that most drivers charge both at home and at night, when rates are cheapest--as low as $0.60 per hour.

For many it's pretty green too--almost 40 percent of respondents have photovoltaic systems installed at their home.

It's just as well drivers mostly charge at home though, since satisfaction with public charging is still generally low--only 23 percent were satisfied, as of October 2012. However, it's also improving--that figure climbed from just 17 percent in February 2012. Two-thirds said they'd be prepared to pay up to $1 per hour for public charging.

Others charge at the workplace, available to 37 percent of respondents--though they aren't keen on being charged a fee for it, 66 percent reporting they used it less than once a week if they had to pay.


The good news is electric car owners are typically pretty happy with their vehicles.

There's a lot to like about plug-ins not necessarily covered in a survey like this--tanglible factors like refinement and driving characteristics, and the intangibles of knowing you're minimizing your contribution to pollution and greenhouse gases.

At the same time, they're a long way from perfect (at least as far as the survey's majority Leaf owners are concerned)--range could be higher and public charging could be better.

The good news is, virtually all of those factors will only get better from here.

You can view the CCSE survey in its entirety here.


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Comments (10)
  1. It's extremely interesting that the current 70-80 miles of range that seems to be the industry's standard isn't just perceived as inadequate by those who have never actually tried EV ownership but also by those who did.

    Sends a clear signal to the industry: more range! Next range target: 150 miles.

  2. The fact that Nissan advertised 100 miles until maybe a year ago might have something to do with this...

    The survey's questions (and results) merely indicate that a majority of people finds "100 to 150 miles" most desirable range, not that they want at least 150.

    A maybe more interesting question (not asked) would have been, e.g.: how much are you willing to pay for that extra range? Or, would you have bought the car for an additional 10k$? 15k$?

    While I wish more manufacturers offered a choice of battery sizes, I understand that even that itself isn't free; Tesla didn't reduce their offering from 3 to 2 just for fun...

  3. hybrid and ICE drivers don't have to pay more for more range...

    That is an issue.

  4. Here's a few hard numbers to consider - I have the PG&E electric car rate (E9a) which costs about 3.8 cents per kWh from midnite to 7 AM (tier 1). I charge at 240 VAC and 30 amps, or about 7.2 kWh per hour. That is about 27 cents per hour of charging. Higher tier levels cost more but solar panels can easily keep you in tier 1 (443 kwh or less) all month long. So I'm paying about 1.3 cents per mile to drive my Tesla, and gas is over $4 per gallon right now. Yes, I am a happy California driver.

  5. I wonder how many of those EV owners would still buy the car if there are NO work charging and no free public charging...

    Those two area highlighted the importance of EV infrastructure and limtation of the EVs.

  6. @Xiaolong - I can only speak for myself of course, but if every public charger disappeared tomorrow it would make no difference to my day-to-day electric car use, nor would it have affected my purchase decision. The key issues for me were home charging and solar panels. Even the supercharger network is just frosting on the cake (very tasty frosting). It's true that my 200 mile range is a nice cushion, but I have often felt the public charging concerns are highly over-rated. Who wants to play roulette with charger availability to get home?

  7. That is why I believe Tesla S has shattered all myth. But Leaf on the hand hasn't.

    Plenty of SF Bay area people commute around 70-80 miles per day. Leaf would be very limiting in those conditions. Not to mention the long term battery range degradation. Tesla S would be okay in those situation. Just do a quick search on Craigslist for SF Bay Area will show few Leaf owners have been trying to sell the Leaf due to reasons such as "new job location or recently moved". They all loved the Leaf, but due to lack of charging at work and longer commute, they can no longer make Leaf their only car.

  8. Agree. I wouldn't go below 30kWh 'usable' for a pure EV given my experience with the Volt, and 50kWh would be MUCH more comfortable.

  9. I think most public charging should have a nominal fee that is between the actual cost of electricity and five times that amount. That will allow for some margin to pay for the installation of the charging equipment and deter people from using it when they really don't need it. When I NEED a charge, I will happily pay a reasonable amount for it.

  10. I agree with that. It has to be "profitable" in order for people to provide that service. However, if you have some of them free and some others cost money, people will NOT use the ones that cost money. This will also push people to buy EVs with larger battery pack since it will cost less to charge at home.

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