Once upon a time, people who bought (or built) electric vehicles were often science-minded, forward-thinking, eco-conscious drivers who sometimes had a hippie past.

Times have changed.

Today, there are several motivations for buying a car that plugs into the electric grid to recharge its battery pack.

Drawing loosely on research on the motivations of plug-in car buyers, done a few years ago at the University of California-Davis by a team headed by Tom Turrentine, rough categories of electric-car buyers include:

  • Early Adopters: These are the folks who line up (or pay their teenaged kids to line up) at Apple Stores for the latest iPad, iPhone, and so forth. The electric car, to them, is the latest, coolest, most advanced new consumer product around. They're often evangelists for electric driving, and people turn to them for advice.
  • Uber-Greens: These buyers genuinely care about reducing their impact on the planet, and modify their life accordingly. They pay attention to their carbon footprint, and understand that driving on grid power lowers it considerably.
  • Energy Security Hawks: While they may share few political views with the Uber-Greens, these buyers care deeply about reducing the amount of oil imported from countries and regimes who reject many of the principles they believe the U.S. stands for. Every mile driven on grid power, to them, is less gasoline we had to send dollars abroad for.
  • Cheap Bastards: And we use that term fondly! These folks, like hard-nosed vehicle-fleet managers, analyze the total lifetime cost of ownership of their car. They've calculated that even though electric cars cost more up front, they'll more than make up the difference if they drive X miles a year for Y years, including assumptions about future gas and electric prices.

These four groups are, of course, gross reductions and stereotypes. And many buyers share all these motivations to some extent. But our experience has led us to think there's some truth to them.

If you're considering buying an electric car or have already bought one--or, if you have decisively rejected doing so--let us know where you fit into these profiles, or how you'd characterize yourself.

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

Editor's Note: We originally published this article on June 2, 2008, well before any electric cars were on the market. Even the Tesla Roadster wasn't yet in production. We've now revisited the piece and updated it to reflect the latest research, and what we know thus far about plug-in cars and their buyers.


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