2015 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
Ask any electric-car advocate, and they'll likely list availability of public charging as one of the key requirements to getting more people interested in plug-in vehicles.
The availability of public charging stations reduces range anxiety and gives drivers greater trip flexibility.
That would logically seem to make electric cars more desirable to consumers.
Yet a new study claims that's not the case.
The relationship between awareness of available public charging and electric-car demand is "weak or nonexistent," claims Professor Jonn Axsen, leader of the study.
2013 Tesla Model S on Chilcotin Highway, Canada [photo: owner Vincent Argiro]Enlarge Photo
Published in the journal Transportation Research Part D, the study is based on a poll of 1,739 households in Canada.
Respondents were asked about their awareness of local charging infrastructure, and their interest in purchasing a plug-in car.
Respondents appeared aware of charging infrastructure in their area.
Simon Fraser University's home province of British Columbia has worked to install public charging stations--about 500 were in place when the poll was conducted in 2013.
Sure enough, about one third of British Columbia residents said they had seen at least one public charging station, compared to 13 percent for the rest of Canada.
However, the study found that respondents were more interested in plug-in hybrids--which in this case included the Chevrolet Volt--than in all-electric cars.
These two results led Axsen and his team to conclude that public charging infrastructure is less important than other policies, such as purchase incentives.
He recommended that regional governments focus on those, as well as on policies that help to better facilitate home charging.
Smart Electric Drive, University of British Columbia campus, Vancouver [pohto: Matthew Klippenstein]Enlarge Photo
Also recommended: a zero-emission vehicle mandate, similar to the one implemented for 2012 by California.
It's worth noting that many electric-car drivers primarily charge at home or at work. The amount of time cars sit idle and the short distance of most commutes mean this is often all that's needed.
However, for breaks from the daily routine--or longer trips--extensive public charging infrastructure is still needed.
After all, while home and work charging may be practical in many situations, combining it with public charging covers all the bases.