Models from Tesla are driven more on a daily basis than other electric cars, according to a new study. But the study also found that EVs are generally driven less than gasoline cars, raising questions about their effectiveness as internal-combustion replacements.
A team of researchers from the University of California Davis, University of California Berkeley, and University of Chicago looked at electricity-meter measurements and EV registration records for California—home to about half of the electric cars in the United States.
2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV
The study found that an EV increased household electricity consumption by by 2.9 kilowatt-hours per day which, adjusting for out-of-home charging, translated to about 5,300 vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) annually. That's roughly half as large as EV driving estimates used by regulators, and half as large as annual VMT for gasoline cars, researchers said.
This indication that electric cars are being driven substantially less than internal-combustion cars implies that EVs really aren't directly replacing gasoline.
"The takeaway here is not that EVs should never or will never be our future," Fiona Burlig, assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "It's rather that policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric."
2020 Tesla Model 3
Researchers also found that Tesla electric cars consumed almost twice the electricity of other models studied. This is likely due to a "combination of factors," including Teslas' larger battery packs, researchers said. If Teslas are being driven more than other EVs, though—which they must be, as they boast higher efficiency—it implies they are more directly replacing internal-combustion cars.
There is one clear difference between Tesla and other EVs, of course: range. The automaker was the first to break the 400-mile barrier, and is now quoting a 520-mile range for the latest Model S Plaid.
2019 Chevrolet Volt
Range can make a difference in how much owners use their cars. In 2013, U.S. Department of Energy data showed Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid drivers were accumulating more electric miles than drivers of the all-electric Nissan Leaf. The Volt had less electric range than the Leaf, but more overall range thanks to a backup gasoline engine.
We've said before that the big batteries Tesla is using to achieve a 520-mile range in the Model S aren't the greenest way to go electric. But would a 500-mile range help more drivers ditch the gasoline car and stick with the EV all the time?