5 Basic Facts About Electric Cars Many Consumers Are Still Fuzzy About

If it is true that “ignorance is bliss,” with regard to plug-in electrified vehicles, there could be a statistically significant number of ecstatic folk out there.

With offense meant to no one, at least true is following last month’s results of yet one more consumer survey yielding too-many cringeworthy answers, PEV advocates are again saying there is need for more consumer “education.”

According to the survey by Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists quizzing licensed drivers in nine Northeast states and California, responses to easy-peasy questions produced questionable results.

Why does this matter? Electrified vehicles are internationally acknowledged as possessing potential to go far beyond cliched thoughts surrounding them. The U.S. government, and other global governments have beaten the band that aside from environmental benefits, they stand to improve aspects of national security, geo-political/economic stability, health for future generations, and more, but somehow PEVs are still skipping below the radar.

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This is true even though major manufacturers have been selling PEVs in America long enough for someone to have had a child and see it off to first grade by now, but alas, some consumers still have not learned their ABCs of EVs.

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But consumers can be forgiven if they know more about other subjects than electric cars. The market has been small, published info has at times been contradictory making consumers shut down to the prospect for now, and PEVs are a qualified decision even for those who do know all about them. But with the world now approaching 1.5 million PEVs on the road, there has been progress all around, the message is getting through, but advocates say more work is needed.

5 Basic Facts About Electric Cars Many Consumers Are Still Fuzzy About

Northeast states polled by the the CU/UCS survey were: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. These were treated as one group, and Californians were treated as another in the same survey.

Following are five statements a significant percentage of respondents were still fuzzy about. Potential answers were “agree,” or “disagree,” or “don’t know.”

PEVs reduce oil use

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So, what do you think? Does a car that radically reduces or eliminates reliance upon gasoline or diesel reduce oil use?

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The CU/UCS poll found more than 34 percent of respondents in the Northeast said they did not know the answer, and 32 percent of Californians answered they also did not know.

In the Northeast also, almost 9 percent said they disagree – so that means PEVs increase oil use in their minds. And in California, 11 percent disagreed PEVs reduce oil use.

Correct answer: The PEVs are acknowledged to reduce oil (petroleum) use. That is why the federal government, as well as those in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere are on board. Even the Saudis recognize PEVs reduce oil, and they ought to know.

PEVs are often cheaper to operate than gasoline vehicles

Photo credit: Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Aside from reduced fuel costs, PEVs typically also require less outlay for maintenance.

This speaks of energy costs. Plug-in hybrids use both electric power and gas – which helps explain why some are still confused about them. Pure battery electric cars use just electricity.

So the question could be rephrased: in an apple-to-apple comparison of same miles for comparable cars, are PEVs more or less expensive to operate?

In the Northeast, almost 45 percent said they did not know. In California, over 38 percent also said they did not know. Among these same respondents, almost 19 percent in the Northeast said they disagreed, which would mean they think gasoline vehicles are cheaper to run. In California, almost 20 percent also sided with this view.

Correct answer: In an overwhelming majority of cases PEVs are less costly to operate. Their electric motors use energy with upwards of 90-percent efficiency. Electricity costs vary across the country, but even with $2 gas, PEVs in electric mode operate with efficiency potentially good enough to cut costs by better than half this much, according to the U.S. EPA.

Pure EVs by average national energy costs might return efficiency equal to getting gasoline for 70-80 cents more or less per gallon. In the case of plug-in hybrids, they offer the energy benefits of pure EVs while running on electricity for 11-53 miles depending on make and model, and on gas, their fuel efficiency is from high 30s to 50 mpg. 

The trick with plug-in hybrids is to get one with enough EV range to avoid gas for most average driving needs which can be less than 40 miles per day.

PEVs can be recharged from a regular home outlet

EVs like this Leaf recharge much quicker with higher voltage and amperage from more-powerful EVSE.

EVs like this Leaf recharge much quicker with higher voltage and amperage from more-powerful EVSE.

Can a car like a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or Tesla Model S be charged from the wall socket at a residence?

Granted the bigger-battery EVs from Nissan and Tesla can take prohibitively long to recharge from just 120-volt, relatively low amperage current, but the question is can it be done?

In the Northeast, more than 34 percent said they did not know, and in California, just shy of 29 percent also said they did not know.

How many disagreed and effectively said PEVs cannot be plugged into a wall? In the Northeast it was over 17 percent, and in California it was over 20 percent.

Correct answer: All PEVs can be plugged into an ordinary 120-volt household outlet. As noted, cars like a Leaf can take day and night to replenish an empty battery, and a Model S could take even longer, but it can be done.

Plug-in hybrids can also be plugged into the wall, and many owners never bother installing 240-volt level-2 electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) as a recharge can be done in several hours or overnight when the car is not in use anyway.

PEVs reduce climate emissions compared to an average gas-powered vehicle

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Perhaps reflecting the fact that PEVs are often emphasized for their climate-improvement potential, not as many people missed the mark.

In the Northeast over 20 percent said they did not know, and in California, nearly 20 percent did not know.

Among those who said they disagreed, implying PEVs worsen climate change emissions compared to an average gas-powered vehicle, in the Northeast almost 6 percent signed on to that list, and in California it was 7 percent.

Correct answer: PEVs are widely acknowledged by scientists and government bodies the world over as cleaner cradle to grave than comparable internal combustion vehicles. That means their manufacture, lifetime operation, and post-consumer existence yields fewer overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Many major automakers (e.g. Ford, GM, Nissan) offer at least one PEV

Hyundai Sonata PHEV.

Hyundai Sonata PHEV.

Would you think a lot of people would get this one right? If so, you would be incorrect, as a large percentage of the survey respondents did not know the answer.

In the Northeast, more than 42 percent did not know that any plug-in electrified cars were offered for sale by major automakers such as Ford, GM, Nissan, etc.

In California – the plug-in car capital of America – over 34 percent of respondents answered they did not know if major automakers sell PEVs.

Those who disagreed that major carmakers sell PEVs amounted to over 10 percent in the Northeast, and more than 11 percent in California. This would mean around one-in-10 people deny major manufacturers sell any plug-in cars.

Correct answer: Major manufacturers do produce and sell plug-in electrified vehicles. To be fair to the Northeasterners, several automakers refuse to sell some of their PEVs there, and offer them only in states meeting California zero emission rules. That said, every state has at least some PEVs from major automakers available.

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In the U.S. the total number of plug-in hybrids now for sale is 14, and there are 13 battery electric cars.

Manufacturers selling PEVs include Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

Source: UCS