Study Considers How To Boost Plug-In Sales From 1 to 30 Percent

With carbon emission targets continuing to become more stringent, regions around the world are grappling with how to get more plug-in electrified vehicles on the road, but a new study may be able to provide some answers.

The report creates one of the most comprehensive pictures of plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) sales, with information that is vital for policy makers, automobile corporations and utility companies. The researchers actually termed these “plug-in electric” for a term better described as generically plug-in electrified – as they assessed both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Their report takes an in-depth look at who buys PEVs, what factors are important in that decision and why the bulk of consumers are still purchasing non-PEVs instead.

Though the study comes from Canada, the issue of increasing PEV sales is global. In the U.S., for example, PEV sales only made up 0.7 percent of all new vehicle sales last year.

“Widespread uptake and use of plug-in electric vehicles will involve meaningful shifts in social and technical systems,” said researchers Dr. Jonn Axsen and Suzanne Goldberg with Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management. “A combination of demand-focused and supply-focused policies is likely required to induce adoption of PEVs significant enough to achieve deep greenhouse reduction targets, as well as other environmental and energy goals.”

After surveying almost 2,000 PEV owners, the researchers separated their analysis into three groups of consumers: PEV Pioneers (current owners of PEVs), the Early Mainstream PEV buyers (the segment most likely to buy PEVs in the next 10 – 15 years), and the Late Mainstream (the segment not likely to buy PEVs in the next 10 – 15 years).

Some of the highlights from the study’s 200-page report include:

Increase PEV Options

The Canadian PEV market is about a year behind the U.S., giving consumers far fewer choices at the dealer. This variable alone significantly reduces sales.

“With the current supply of PEVs in Canada (7 models), future PEV new market share is not likely to exceed 4 – 5 percent by 2030; increasing supply (to 56 models) could increase market share to over 20 percent by 2030,” said Axsen and Goldberg.

“This analysis makes the case for the importance of having both demand-focused PEV policies that encourage consumer adoption of PEVs (such as financial and non-financial incentives) as well as supply-focused policies that require automakers to increase the availability and variety of PEV models (e.g. like California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate),” the study said.

SEE ALSO: How Can Other States Take Advantage Of California’s EV Momentum?

Recognizing Different Types of PEV Buyers

Axsen and Goldberg reported several significant differences between the types of buyers, including:

PEV Pioneers tend to be of higher income and education and are more engaged in environment- and/or technology-oriented lifestyles, relative to Mainstream respondents.

About one-third of potential Mainstream respondents want a PEV – the vast majority want a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) rather than a pure electric vehicle (BEV).

Most of our PEV Pioneer respondents own either the Nissan Leaf (46 percent), Chevrolet Volt (24 percent) or Tesla Model S (10 percent) Tesla owners, in particular, report the highest income and education levels.

Mainstream and Pioneer respondents differ considerably in terms of motivations for PEV interest, e.g. exploring new technology, seeking environmental benefits, or realizing savings.

Educating The Public

It’s clear that, even though plug-in hybrids have been on the market for years, many consumers are still unclear on how the vehicles work, how to fuel them at the gas station and how to charge them, both at home and in public.

“While PEV Pioneers demonstrate considerably high familiarity with major PEV models (77 – 84 percent), only a minority of Mainstream respondents were familiar with PEVs (14 – 31 percent) and were able to correctly identify how to fuel [them],” said the study.

“Mainstream respondents demonstrated a particular confusion about the idea of PHEVs,” the researchers continued. “For example, in an interview, [a respondent] expressed some confusion with PHEVs, saying ‘so just to clarify… let’s say I didn’t have time to charge it and I still had to drive it, it would still drive because it would just default to gas?'”

Source: Axsen, J., S. Goldberg, J. Bailey, G. Kamiya, B. Langman, J. Cairns, M. Wolinetz, and A. Miele (2015). Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

Source: Axsen, J., S. Goldberg, J. Bailey, G. Kamiya, B. Langman, J. Cairns, M. Wolinetz, and A. Miele (2015). Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

Identifying The Most Successful Charging Locations

The study noted that increasing consumers’ awareness of home charging options is far more valuable than creating a vast network of public charging stations. About 70 percent of the Mainstream respondents already have access to some type of charging at home, said the researchers, and home chargers were used far more often than public chargers.

“Only 20 – 33 percent of Mainstream respondents are aware of public chargers, but awareness does not seem to influence PEV interest,” wrote Axsen and Goldberg.

“We find that awareness of public charging infrastructure has a weak or non-existent relationship with PEV interest. Instead, the results indicate that having PEV charger access at home is a stronger and more consistent predictor of PEV interest, suggesting that PEV policy ought to prioritize home charging access over public charging deployment.”

Source: Axsen, J., S. Goldberg, J. Bailey, G. Kamiya, B. Langman, J. Cairns, M. Wolinetz, and A. Miele (2015). Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

Source: Axsen, J., S. Goldberg, J. Bailey, G. Kamiya, B. Langman, J. Cairns, M. Wolinetz, and A. Miele (2015). Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study. Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

The study also provides feedback on the different driving patterns of PEV owners, motivations behind buying decisions and predictions on the future market of PEVs. The full report, ” Electrifying Vehicles: Insights from the Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study, is available here.