Chart: Most Americans are interested in EVs, but very few are actually buying them

How do we bridge this Grand Canyon–sized gap?
By Julian Spector, Maria Virginia Olano

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It’s not that they aren’t interested.

If you ask American drivers whether they would consider buying an electric car, most say yes. That’s according to a 2020 survey by Consumer Reports.

All in all, 71 percent are open to EVs — that includes 4 percent who said they’re definitely buying electric next, 27 percent who said they’re considering electric for their next car, and 40 percent who said they had some interest” in a future EV purchase. Just 29 percent said they have no interest in ever owning an EV.

But you wouldn’t discern the high interest in EVs from actual sales data. Plug-in cars barely broke 2 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2020.

Market share is notably higher in Europe and China, and EV sales in the U.S. are poised for big growth in 2021 based on preliminary numbers.

Markets are supposed to let consumers reveal their innermost preferences through purchasing choices. But EV sales drastically lag what customers say they’re interested in. That’s a problem for efforts to quickly cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector, now the largest source of U.S. emissions.

Overcoming this gap will require work on both supply and demand. More, and cheaper, EV models and more plentiful chargers will go a long way. High-profile launches like Ford’s electric F-150 make driving electric easier to imagine for fans of the bestselling truck in America.

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Entrepreneur Praveen Kathpal, who brought these data points to our attention when he spoke with Canary for a recent story, aims to accelerate the demand side with his startup, Motor. For a monthly subscription fee, the company brings a new EV to a customer’s front door, installs a charger and assumes responsibility for maintaining the car. The bet is that making it super easy to get your first electric car will turn the EV-curious into EV adopters, even before more models and public charging points are available.

If millions of people who want to buy EVs aren’t buying yet, there’s money to be made — and carbon to be saved — by figuring out why.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.