Plugging In: New Survey Examines American Perceptions of—and Resistance to—Electric Vehicles

The latest installment of the Climate Insights 2020 report series finds that resistance to purchasing electric vehicles derives from a variety of sources—and those reasons differ among some demographics.


Oct. 19, 2020

News Type

Press Release

Transportation is the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for almost 30 percent of total emissions. In the national and global effort to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change, electric vehicles (EVs) provide an attractive option. But despite dropping prices and rising popularity, EVs continue to make up a small percentage of the automotive industry's market share.

Are Americans resistant to purchasing these vehicles? And what are some of the biggest barriers—or perceived barriers—to widespread adoption? A new report out from researchers at Stanford University, Resources for the Future, and ReconMR has some answers.

Interviews with 502 American adults from May 28 to August 10, 2020 reveal American perceptions of EVs and illustrate whether those perceptions may lead to purchasing reluctance. The report also identifies sources of hesitation among three subgroups: sex, education, and prior exposure to EVs.

Topline Findings

  • 57% of future car buyers are willing to consider buying an EV.
  • The most important driver of openness to purchasing an EV is belief that global warming will be a serious problem for the US in the future
  • The perception that batteries may catch on fire, that maintenance costs are higher, and that EVs have weaker acceleration than gas-powered cars are sources of hesitation among potential buyers.
  • Perceived difficulty of replacing batteries and lack of mechanics as compared to gas-powered vehicles are also predictors of purchasing reluctance.
  • 65% of respondents have not driven nor know anyone who has driven an EV.

"Purchasing a vehicle is a big decision that consumers don't make lightly, and making a change from familiar gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles involves venturing into the unknown to some degree. The decision to do so is likely shaped by perceptions of the features of EVs, so understanding those perceptions is a useful way to identify sources of hesitation inhibiting the adoption of this comparatively new technology," report coauthor Jon Krosnick said. "Highlighting ways in which public perceptions don't line up with reality can pave pathways for educating people and alleviating concerns, which could lead to increased interest in EVs."

To learn more about these findings, read Climate Insights 2020: Electric Vehicles by Bo MacInnis, lecturer at Stanford University and PhD economist, and Jon Krosnick, social psychologist, professor at Stanford University, and RFF university fellow. The Climate Insights 2020 interactive data tool also allows users to explore the data in greater depth.

The final report installment in this series will be a state-level breakdown of previously reported national data. Previous installments have focused on overall trends, natural disasters, climate policies, and partisan breakdowns of those policies.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please see our media resources page or contact Media Relations and Communications Specialist Annie McDarris.


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