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Do people who buy their first electric vehicle buy a second one after?

Do people who buy electric vehicles stay with electric vehicles? The answer seems to be “it’s complicated,” with two new reports hitting both sides of the scale.

One released by researchers at the University of California Davis (UCD) found that, among 4,000-plus households surveyed in that state, 18 per cent of electric-vehicle (EV) owners, and 20 per cent of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) owners, ended up returning to gasoline vehicles. Much of the dissatisfaction was due to lack of charging infrastructure.

The California study used five surveys from 2015 to 2019. In contrast, a 2021 study from J.D. Power found that 82 per cent of respondents “definitely will” consider purchasing another EV in future — but not necessarily from the same automaker.

In the UCD study, a major factor in going back to gasoline was a lack of 240-volt Level 2 charging facilities at home, which can be an issue in apartments, or houses with street parking. Half of those who had access to Level 2 home charging would continue to own a PHEV or EV, while of those giving up on EVs, only 29 per cent could charge on 240 volts at home.

Among all those surveyed, concerns with charging cost, reliability, range, and EV safety were about the same for everyone, and it was home charging that pushed some off the edge.

That’s not surprising, really. While study after study shows the lack of a robust public charging network to be a major obstacle for those considering an EV, the reality, according to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, is that 80 per cent of vehicle charging is done at home, usually overnight. Many of these vehicle owners install Level 2 chargers at home. (Level 3 fast-charging can only be done at public stations, and there aren’t many of those just yet.)

The UCD study found that those who bought lower-range EVs were more likely to go back to gasoline. Those who owned EVs from Tesla and GM were most likely to stay with electrics, while those most likely to give them up were driving models from Fiat (which has since discontinued the Fiat 500e in the U.S., and never made it available in Canada), Toyota, and Ford.


Tesla Model 3

Tesla

Perhaps most surprising was that women – who already account for a lower percentage of EV owners overall – were also the most likely to go back to gasoline. The UCD researchers admitted they couldn’t explain either situation.

In J.D. Power’s study, which found 82 per cent of EV owners willing to go for another one, the “current ownership experience” was a key factor in what brand they’d get next. According to Brent Gruber, J.D. Power’s senior director of global automotive, “Brand loyalty can be fickle among EV owners. While early adopters of EVs say they’ll remain loyal to EVs in general, staying with the same brand is not a sure thing.”

The study found that accuracy of the stated battery range, along with the vehicle’s actual range, accounts for about 20 per cent of an owner’s overall satisfaction. “Even though most owners drive less than the stated range of their vehicle’s battery, they still want to know that the actual battery range is close to the stated battery range,” Gruber said.

Those buying premium EVs are happier with their purchases than those with mass-market EVs, mostly because of Tesla owners’ higher level of satisfaction with the company’s public charging network. Premium-EV buyers cited quality and reliability as the most important factor in their ownership experience, but J.D. Power added that “while Tesla is seen to have poor quality, Tesla owners are more highly satisfied overall, indicating their willingness to overlook quality problems.”

For customer satisfaction, the Tesla Model S ranked highest overall, as well as highest in the premium segment. The Tesla Model 3 ranked second in the premium segment. For mass-market, the Kia Niro EV ranked highest, followed by the Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona EV.

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