(USA TODAY)- Owners of plug-in electric cars are well-off, well-educated people who want to wean themselves and the nation off high-price oil, according to a pair of new reports.
The independent reports add to the prevailing profile of electric-car owners as affluent people who are not (and don't have to be) terribly concerned about the high purchase price of the current crop of plug-in vehicles compared with ordinary cars, or even conventional hybrids.
In the past two years, plugs-ins ranging from the $36,050 Nissan Leaf, powered only by electricity, to the $39,995 Chevrolet Volt, which has a gas engine to back up its electric motors, have attracted wide attention, but not blockbuster sales. Some 26,100 Leafs and Volts combined have been sold so far this year, about 0.2% of overall vehicle sales.
In a boost to electrics, Motor Trend magazine this week named Tesla's swoopy all-electric sedan, the Model S, as its Car of the Year. The unanimous choice of the judges for its performance, looks and features, the Model S sells at luxury car prices starting at $57,400 to $105,400 for the most capable model with the most features. Depending on the model and battery, it has a range rating of up to 265 miles per charge.
Electric cars will remain a small portion of the U.S. vehicle market unless automakers can figure out ways to cut prices and boost the perceived benefits, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates.
The federal government's current subsidy is a $7,500 tax credit, and there are proposals to change that to a $10,000 subsidy at purchase, the same amount that the study found that electric-vehicle owners pay as a premium for the average EV compared with similar conventional cars.
"The bottom line is that the price has to come down," says Neal Oddes, senior director of the green practice for J.D. Power in a statement. "There also needs to be an improvement in infrastructure, or the number of charging stations outside the home."
The gasoline savings, however, add up. J.D. Power finds the average electric vehicle owners saw only an $18 monthly boost in utility bills from recharging, compared with the $147 a month they would have paid in gas to drive the same distance. About one in three owners were receiving special discount pricing from electric utilities as part of plans usually based on off-peak charging at night.
The survey of 7,600 owners found 43% say they charge their vehicle away from home. When they do, 85% say that it's in a place where they're not charged for the juice. Their average daily commute is 34 miles, easily within range of most electric vehicles on the market. Only 11% say they fear that their batteries will run out before they can recharge, rejecting the notion they are plagued by "range anxiety."
A separated compilation of Internet responses by 990 electric-vehicle owners and enthusiasts by the Electric Vehicle Information Exchange, part of a consulting group called Oceanus Automotive, also found them to be different from most motorists. EV owners and fans were primarily "very well educated, upper-middle class white men in their early 50s with ideal living situations for EV charging," usually garages where they can recharge their cars overnight, said the group's report.
For almost all owners, their electric car was their primary vehicle, the report said, and these owners were motivated to buy by high-price gas, rather than the environment. "Energy independence, and not environmental anxiety, was the primary reason that these respondents became interested in electric vehicles," the report says.