Electric Vehicle Adoption Potential in the U.S.

Electric Vehicle Adoption Potential in the U.S.


I’m Jeremy Michalek, and I direct Carnegie
Mellon’s Vehicle Electrification group. Electric vehicles have the potential to help
reduce air emissions while improving energy security and offering economic benefits, but
they can only make impact to the extent that people adopt them. Since 2008, we’ve conducted studies to understand
and characterize some of the key factors that affect adoption patterns including: consumer
preferences, cost, parking and charging infrastructure, range, and public policy. I’ll summarize a few of our recent findings. Adoption of electric vehicles will depend
on how consumers value the attributes they can offer. In one study, we estimate that to achieve
mainstream adoption, American consumers want pure battery electric vehicles to be $10,000
to $20,000 cheaper than equivalent gasoline vehicles on average. In contrast, mainstream Chinese consumers
are willing to adopt battery electric vehicles at similar rates to their gasoline counter
parts, if they have sufficient range. So China could potentially adopt battery electric
vehicles at mainstream levels before the U.S. China’s vehicle market is already larger than
the U.S market. So what happens in China has the potential
to affect markets globally. Battery cost is the largest economic barrier
to electric vehicle adoption. Economies of scale and large battery factories
can cut costs somewhat. But we estimate that the cost savings of high-volume
manufacturing are nearly exhausted at the production volume’s of today’s Nissan Leaf,
Chevy Volt, and Tesla Model S. So increased electric vehicles sales alone may not be enough
to bring down costs dramatically. We’ll still need significant innovation in
battery technology. Many vehicle buyers would be hesitant to purchase
plug-in vehicles unless they have reliable access to a home parking space where they
can plug in. Most U.S. households have some off-street
parking and many have nearby electrical outlets. This is encouraging for enabling plug-in vehicle
adoption. But many households do not have enough dedicated
off street parking spaces for all of their vehicles. We estimate that half of U.S. vehicles lack
a dedicated off-street parking space at an owned residence where a charger can be installed. So while many households could adopt some
electric vehicles, electrifying the entire vehicle fleet is likely unrealistic without
major infrastructure changes. Public charging infrastructure could make
pure battery electric vehicles more attractive by reducing range anxiety and enabling long
distance travel. But for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles,
public charger investment is an expensive way to save gasoline, costing much more than
the price of gasoline per gallon saved. A less expensive way to save gasoline is to
add additional battery capacity to plug-in hybrid vehicles and it’s even cheaper per
gallon saved for more consumers to adopt gasoline electric hybrids. The limited range and slow refueling of electric
vehicles are also deterrence to wide spread adoption. And range may be a bigger issue in some regions
than others. It takes energy to keep the passenger cabin
comfortable in extreme weather. For example, while gasoline vehicles can use
waste heat to warm the passenger cabin in cold weather, electric vehicles need to use
the limited energy stored in the battery to generate heat, and batteries are less efficient
when they are cold. So electric vehicle range can drop by 40%
or more on peak temperature days in the hottest, or coldest regions of the U.S. like Phoenix
or Minneapolis. Policy also has a significant effect on adoption
patterns. Plug-in vehicle adoption is strongest in states
like California and Georgia that have had significant state incentives for plug-in vehicle
purchases on top of generous federal subsidies. And several states require auto makers to
sell a certain number of electric or fuel-cell vehicles in that state. But under federal fuel economy standards states
that mandate electric vehicle sales, enable other states to shift to higher-emitting fleets. This could result in greater polarization
in the types of vehicles purchased in different regions without reducing overall emissions
or gasoline consumption. So a variety of factors will affect adoption
patterns for electrified vehicles. Mainstream U.S. consumers will need costs
to come way down, and high volume production alone isn’t likely to get us there. Limited residential parking suitable for electric
vehicle charging may pose a long term limit to mainstream adoption, and public charger
investment is an expensive way to save gasoline. Loss of vehicle range in extreme weather regions
may also affect regional adoption, and electric vehicle adoption in some regions can lead
to higher polluting fleets in other regions. At Carnegie Mellon, we are working to train
the next generation of professionals, innovators, scholars, and leaders. For more information of these and other studies,
visit cmu.edu/cit/veg or search for cmu veg.

One Reply to “Electric Vehicle Adoption Potential in the U.S.”

  1. Public transit using electric trams and electric trains is cleaner than the electric cars. Also, they do need batteries. Walking and Cycling is the cleanest.

    High speed trains need help from great universities like Carnegie Mellon University.

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