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Study Finds About 1/3 of US New Vehicle Buying Households Have the Required Infrastructure and Buying Interest for PHEVs

Distribution of PHEV design choices by potential early market buyers in the study. Extending charge-sustaining fuel economy was the most popular option. 4.7% chose a 40-mile all-electric range like the Volt. Click to enlarge.

About one-third of US new vehicle buying households in the US have both the required infrastructure for recharging and the interest to purchase a vehicle with plug-in capabilities during the nascent phase of the market, according to a new consumer study by researchers John Axsen and Ken Kurani at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

The team observed a “wide diversity” of consumer interests in various design options for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). The most popular option was improved fuel economy in charge-sustaining mode. They found little evidence of inherent demand for all-electric operation in charge depleting mode, even following education of the participating consumers.

These findings were part of a study attempting to quantify consumer behavior in the early US market for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The study addressed four questions:

  1. How aware are consumers regarding electric-drive vehicles?

  2. How many households have regular access to vehicle recharging opportunities?

  3. What PHEV design(s) currently appeal to consumers?

  4. What energy impacts (gasoline and electricity) can we anticipate with significant PHEV sales?

They gathered data from a web-based survey of 2,373 new vehicle buying households distributed across in the US. The survey was implemented in three separate pieces, requiring multiple days for households to answer questions, conduct a review of their own driving and parking patterns, and then complete a sequence of PHEV design exercises. PHEV design priority data were collected in two versions of priority-evaluator games.

Axsen and Kurani found that the majority of new vehicle buyers have little or no familiarity with the idea of a PHEV, and may confuse the capabilities of existing hybrids with those of a plug-in.

This lack of awareness and understanding is both a constraint and opportunity. As a constraint, unaware consumers may simply fail to recognize or identify compelling benefits of owning and operating a PHEV, serving as a soft constraint to limit the market. On the other hand, the early PHEV market in the US may be viewed as a blank slate, with little preexisting understanding of what a PHEV is or expectations of what it should be. Thus, the early actions of automakers, governments, electric utilities and other stakeholders could play an important role in establishing perceptions in the market. Similarly, the first commercially available PHEV incarnations could set an early bar for consumer understanding and set expectations of performance levels.

—Axsen and Kurani (2008)

They also concluded that just more than half the population of US households that buy new cars has the potential to recharge a vehicle at home with at least 110-volt service. This is 1.5 to 3 times larger than prior estimates. Few respondents located recharge opportunities at locations other than their homes.

Because recharge opportunities are relatively sparse at work and other non-home locations, we isolate home recharging as the key criteria to characterize a potential early PHEV market in this analysis. This constraint is substantiated by the experience of drivers of PHEV-conversions reported by Kurani et al (2007). We feel that the higher home recharge potential segment identified above provides a conservative yet realistic sub-sample from which to explore the size of early PHEV markets; we limit further consideration of the early PHEV market to the higher home recharge potential segment. We further constrain this segment based on PHEV interest as indicated by purchase intentions in the “high” price condition. Thus, we select the 33.5 percent of respondents that demonstrate both access to sufficient recharge infrastructure and PHEV interest as a group best representing the early PHEV market. We will refer to this subset as the potential early market respondents.

—Axsen and Kurani (2008)

Focusing on that segment for the investigation of appealing PHEV designs, Axsen and Kurani found that PHEV performance priorities varied substantially, with no single PHEV design emerging as a favorite of the majority. Improving charge-sustaining gasoline-fuel economy was the most frequently chosen design (41.1%). By the end of the design game process (Round Four), the proportion of potential early market respondents designing a PHEV with all-electric operation rose to 12.3%. Only 4.7% of potential early market respondents chose a PHEV with 40 miles of all-electric range—i.e., the Chevy Volt.

Overall, all-electric operation, a feature stated by some automakers to be essential to assure market success, was not a chosen frequently when points were relatively scarce, i.e. in Rounds Three and Four.

—Axsen and Kurani (2008)

After combining all the information from the consumers on driving, recharge potential and PHEV design priorities, the team concluded that the use of PHEV vehicles could halve gasoline use relative to conventional vehicles—the majority of this reduction being due to increases in CS fuel economy.

Impacts to the electricity grid could highly depend on the time-of-day and location recharge management strategy. While unconstrained recharging among PHEV buyers may exacerbate current peak electricity demand, pushing vehicle recharging to off-peak hours through charging controls, time of day tariffs or other means could reduce overall electricity used by vehicles, they concluded.

Overall, this analysis provides a baseline measure of market potential—one that could be highly subject to influence. Recharge infrastructure could expand to a higher percentage of households with changes in building codes, as well as increased employer and publicly installed vehicle recharge outlets. Recharge behavior may also shift with PHEV purchase; owners might adjust driving patterns to maximize electricity use or adjust recharge locations if additional infrastructure is provided away from homes.

Desired PHEV designs and capabilities may be even more subject to change. Survey respondents had little pre-existing understanding of PHEVs and the elicited responses could be sensitive to the PHEV information we provided. As information about PHEV technology diffuses throughout the economy, along with corresponding developments in PHEV values and meaning, interest in particular attributes could shift. For example, all-electric charge-depleting operation could become more meaningful to car buyers as they gain experience and as they participate in the process of identifying just what all-electric operation means to people.

In the meantime, this analysis illustrates how the messages and actions of policymakers, automakers, electric utilities and other interest groups could have significant influence over future development of awareness, recharge potential, design interests, and energy impacts of the PHEV market.

—Axsen and Kurani (2008)



what does CS and CD stand for?

What "do" CS and CD stand for?


"The most popular option was improved fuel economy in charge-sustaining mode. They found little evidence of inherent demand for all-electric operation in charge depleting mode, even following education of the participating consumers."

Also http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy07osti/40377.pdf


CS means the engine comes on before the batteries get very low. CD means the engine does not come on until the batteries are at a very low state of charge.

They also concluded that just more than half the population of US households that buy new cars has the potential to recharge a vehicle at home with at least 110-volt service.

Bad news for electric cars!


Why is that bad? It will be a long time before they can make that many cars in the first place.

I look at 50% as a high number. If the other 50% can't do it because they live in an appartment complex, It shouldn't be too hard to install pay as you go plugs in the parking lot.


I won’t happen that way. They will want Biofuel or CTL. That is more convenient but also very bad for the environment.


Why is this bad news for electric cars? It's 1.5 to 3 times what they thought it was! A large percentage of those who do not have access to plugs, probably don't own a car anyway (city apt dwellers). Those who do, may have a parking garage which could be easily upgraded with electric outlets if the demand warranted.


In our project (www.milnermotors.com), we have opted for a range assist similar to what eVolt is doing. This provides the most flexibiity and gets rid of the worry about running out of power, whether it is a 40 or 400 mile trip. Also, it seems much more simple and avoids spending huge tax dollars for recharging stations, for these vehicles to carry their range assist with them in the form of a small gasoline or diesel engine that can charge their batteries en route when needed.


You really need more than a 110 outlet in the vicinity of where you park your car. My understanding is that in California, to get the benefit of the EV tariff, you need a special electrical setup at that outlet so that the EV current gets billed at the lower rate. Otherwise Californians like me would have to pay over 25 cents per kWH for charging a PUH or EV, making it much less cost effective.

Hybrid fan

"you need a special electrical setup at that outlet so that the EV current gets billed at the lower rate. Otherwise... much less cost effective."

Yes, paying the market rate decreases the cost advantage the same as with most subsidized plans. How much does a 3000 pound electric car cost to drive with UNSUBSIDIZED market rate rate renewable power? (Please add in the appropriate road use "gas tax" equivalent. Oh, and no budget rate coal plants trons allowed either)

Let's be fair here.

stas peterson

You don't have to worry about coal generated electrons fouling your eco-wagon PHEV, in California.

Californiai doesn't generate any electricity with clean coal. Except for imports of eelctricity. There is some standby old dirty coal plants still exisiting in California.

I suspect the comment about "electric cars" was refering to the lack of enthusiasm for BEVs. Most people don't want them, until the charge, equals the range of a tank of gasoline. The worry factor is simply too great.


What this report tells me is: The electric car industry is doing a bad job of PR for their product...perhaps they need to emulate T. Boone's TV campaign about wind power and launch a sales program to educate the "great unwashed" about the different types and advantages of PHEVs and BEVs.


Tesla gets ~220miles on a tank of electricty. The size of the tank is ~50KWHr.
For me in Arizona, I can charge it up for $5. If you pay $0.25/KWHr in Ca, then that raises the price to $12.50 for a tank of electrical energy.

Would anyone today complain about paying $12.50 to go 220 miles?

But most people would charge at night when the power plants are on but not being used. Night time power is what, 5 cents/KWHr?
so $2.50 for your car?
Sign me up as soon as the price comes down to $25K for a car.


The GM Volt people talk about how most can get by with 40 miles. That would be about 10 kWH. A 110 volt at 10 amps would be 1000 watts for 10 hours. Start charging at 8 pm and you are ready at 6 am.


Anybody with a home built in the last 30 yrs should have a 240V connection in their fuse box. Most Clothes Driers like to suck in energy with a fat straw and use the 240V connector. 240V @ 20 amps would also do the trick nicely.

But its nice to know that 110V @ 10Amps would do the trick too as this is standard and I believe lowest power connection put in a house.


I can't read much into this. There are so many factors affecting vehicle purchase decisions. It's a fairly interesting piece of the jigsaw.

Reminds me there's a lot of work to do before PHEV's and BEV's are commonplace.

There is a much more common electric circuit in homes than 110v 10 A. Its 110v 15 A service. Many homes even upsize one wire size and install 110v 20 A service for heavy duty circuits that can expect heavy usage such as a plug in the kitchen or laundry or garage workshop.

110v 20 A service is not bulky with the cords, and uses a standard wall plug format. Yet offers double the power of a 110V 10A plug. That is more than enough for a four hour "overnite" charge.


Regarding the 2/3 of consumers that don't have electrical outlets in their garage:

For a MAX of $500 you can easily get a 110V or 208V outlet installed in your garage. That takes care of the home owners.

I think the biggest challenge will be people living in apartments that don't have garages. Apartment complexes could install outlets with sub-meters, but there is always the concern that someone will use your plug if you're not there - electricity theft would become an issue. Anyone have ideas on how to address this issue?


FYI: As far as the Volt goes, from what I've read, it's a 16KwH battery pack that will use 50% of it's total capacity in electric only mode, then use the gas "generator" to maintain that level of charge. That means 40 miles on 8KwH of energy before the generator kicks in. So, at 10 cents/KwH, 40 miles = $0.80; at 25 cents, 40 miles = $2.00.

Also, that means that even on a 15 amp circuit, running at 75% capacity (1237 watts), it only takes 6.5 hours to fully charge your batteries and be ready for another 40 miles.

My wife and I have been putting cash aside to buy a plug in hybrid. I'm definitely in the market for a Volt when they're available. My commute to work is 16 miles round trip, so I can do just about anything I need without ever using the gasoline engine. My wife's commute is about 22 miles round trip. We would essentially pull our vehicles off the gas teet for 90% of our driving.

Now, we just need to get solar panels to drop in price about 30% from current levels and we will seriously consider going fully solar for our home (and size it accordingly to handle our vehicles). How cool would that be?!



"Did you plug in the car last night, Honey?"

"Oh, c#*& !!


That is why I favor an inductive pad on the floor. If you are going to charge over 10 hours, you can just park the car. When the green light comes on you are charging. No plugging required and no forgetting it.


@swen & sjc,
If you have an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) (same as Series PHEV) then this is not really much of a problem. You're just going to be using more gasoline in the extended-range generator on that day. BFD Series-PHEV still has theoretical advantage over Series/Parallel-PHEV (like modified PRIUS) in HEV mode (CS mode).

Can inductive floor pad charging be done with same xfer efficiency as direct plug-in?

Reality Czech
I[t] won’t happen that way. They will want Biofuel or CTL.
After they see the difference in price, they'll want the opposite.

This survey shows that the US public is badly misinformed. It might only take one ad or PSA campaign to fix that.

Reality Czech
Can inductive floor pad charging be done with same xfer efficiency as direct plug-in?
No. There are also public concerns about electromagnetic fields, which will be much more intense around such a charger than around power lines.

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