Plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs, offer great potential societal benefits, especially easing U.S. dependence on fossil fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change. To realize those benefits, though, public policy is essential to increasing consumer interest in PEVs, according to recent research from an Indiana University-led team of researchers.
Sanya Carley, professor in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, conducted the study along with Sean Nicholson-Crotty, also a professor in the O’Neill School, and Saba Siddiki, an associate professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
The study increases understanding of how public policy can either assist or restrain the spread of new technologies.
The researchers looked closely at how policy can affect consumer demand for PEVs and lead to different vehicle purchase decisions. Their findings increase understanding of how public policy can either assist or restrain the spread of new technologies.
“We asked, what do we know about which policies have been effective, which levels of government can enact those policies, and what else can stakeholders do to help PEVs penetrate established automobile markets?” Carley said.
After statistical analyses, surveys of car consumers, and interviews with stakeholders in eight U.S. cities (Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and San Diego), Carley and her colleagues drew four main conclusions:
- State policies play a critical role in PEV market developments. Various states offer tax incentives for purchasing PEVs, but states can go further. For example, public charging infrastructure (where drivers can plug-in and charge their vehicles) is particularly important. Consumer incentives to purchase PEVs are twice as effective if a state also provides public charging infrastructure or incentives for others to invest in such infrastructure, according to one of their analyses.
- Municipal-level stakeholders—including government officials as well as public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders—are key participants in PEV market growth. Besides state policies, city- and town-level policies can also support PEV adoption. “Things that lead to success include strong collaborations and coordination among stakeholders, policies and initiatives such as charging station programs, and integrating PEVs into other kinds of efforts supporting technologies linked to environmental benefits, such as grid modernization or solar panels plus PEV deployment,” Carley said.
- Consumer interest in PEVs has increased significantly between 2011 and 2017. The main factors behind this trend include better understanding of PEV benefits; favorable experiences with PEVs; positive influence from friends, neighbors, and family who own PEVs; and the availability of public charging stations.
- Despite growing interest, there are lingering consumer misunderstandings to overcome about PEV technology and costs. Consumers tend to overestimate the drawbacks of PEVs such as cost, driving range, and battery recharging time, while they underestimate private benefits, such as gas savings. They’re also unaware of what policy incentives are available in their local jurisdictions. “We didn’t test the reason for the misperceptions, but lack of public information seems to be a key factor,” Carley said. “Word of mouth clearly helps spread more accurate information, for example, learning that a neighbor can drive to and from work and do errands on a single battery charge.”
“Our research on PEV policy best practices informs policymaker decisions in this important area,” Carley said.