Who’s Not Buying Electric Vehicles? Single Vehicle Households, for One

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Proponents of electric vehicles (EVs) have little to say about the one-third of American households that own only a single car or truck. That isn’t surprising, since there are serious doubts as to whether EVs, given their limitations, can be the all-purpose vehicle such households would need. The rarity of EVs in single-vehicle households confirms these doubts.

According to one analysis, 37 percent of vehicle-owning households have only one vehicle, while another puts the portion at 34 percent. For such households, it would be hard to get by with just an EV. Their relatively limited range and lengthy charging times would make longer trips inconvenient. EVs wouldn’t work well for rural drivers who routinely travel large distances in areas with scarce charging infrastructure. Nor would they suffice for those who need to haul or tow heavy loads.

Of course, it does not help that single vehicle households are generally less well off than multiple vehicle ones, and thus are less likely to be able to afford the higher sticker price of an EV in the first place.

On top of the cost of the EV is the cost of an additional vehicle to back it up. For households that have at least one EV, it serves as the sole vehicle in only 10 percent of them. Forty-six percent of EV owners have two vehicles in total, 26 percent have three, and 8 percent have four of more. In other words, 90 percent of EV owners have a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle as well.

Of course, these multiple vehicle households must also contend with the limitations of their EV. They do so by driving them less, as few as half as many miles as their conventional counterparts. Multiple vehicle owners have the choice of leaving the EV parked out front and taking a different vehicle when the need arises, a luxury that single vehicle households would not have.

There are important policy implications as the Biden administration rolls out the tens of billions in EV subsidies in the years ahead, including tax credits of up to $7,500 per vehicle in the Inflation Reduction Act and $7.5 billion for new charging stations in the big infrastructure bill. Beyond the fairness issues associated with taxpayers in general subsidizing the wealthier households that actually buy EVs, there are serious questions as to whether money is enough to get consumers to make them their one go-to vehicle.

In reality, no matter how generous the incentives, EVs will have to improve substantially before they can catch on with single-vehicle households.