New study: Public charging has little to do with consumer interest in EVs

KIA Soul EV Eaton Charging 2 (CHARGED Ev)

If we’ve read it once, we’ve read it a thousand times: increasing EV adoption depends on providing more public charging infrastructure. Governments, automakers and some public utilities tend to agree with this conventional wisdom, and many are investing substantial amounts in rolling out public charging networks. 

Many in the EV world are skeptical of this scenario, however. A couple of studies have found that most charging happens at home and at work, and many industry observers believe that range anxiety is mostly a malady for less-experienced EV owners. 

A new study conducted at Simon Fraser University seems to support this view. Professor Jonn Axsen and his graduate students found that awareness of public chargers has little impact on consumers’ interest in EVs. 

The team detailed their findings in “Is awareness of public charging associated with consumer interest in plugin electric vehicles?” which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Transportation Research Part D. 

The researchers concluded that increasing access to home-based vehicle charging could do more to boost the popularity of EVs than deploying more public chargers. This has important implications for governments with limited budgets to support the EV market. The team recently presented their study to the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board. 

“When we account for the relevant factors, our analysis suggests that the relationship between public charger awareness and plug-in electric vehicle demand is weak or nonexistent,” says Axsen. “In other words, the installation of public chargers might not be the best way to encourage growth in the electric vehicle market.” 

The study polled a sample of 1,739 households in Canada – respondents were asked about awareness of public charging in their region, and about their overall interest in purchasing a plug-in vehicle. The data showed that British Columbia’s Clean Energy Vehicle program – which had installed almost 500 public chargers when the survey was conducted in 2013 – was successful in increasing charger awareness. Almost a third of British Columbian respondents had seen at least one public charger, compared to only 13 percent of respondents in the rest of Canada. However, that awareness didn’t translate into increased interest in plug-in vehicles. 

The study also found that potential buyers were far more likely to be attracted to plug-in hybrid vehicles, such as the Volt, than to pure EVs such as the LEAF. 

“Given what we’ve seen here, it seems wise for governments to focus their money on incentives other than public electric vehicle chargers,” says Axsen. “We know that purchase rebates can spark consumer interest, and we’ve shown that home charging is important. In combination with the implementation of a Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate like California’s, these measures could be the biggest boosters of electric vehicle sales.” 



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