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.” 



  • Shockwave Motors

    At Shockwave Motors we agree and have focused on an efficient and fun to drive electric roadster that is designed to be driven up to 100 miles and then plugged into any standard 120-volt outlet and receive a complete recharge in 8 or 9 hours – while the commuter is at work or home!

  • Bob Aceti

    There are factors that may inform the researchers at Simon Fraser University. The Canadian urban community compromises ~ 85% of Canada’s population. Three of the largest cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are home to 1/3rd the population of ~ 12 million of 35 million Canadians. If we add Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta (5 top cities) we have ~ 40% of Canadians living in the top 5 cities. Compare this to U.S. urban communities and you will NOT find (40% of 315 million) 126 million Americans living in the top 100 U.S. cities. The top 100 cities in the U.S.. – from New York (8,500,000) to San Bernardino, CA (214,000) – comprise less than 20% of the population of the U.S.A. So what’s that got to do with EVSE charge infrastructure and EV take-up in Canada? Plenty.

    The focus of driving mainly in urban metropolitan areas in Canada is more frequent than in the U.S.A. The human geography of Canada is distinguished by urban clusters of population separated by large land mass few and far between major population centers. Therefore, the expediency of having a vehicle that can traverse long distances between large urban communities, or within large urban communities, is a critical requirement to Canadian drivers who don’t want to be stranded along the inter-city highways. Fossil fuels alone, at present, can meet this requirement. Alternatively, hybrid vehicles may mitigate the risk of ‘range anxiety’.

    It is important to distinguish between facts and perceived facts as the perception of range-anxiety is mostly divergent of driving habits: drivers tend to think they need more than 90 miles per day of battery electricity to meet their needs. In many cases this is NOT true – but the ‘perception’ rules and trumps the facts. In other cases, daily commutes between inter-city urban conurbations may bring the driver well-over the 50 mile per day notional range requirement often stated.

    Canadians pay much more for EVs (BEV or PHEV or HEV) than Americans and the Canadian federal government does NOT subsidize EV purchases as it is a provincial (state) matter – provinces due provide similar EV rebates as do many U.S. states.

    Canada is a cold country, especially in winter. Winter driving between cities can be dangerous at times. Being stuck in the middle of a snow storm in sub-zero temperatures could result in death if help is not available. Canadian drivers tend to play it safe by accepting the ‘status quo’ for emergency help/assistance: when an emergency vehicle arrives they can use gasoline in gas cans to provide several gallons of fuel to get the stranded driver on her way to the nearest gas station. The same can not be said for EV emergency services at this time – there is NOT a fleet of EV emergency services in Canada to charge a road-side assistance EV. There simply is insufficient demand as EV registrations in Canada lag behind most U.S. states.

    Level II chargers do not cut it compared to fast chargers. Few Canadians would wait to have their EVs charged charged by a public Lv II charger – even for a short burst of sufficient e-miles (kilometers in Canada). It simply is an inconvenient wait time that is trumped by the fossil fuel business model that provides insignificant wait times to refuel ICE vehicles or hybrids.

    So the home over-night charge model is a good thing. Few inter-city fast charger infrastructure in Canada is a barrier to acceptance of EV. Canadians prefer to wait until the EV prives come down and battery storage increases before making the jump – as Americans have – to buying a PEV.

    So, for now, the Simon Fraser study makes sense. But just as solar PV costs have dropped significantly over the past 5 years, we will likely see higher density batteries and more affordable PEV and EVSE pricing models to stimulate demand for PEVs.

    When you think that ~ 12% of CO2 emission (GHG) are sourced from passenger cars and light trucks, PEV adoption makes good public policy as it mitigates our virtual total reliance on ICE vehicles and help us to reduce the growth of GHG emissions that are linked to severe climate change.

    Bob Aceti
    Suncharge Corporation

  • jstack6

    There are many factors. HOV lane access I’ve read is 50% of the plugin buyers. Free Nationwide Super Charging from Tesla makes any trip possible so you can’t could out public charging unless you ignore Tesla.
    Nissan also offers No Charge to Charge for 2 years and that can encourage a lot of buyers.

  • TonyWilliamsSanDiego

    Without robust public infrastructure, EVs remain a niche. Folks don’t all live at a home that has access to charging, nor do they go to a work place. That is a huge portion of the population.

    Yes, currently, the cars are quite popular for people who can charge at home, and / or charge at work, and need / want access to HOV lanes (plus, perhaps the tax perks). That’s one segment of 300 million people in the USA.

    Tony Williams
    R&D Manager
    Quick Charge Power

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    They polled 1739 households.
    So what, the majority of those polled likely had no interest in EVs and less interest in buying one as there next car so frankly what they think/feel should not matter a jot (except of course they get to pay for any public infrastructure out of their taxes, so I guess it should). Tesla get it. They have funded via monies provided by their customers an excellent charging network fully aware that 90+% of charging will be done at the owners home but being aware that the possibility of road trips is essential even if the owners never make them or rarely make them.

    • ned_plimpton

      Tesla was funded by highly-speculative venture capitalists and then the highly-speculative stock market. It wasn’t exactly a story of an organic growth.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is a very risky way to do things. If every company acted this way, the economy would be a volatile place. There’s a place for risky companies and a place for conservative ones, like the big automakers.

      Anyway, Tesla has done a great job at building a zero-comprises EV. Hats off.

      • dogphlap dogphlap

        Of course but that’s not so unusual, the railways got funded in a similar way as did the European canal system before that and the Suez canal and many of the original US mass production car companies all pushed by irrational exuberance on the stock markets of the world. If you rely on organic growth you will never go beyond hybrids or EVs for local town use. To go forward means investing in the future though it may not result in short term or immediate profit.

  • Bill Williams
  • Lou Infante

    When you study what exists today and use that as a conclusion for tomorrow, there is the risk of coming to conclusions that are not factually based. It seems that this is the case here. Since most people only know EVs as “commuter” vehicles, the comments about not needing charg infrastructure would follow a logical path. But the overriding question is how to get zero emissions vehicles from a sub 1% of the vehicle fleet to a dominant penetration level. To achieve this goal, charge infrastructure coupled with range improvements will offer a greater number of users the opportunity to use anEV as a “normal” car with “normal” meaning that it has the full function of the vehicle they are replacing. Every car company will be on board and making EVs when technology and infrastructure allow them to sell the vehicle as a “normal” one tha meets the needs of their customer bases. We just are not there yet but can be in 5-10 years. Studies like this one only can deter progress by publishing conclusions based on the past rather than on what is needed to achieve the future goals.

  • Colin Q Bang

    Oh boy, there is a lot to say about this article and the research result it’s about. But they are two and a half years old so maybe CHARGED has a more recent article on this subtopic? The statement “many industry observers believe that range anxiety is mostly a malady for less-experienced EV owners” really needs some elaboration too.