Buyer’s Remorse

If electric cars are the future, then how come one in five who own them are returning to the Past?

Owners are replacing their first electric car with a non-electric car, according to a study by University of California Davis researchers, quoted from at length in a recent news article published by Business Insider.

According to the study, roughly one in five plug-in electric vehicle (owners) switched back to owning gas-powered cars after experiencing real life with an electric car.

This is in contrast with the hype and, of course, the omissions about electric cars.

Most new electric vehicle owners have no idea what it means to own one of these devices because it just doesn’t seem real until they actually own one.

They hear and read about things like ludicrous speed, which is true, because electric cars are extremely quick. Electric motors are very powerful and their power is immediate and (usually) the drive is direct, i.e., there is no transmission between the motor and the drive wheels, which connect directly to the electric motor(s).

They hear that range has increased, which it has. Ten years ago, most EVs could only travel about 100 miles or less before they ran out of juice. Today, most can go 150 and some can go farther. Assuming you don’t drive them very fast.

But are dealers really giving the whole story for potential buyers. It’s like the same reason that realtors sometimes don’t tell you about the neighbor that comes with the house they’re trying to sell you.

One rarely hears the truth about what it takes to recharge an electric car, but why?

In my estimation, most people do not understand electricity, even in layman’s terms.

For example, what is the difference between a three-way and a four-way circuit? A 15 and a 30 amp breaker? Most of us just know you plug in a toaster.

Did you know that there are different kinds of plugs for electric cars and the wait varies hugely depending on the different kinds? Every home that has electricity, has 115 volt AC outlets. These outlets work great for things like TVs, lights and small appliances. Most homes also have circuits designed to handle higher-load appliances such as electric stoves, heat pumps, etc.

In electric car language, this is Level 1 charging and it takes overnight to recharge an EV plugged in this way.

Level 2 is a specialty 240 volt circuit, which almost no one has because most home electrical panels weren’t built with this kind of service in mind. Some (but not all) home panels can be modified for Level 2 charging at your expense, of course, which is another thing EV prospects are rarely made aware of prior to purchase. Even then, the wait to recharge is hours long.

A Tesla supercharger, packing 480 volts of direct (not alternating household) current, can get you back on the road in an hour or so but these are proprietary (Tesla-only) and home wiring cannot handle that kind of current. You must drive to a supercharger and wait, there.

Then go home or wherever you were headed. Assuming, of course, no one was already plugged in ahead of you. Then, you would have to wait for them to charge up first.

This is not convenient as one in five electric car owners discovered.

Business Insider interviewed Kevin Tynant, who writes for Bloomberg News. Tynant describes plugging in and waiting on a new Ford Mach-E press vehicle, the electric five-door crossover Ford is trying to market as an E-Mustang. His home apparently only has Level 1 plugs and after an hour of charging up, Tynant told Business Insider the E-Mustang had recovered enough charge to travel just three miles. He added, “Overnight, we’re looking at 36 miles of range.”

I could have told him so.

The last electric car sent to me to test drive arrived on a flatbed because unlike Tynant, I don’t live near the press car pool, within the range of most electric cars on a single charge. To get to my house from the press car pool is a highway drive of about 240 miles at 75 MPH. Most electric cars cannot make that drive without an extended stop. So, they truck the EVs here using not-electric trucks (a whole ‘nother story).

Once here, there’s only a Level 1 garage wall outlet at my place to plug in which means that like Tynant, I must either be willing to wait a long time (overnight, at least) or drive somewhere else and wait there.

How many people are willing to do that?

Not one out of five, at least, according to the study quoted by Business Insider, which is interesting on a number of levels.

The first level being that most of those who have electric cars are favorably inclined toward electric cars. They are the so-called “early adopters,” which also means they are people willing to put up with issues that would be deal-breakers for other buyers.

Examples include subpar fit and finish, minor and even major glitches, poor service, and so on. People who love a car will put up with such quirks.

But the wait is too much for 20 percent of them.

And this is in California where it’s easiest to own an EV because of the weather (not too hot, not too cold—either of which reduce an EV’s range, necessitating more frequent waits) and where there are more Level 2 and supercharger places to recharge than anywhere else.

Which brings us to the next level.

If one out of five or 20 percent of the people most willing to put up with the electric car’s other issues aren’t willing to put up with the wait, what does it portend as regards the willingness of ordinary buyers who just want a car—one that works—to put up with it?

Probably not so good for the electric car. Such a rate of abandonment (the UC study uses the word, discontinuance) would be cause for an all-hands-on deck meeting if any other kind of car was being abandoned by so many buyers. The executives would ask the obvious question:

Maybe this isn’t such a good idea?

It’s one thing to sell a handful of balky exotics, electric or not, to a small number of people who love them, regardless. But it’s a problem when you need to sell hundreds of thousands and eventually, millions, of balky exotics to people unwilling to put up with them.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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