Public Release: 

Vehicle cost, lack of consumer information hinder purchases of plug-in electric vehicles

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON - Vehicle cost, current battery technology, and inadequate consumer knowledge are some of the barriers preventing widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council. Developing less expensive, better performing batteries is essential to reducing overall vehicle cost, and a market strategy is needed to create awareness and overcome customer uncertainty. The report recommends a range of incentives that the federal government can offer to address these and other barriers.

The report focused on battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, both of which can charge their batteries by plugging into the electric grid. The difference is that battery electric vehicles operate solely on electricity stored in the battery, while plug-in hybrid electric vehicles also have an internal combustion engine that turns on when the battery is depleted and can extend the vehicle range. The report distinguishes four classes of plug-in electric vehicles based on their all-electric range: long-range and limited-range battery electric vehicles; range-extended plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; and minimal plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Despite the notion that range limitation is a problem for plug-in electric vehicles, the total range for each class -- except for the limited-range battery electric vehicle -- is similar to that of a conventional vehicle using one tank of gas.

The study found that the home is the most important location for charging infrastructure, followed by the workplace, in and around cities, and, least important, on interstates. The vehicle fleet spends a vast majority of time parked at home, and most early adopters of plug-in vehicles satisfy their charging needs there. Charging at workplaces -- where vehicles are also parked for a substantial amount of time -- provides an additional opportunity to encourage plug-in vehicle adoption and increase the amount of miles fueled by electricity. The report says that local governments should streamline permitting processes and adopt building codes that require new construction to be capable of supporting future charging installations, and should encourage workplaces to consider investments in charging infrastructure.

Through regulatory action, the federal government should eliminate the proliferation of incompatible plugs and ensure that all drivers can charge their vehicles and pay at all public charging stations using a universally accepted method, just as conventional vehicles can be refueled at any gas station. But the report recommends that the federal government refrain from additional direct investment in the installation of public charging infrastructure until more research has been done to understand the role of public infrastructure in encouraging broader adoption and use of plug-in electric vehicles. Specifically, the government should fund research to determine how much public infrastructure is needed and where it should be sited to persuade more people to purchase and use such vehicles. It should also continue to invest in fundamental and applied research to expedite the development of low-cost, high-performance batteries to increase the all-electric range and reduce vehicle cost.

At the anticipated rates of consumer adoption, vehicle charging is expected to have a negligible effect on the electricity distribution system, the report says. However, economic factors such as high electricity costs, regional variability in electricity costs, or rate structures that do not incentivize charging at off-peak hours could discourage ownership. Rate structures that encourage owners to charge vehicles when the cost of supplying energy is low would also be of benefit to the utility.

Existing federal financial incentives to purchase plug-in electric vehicles should continue beyond the current production volume limit, the report says. The federal government should consider converting the federal income tax credit offered to purchasers of plug-in electric vehicles into a point-of-sale rebate, and should work with state governments to adopt a policy in which plug-in vehicles remain free from special roadway or registration surcharges for a limited time. The government should re-evaluate the case for incentives after a suitable period, considering advancements in vehicle technology and progress in reducing production costs, total costs of ownership, and vehicle emissions.

More research should be conducted on the variety of other consumer incentives that have been offered by states and local governments to determine which, if any, have proved effective in promoting deployment of plug-in electric vehicles. The federal government should also make use of its Ad Council program, particularly in key markets, to provide accurate information about federal tax credits and other incentives and the value of vehicle ownership.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.

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Pre-publication copies of Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Board on Energy and Environmental Systems

Committee on Overcoming Barriers to Electric-Vehicle Deployment

John G. Kassakian1 (chair)
Professor of Electrical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

David L. Bodde
Senior Fellow and Professor
Clemson University
Clemson, S.C.

Jeff Doyle
Principal D'Artagnan Consulting LLP
Olympia, Wash.

Gerald Gabrielse2
Leverett Professor of Physics
Department of Physics
Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.

Kelly S. Gallagher*
Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy
Center for International Environment and Resource Policy
The Fletcher School
Tufts University
Medford, Mass.

Roland Hwang
Transportation Program Director
Natural Resources Defense Council
San Francisco

Peter Isard
Independent Consultant
Washington, D.C.

Linos J. Jacovides1
Professor
Electrical Engineering Department
Michigan State University
Grosse Pointe Farms

Ulric Kwan
Senior Managing Consultant
IBM Global Business Services
Palo Alto, Calif.

Rebecca Lindland
Senior Fellow
King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Ralph D. Masiello1
Senior Vice President
DNVGL
Chalfont, Pa.

Jakki Mohr
Regent Professor
Department of Management and Marketing
University of Montana
Missoula

Melissa Schilling
Professor of Management
Management Department
Stern School of Business
New York University
New York City

Richard Tabors
President
Across the Charles
Cambridge, Mass.

Tom Turrentine
Director
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center
Institute of Transportation Studies
University of California
Davis

STAFF

Ellen Mantus
Study Co-Director

K. John Holmes
Study Co-Director

1 Member, National Academy of Engineering

2 Member, National Academy of Sciences

* Former Committee Member

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