Sep 8, 2022
Thursday, September 8, 2022
Transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) is a critical strategy to reduce transportation emissions. Communities of color, which are most harmed by vehicle-generated air pollution, currently adopt this key technology at disproportionately lower rates. However, these communities have at least as great a level of interest in purchasing EVs: 33 percent of white, 38 percent of Black, 43 percent of Latino, and 52 percent of Asian Americans say they would “definitely” or “seriously consider” purchasing or leasing an EV as their next vehicle, according to a recent nationally representative survey.
A new report issued today highlights the disparities in EV adoption and how US policymakers can address these issues to advance a more equitable, accessible, and zero-emission future.
The report, by Consumer Reports, EVNoire, GreenLatinos, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, delves into findings from the recent nationally representative survey of 8,027 U.S. adults conducted by CR from January 27 to February 18, 2022. All four groups collaborated in designing survey questions and interpreting the responses from different racial and ethnic demographic groups.
Barriers to Purchasing EVs
The survey finds that there is considerable overall interest in buying or leasing an EV. Nonetheless, the top concern for all groups, regardless of racial demographic, remains where and when an individual can charge an EV. For those individuals who identified charging as an issue limiting adoption, the availability of publicly accessible charging remains a greater concern than convenience or long charging times.
“Home charging remains the most affordable option for charging an electric vehicle,” said Dave Cooke, Senior Vehicles Analyst in the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “However, lower rates of homeownership and higher rates of living in multi-unit dwellings for Black and Latino families often means charging at home is not an accessible option. In order to alleviate these cost disparities, we must increase access to home charging where possible as well as increase access to reliable and affordable charging infrastructure outside of the home.”
The report also found that among those who say that costs involved with buying, owning, and maintaining an electric-only vehicle is a barrier, more Black and Latino individuals identify maintenance and repair costs as a consideration holding them back from purchasing or leasing an EV (54 percent of Black and 48 percent of Hispanic Americans, compared with 37 percent of white Americans), while more white and English-speaking Asian Americans identify purchase price as the primary concern (60 and 66 percent, respectively, compared with 55 percent of Latino and 46 percent of Black respondents).
“While many respondents identify the cost of a vehicle as their largest concern when considering an EV purchase, the federal government and many states have stepped up to provide incentives to relieve these cost pressures. This is necessary if we are to make EVs accessible to people of all incomes and credit levels,” said Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Sustainable Communities Program Director at GreenLatinos. “Among Black and Latino consumers, incomes and credit scores are lower overall, which can make new EVs financially out of reach for families that might otherwise consider buying them. As more vehicle options emerge and older EVs make their way to the used car market, costs to purchase an EV will drop and fall in line with gasoline counterparts. But equitable EV adoption can only be achieved through the creation of incentive programs that are effective and accessible for all consumers.”
Across racial groups, experience with EVs strongly correlated to interest in purchasing or leasing an EV. According to the report, among those who did not say they were definitely going to purchase an EV, a larger percentage of Black (13 percent) and Latino (10 percent) than white (5 percent) and Asian (2 percent) Americans said they don't feel they know enough about electric-only vehicles to buy one. Education and outreach, in partnership with community-based organizations, may be needed to circumvent the current disparities observed in Black and Latino communities.
“As we see EV adoption grow across the country, people will start to see more vehicles and infrastructure come into their communities,” said Quinta Warren, Associate Director of Sustainability Policy at Consumer Reports. “While this familiarity can help shape the way consumers engage with EVs, direct experience with vehicles has shown to have a strong correlation with interest in purchasing an EV. To achieve this level of education and awareness, we must identify opportunities to provide resources to community-based groups to conduct outreach on the ground and get curious consumers into the vehicles first hand.”
“Policy enactment has greater success when those impacted are equipped with the tools to participate,” said Dante' Pope, National Policy Manager at EVNoire. “Programs such as our Historically Black Colleges/Universities Initiative help create a pipeline for students to get hands-on experience and interface with new technologies that will soon impact their communities."
What Policymakers Should Do
The survey results affirm strong interest in a future EV purchase or lease for all groups. However, several perceived barriers remain. In the report, the coalition offers policy recommendations to help close the current demographic gaps in EV ownership.
Charging at home is the most affordable way to charge EVs today, but is not an equally viable option for all communities, particularly where there may be a higher proportion of renters and/or multi-family dwellings. Support for additional charging alternatives is necessary.
Increasing affordable, accessible, reliable public EV charging infrastructure situated in safe locations would address all of the groups’ biggest concerns about EV charging.
Improving access to financing and incentives for both new and used EVs is a critical policy needed to accelerate EV adoption. With greater access to EVs, these communities will have a greater understanding of the experience of driving an EV and how an EV fits into their own, local context.
Education and engagement initiatives aimed at Black and Latino consumers, targeting their specific needs and concerns, are crucial to address gaps and mitigate systemic barriers to adoption. Examples include EV loaner and/or test drive programs and car share programs to help increase the quality and quantity of experience with EVs. Similarly, partnerships with community organizations can educate communities on charging access, maintenance costs, and financial incentives.