Get it Right “USA Today” – Americans Want Electric Cars

By Max Baumhefner (5/25/11). Two days ago, a Gallup poll was released with the following headline: “In U.S., High Gas Prices May Make Many Get Fuel-Efficient Cars.” Less than 48 hours later, a USA Today article on the very same Gallup poll was published with the following headline: “Americans Say No to Electric Cars Despite Gas Prices.”  Given that electric cars are, in fact, extremely fuel-efficient cars, what accounts for the USA Today headline?  The problem started with a poorly worded Gallup poll question which ignores plug-in hybrid vehicles and defines electric cars as deficient, and was further exacerbated by USA Today’s negative interpretation of responses to that single question.  The headline could just as easily read: “Nearly Half of Americans Would Buy a Limited Range Electric Car.”  In fact, a large body of studies and forecasts demonstrate the simple truth that Americans are going to buy cars that save them money at the pump.

Here’s the poorly worded Gallup poll question:

How high would gas prices have to rise before you would buy an electric car that you could only drive a limited number of miles at one time, or is that something you would not do no matter how high gas prices get?

The question defines electric cars as deficient, without providing any real information. It’s like asking: “How likely would you be to buy a car without enough headroom?” Here’s a different question:

How high would gas prices have to rise before you would buy a car that would cost you about three dollars to fill up, and could be driven more than twice the distance the average American drives in a day?

That’s not a hypothetical, that’s the reality of owning a Nissan Leaf, the first widely available pure battery electric vehicle, which can go up to100 miles on a single charge.

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Range will vary with driving habits, but to put that number in perspective, the average American drives less than 40 miles a day. Here’s another question:

How high would gas prices have to rise before you would buy a car that meets your daily driving needs on a little more than a dollar of electricity, and becomes a very efficient gasoline vehicle whenever you need to drive farther?

This question describes life with the Chevy Volt, the first widely available plug-in hybrid vehicle.

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It can go up to 40 miles on electricty, and when you need to go further, it becomes a hybrid vehicle, relying on an efficient gasoline engine to drive as far as you want.  Plug-in hybrids, like the Volt, are electric cars. The poorly worded Gallup poll question neglects this fact by defining electric cars as being of limited range.

Multiple polls have shown Americans want efficient cars, including pure battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Consumer Reports published a survey this week showing that 37% of consumers consider fuel economy to be the leading consideration in a new vehicle purchase, trumping quality, safety, and value.  A report released last week by Accenture found that the majority of Americans would consider an electric vehicle next time they buy. Experts forecast there could be over a million electric cars on America’s roads by 2015.

In the end, Americans are going to vote with their wallets, and will consistently choose cars that will save them money at the pump.  Those who opt for pure battery electric cars like the Leaf will likely rely on second or rental cars and other forms of transit for longer trips, but the vast majority of the time they’ll simply enjoy the convenience of re-fueling at home.  Those who want a single car sollution will likely opt for plug-in hybrids like the Volt.  Either way, you’ll spend just over a buck a day for your daily driving needs, and will enjoy driving right past the gas station.  The advantages of driving on electricity are clear. Let’s hope future USA Today headlines are as well.

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About Author: Max Baumhefner

Max Baumhefner is a Sustainable Energy Fellow with NRDC. He is an attorney, outdoor enthusiast, and environmentalist. His focus is the juncture of the electricity and transportation sectors. More of his posts at can be found at NRDC's Switchboard: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mbaumhefner/

One thought on “Get it Right “USA Today” – Americans Want Electric Cars

  1. Ralph
    May 31, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Has a study been made of the long term mainainence costs of an electric compared to a gasoline car?
    It might be interesting to see what the difference is. One of the reasons given for GM’s shoving under the carpet of the original EV’s was that they will lose millions in the used part, repair and accessory market.

    Also, Many solar carport infrastructures are popping up around the country, wonder why this was not included as a part of the poll question. Free fuel (via solar recharging) beats the crap out of $3 a fill up for a plug in vehicle. A swappable battery does a lot for “range anxiety”.

    America is going to look very foolish for buying into the corporate “line” when they see Germany , Italy and Japan zipping around in solar charged vehicles while we are still choking on our gas hogs.

Let us know what you think.