Survey Shows Strong Interest in Electric Vehicles Among Diverse Consumers, But Barriers Remain

Published Nov 15, 2022

Dr. Quinta Warren, associate director of sustainability policy at Consumer Reports and Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst at UCS discuss a recent survey of electric vehicle adoption among communities of color.

Partner Organizations
In this episode

Colleen, Quinta, and Dave discuss:

  • the strong interest in EVs ownership among communities of color and the barriers that exist
  • the incentives that are available through the Inflation Reduction Act
  • additional common-sense policy solutions
Timing and cues

Opener (0:00-0:25)
Intro (0:25-1:47)
Interview p1 (1:47-14:50)
Break (14:50-15:39)
Interview p2 (15:39-27:57)
Outro (27:57-29:00)


Editing: Colleen MacDonald
Additional editing and music: Brian Middleton
Research and writing: Pamela Worth and Claudia Ward de-Leon
Executive producer: Rich Hayes
Host: Colleen MacDonald

Full transcript

Colleen: Did you know that in the United States transportation is the largest source of the emissions that cause global warming? And passenger cars and trucks—the vehicles most of us use to get around in to run our errands and get to work are the largest contributors? We can slow down the effects of climate change by switching our gas-burning cars and trucks to electric ones and we’ll need to do that if we’re going to give our planet a fighting chance. But telling folks to go out and buy electric cars won’t ensure that our transition to an all-electric vehicle future doesn’t leave anyone out and that’s why UCS along with Consumer Reports, EVNoire, and Green Latinos teamed up to understand what the barriers are for some communities and some households in thinking about transitioning away from polluting gas-powered cars and to cleaner electric vehicles.

Today, we have UCS Senior Vehicles Analyst Dave Cooke, and Consumer Reports’ Associate Director of Sustainability Policy Dr. Quinta Warren to discuss the results of this survey and some smart policy recommendations that lawmakers can make to ensure that any gaps are closed. The right question to ask here is not whether people want EVs, but what is holding up some drivers up from doing so?

Colleen: Dave, Quinta, welcome to the podcast.

Quinta: Thank you, Colleen.

Dave: Thanks for having us.

Colleen: Yeah, it’s great to have you here. You both recently worked with EVNoire and Green Latinos on a survey that led to an analysis of electric vehicle adoption among communities of color. So, I’d like to start with the simple questions, what prompted you to do this analysis?

Dave: Well, through their community focused work, EVNoire had seen clear qualitative differences in experience and attitudes towards electric vehicles from communities of color. And so, I think that led to a broader discussion of how communities of color are experiencing the transition to EVs.

Empirical evidence had consistently found that Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. And, it’s not by accident. Red-lining, or so-called slum clearance and the displacement of communities and placement of highways have led to a situation where communities of color bear the brunt of the health and pollution costs of our transportation system. Electric cars and trucks provide a clear opportunity for reducing these harms by eliminating tailpipe pollution, and yet we see for personal motor vehicles that electric vehicle adoption rates are lower in communities of color. So in other words, the communities that stand to benefit the most from EVs are some of the places where you are least likely to see one. And so, if we’re serious about addressing transportation equity we need to figure out what’s going on. There have been a lot of surveys throughout the years that have looked at consumer attitudes towards EVs including some surveys that we at UCS and Consumer Reports have done ourselves. We’ve looked at a wide range of issues including interest in purchase, knowledge of the technologies, concerns that might be holding people back, but the one thing that hadn’t been well-studied, is looking at these answers through a demographic lens. And that’s what we wanted to do with this study. Are there differences in attitudes among different ethnic or racial demographics. And, if so, are there policy solutions out there responsive to those differences so we can close that gap in EV ownership and ensure that the communities with the most to gain from electrifying the transportation sector are able to do so.

Quinta: And I would add to that, Dave, that the energy burden is also much higher in these communities. That's the percentage of household income that these communities spend on fuel is disproportionately higher compared to other groups. So, the good news is that EVs save money on fueling and maintenance costs. So, they are a good solution for other issues besides the emissions problems that come from transportation and impact these communities the most.

Colleen: So, tell me a little bit about EVNoire and Green Latinos so our listeners get a sense of what those two organizations are all about.

Dave: Sure, EVNoire is a mobility consulting firm that approaches their work through a social justice lens. They also founded the nonprofit EVHybrid Noire which is a community of the nations largest network of diverse EV drivers and enthusiasts. Across their many projects a major focus of EVNoire’s work is increasing EV adoption, particularly with advocacy that focuses on underserved and impacted communities. Green Latinos is an active community of Latino leaders that works across a number of issues areas to reduce the disproportionate environmental burdens impacting communities of color. One key issue area of their work is fighting the impacts of air pollution from the fossil fuel sector and driving climate and transportation policies that ensure equitable outcomes for the communities that have been harmed the most.

Colleen: And, Quinta, tell us about Consumer Reports?

Quinta: Sure. Yes. Consumer Reports is a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1936. Our mission is to help create a fair, safe, and just marketplace for all consumers. We advocate for consumer laws and policies, and we work with policymakers to advance policies for safer and cleaner cars.

Colleen: So, how did all four of these organizations, work together? What did each take on or bring to the table?

Dave: Well, UCS is a very data-driven awe dvocacy organization, but, first need to gather. So through earlier work both EVNoire and Green Latinos had evaluated qualitatively the lived experiences of communities of color at a local level. And so I think we all saw an opportunity to scale that early qualitative information up to get a national picture. Consumer Reports was already working on a very rich detailed survey, so we saw an opportunity to build on that, to focus in specifically on the question of how different communities felt about electric vehicles in particular. The four orgs had a lot of back and forth over months to make sure we got the input right, including with some partner-led focus groups testing some of those new survey questions.

And then once we got the data back, Consumer Reports spent a really long time digging into all the statistical analysis of everything behind but then all four groups really then wanted to make sure we were teasing out the nuances in the data set and thinking about those policy impacts. It was a full-group effort when we were writing this up. A really strong partnership of people trying to put together the simplest report that we could based on the data that we had with common sense and hopefully, appropriate and really critical policies that we can implement right away.

Colleen: So, I'm excited to dig into the analysis, but let's...I wanna start with what communities did you focus on for the survey?

Quinta: So, this, as I mentioned, this was actually the largest survey that Consumer Reports has ever done. So, we surveyed more than 8,000 consumers across America, including Americans who identify as Black, Latino, and/or English-speaking Asian. And this was an equal proportion to the representation in the U.S. population. I should mention that we looked at other demographics as well. We looked at age, we looked at gender, and a few other things. But for the purposes of this report, we're focusing on the racial demographic. It was very important for us to understand what the drivers are and the barriers to EV adoption across the demographic spectrum.

Colleen: So, then how did you design the survey? What were some of the key questions that you wanted answered?

Quinta:. Fundamentally, we wanted to understand, how Americans view electric vehicles. We wanted to understand if there was interest, then if there was, we wanted to understand how many people have actually adopted EVs. And for those that haven't, why they haven't. Actually, and then for those that have, what were the incentives that got them to try EVs and adopt them. We ran a similar survey, which is much smaller back in 2020. So, we wanted to understand if attitudes have changed between 2020 and now. And then, of course, coming back to the racial demographics, we wanted to understand if there are differences in issues between the different communities. And then , the plan was to take all of those learnings and figure out what policies and other interventions would be most effective in pushing for more adoption of EVs across different demographics.

Colleen: What were some of the more common themes that came out in the survey?

Dave: Well, I think one of the things that was the most common, and frankly was reassuring to see is that there's no lack of interest in EVs. Across the board, communities of all types are interested in purchasing EVs. And I think then it's really important to figure out, to dig deeper and understand why we aren't seeing ownership that matches that high level of interest.

Quinta: And to add to that, not only did we see considerable interest in all demographics, we actually found that communities of color have at least the same interest in electric vehicles as white, and some groups had considerably more interest than whites.

So, I think with whites it was 33%, in Blacks it was 38%. So, that's not the same, but similar. But we found much higher percentages, for instance, when we looked at the Latino community. So, yes, that does make a difference when we're looking at what the interventions could be. So, the interest is already there and it is at least the same as whites or even higher. Another thing I should add another commonality is the fact that for all the groups, regardless of racial demographic, the top concerns remain where and when someone can charge an EV. So, we're talking about charging infrastructure, and also cost. So, it's the cost to buy, own, and maintain an EV. So, every group wassimilarly concerned about these things.

Dave: Yeah. And at the same time, I think, one of the things that's interesting about the cost is that typically when we think of, the cost that people are gonna care about with an EV, we're thinking about like upfront purchase cost. But actually what we saw is that different communities have a different perception of what their concerns are when it comes to cost. For example, Black and Latino respondents were more concerned than other groups about questions around maintenance and repair costs. And the good news is that evidence on EVs shows that every study has shown that EVs are cheaper to own and maintain. So, that's a...but the fact that these groups have a different sort of view of what what their concerns are around cost, and that comes from the fact that each group is approaching their transportation options differently, you know, and even within these groups, they're not homogeneous. And so, it's interesting to look at teasing out some the nuance in what it means. You know, what about cost it is that people care about or what it is specifically around range or charging infrastructure. That is really the concern. While there's a lot of commonalities, there's also some subtle differences that I think are really important for the policies that can speak to the different groups' needs.

Colleen: what results surprised you the most?

Quinta: There were a few things I found somewhat surprising. First, 71% of people show some level of interest in EVs. That's not the surprising part. Within that 71%, the percentage of Americans who said they would definitely buy or lease an EV today has more than tripled since we did the last survey in 2020. So, the number went from 4% in 2020 to 14% this year. So, that's a staggering amount of growth in just two years. Second, our findings show that Blacks and Latinos actually have a similar or greater level of interest in purchasing EVs as whites. So, just 33% of white consumers say they would definitely or seriously consider purchasing or leasing an EV as their next vehicle compared to 38% of Blacks and 43% of Latinos. And then finally, the survey found that Americans who have some level of interest with an EV show increased desire to purchase an EV. And that experience can be as simple as being a passenger in one. So, that means that we really need to increase the opportunities that people have to have experience with EVs in communities of color. And I think this is a place where, manufacturers and dealerships can help.

Colleen: Absolutely. I recently purchased an EV and I can attest to the fact that it is somewhat intimidating before you get yourself in one behind the wheel. And after, when I brought my EV home, I've made a point of making sure that all of my friends and my relatives, my sisters get in it and drive it and experience it because I think there really is something to... a little bit of the unknown aspect of it.

Quinta: Yes. Completely agree. They feel, I think, a bit abstract for some people. And being able to see them sit in them drive them, really makes them come alive and makes them more real. And as an aside, I would say that they're actually such fun cars to drive.

Colleen: Absolutely. I love driving the car. I don't even let my husband drive anymore because I love driving the car.

Quinta: Yeah. They're amazing. I mean, really, if you have the opportunity, I'm speaking to everyone now. If you have the opportunity to test drive an electric vehicle, you should definitely take it. There's something just so very different about going from driving a gas car where you have to press the accelerator and you can feel the car, you know, shifting gears. With an EV, you press it and it goes.

Colleen: That is exactly what I say to everyone. I'm like, "You step on the gas and it goes."

Quinta: Yeah.

Colleen: It just goes. It really's a fun car to drive.

Colleen: What are some common-sense policy changes that could help accelerate the adoption of EVs in communities of color?

Dave: One of the things that I think is really important is increasing community awareness. But how you do that is by relying upon, who those communities trust so you can work with community leaders on the ground. It also has to be responsive to the perspectives, to the culture to their lived experience. And so, you need to be...any advertising or educational campaigns have to be targeted at the communities that you actually are trying to drive adoption in. And so, you know, it's not just, I think consumers need to see that the EV owners and experts that are reflective of their communities and speak their language you know, not just...and like literally speak their language.

Colleen: Well Dave, you raise a really good point because even for someone like me going to buy an EV, I'm not really up on cars and car technology and just trying to understand, at the dealership, how the car works and all of the intricacies of it in English for me was difficult. And I can imagine if English isn't your first language, it would be even that much more difficult. So, I think you raise a really important point there.

Dave: Yeah. It's why we see, it's really critical that materials and that programs that can help these communities incentive programs, in addition to materials about the vehicles, that , you have them in multiple languages, you have them distributed through community organizations that are on the ground in those communities. You know, we've seen some successful results in California with some of these programs where there's bilingual information. But it's really critical that you are always viewing it through the lens and nuance of the people you're trying to reach.

Colleen: In terms of infrastructure and charging stations, what differences did you see there, and what would make charging easier for people?

Quinta: So, there are already more than 48,000 public EV charging stations across the U.S., but that's still not enough, right? And the survey was clear that this was the top barrier that people perceive to be keeping them from adopting EVs. So we have some government activity going on that will change this. So, we have the bipartisan infrastructure law and the money is being rolled out to the states so that they will increase the public charging infrastructure for EVs. But I would say that low and moderate-income communities need greater access to EV charging. A lot of the communities we're talking about, a lot of these households live in buildings that don't necessarily have EV charging, so they may not own their own homes or They may live in multi-unit dwellings where EV charging is just not available to them. And so, that means that they have to go to either the public charging or they have to go to other neighborhoods to charge their EVs. And that's not convenient or dependable. And then where public charging exists, it needs to be reliable. I've heard more than one story of people showing up to a charging station and finding out that it's down. Not just one or two, but, several of the chargers at that location. That leaves people a bad impression about EVs in general. They feel like they can't...well, they can depend on the EV charging grid that does exist. So, there need to be things put into place that ensure that those public chargers are kept up a minimum amount of time. I don't know what that necessarily should be. Charging stations need to be accessible, so they need to be in places that people can get to easily. And that means that they need to be in every community. Whether it's low, moderate, or whether it's communities of color, we shouldn't have to go to other neighborhoods to charge our cars. And they need to be affordable, right? They shouldn't break the bank. And then finally, they need to be in safe locations. So, they're not the same as gas stations that are manned, like there's always somebody there either pumping the gas for you in some states or manning the store. A lot of these e-recharging stations are just out of the way. They're in locations that are dark at night and you have to charge for longer than just one or two minutes. So, we need to make sure that even that the new public charging stations that are being developed are safe, and that while people are charging their cars, they're safe from harm.

Dave: Yeah. And I think, again, so speaking to that last point is an example of where that this is based on the data and the data showing different communities putting higher priorities on some of these things. So a larger share of Black, Latino, and Asian Americans identified personal safety at charging stations as a concern. So, when we're thinking about different types of public charging you also have to think about where that is. So work charging was something where actually a greater share of Latino respondents identified access to workplace charging stations as a charging option that would encourage the purchase or lease of an EV. And so, again, when you start digging into the data and really looking at these concerns, there's subtleties that can really help shape how you accelerate in different communities.

Colleen: So, how do you want to see this analysis being used?

Dave: To some extent I think we've seen policies already start to be responsive to some of this because, well, some of this data is new, and a lot of it is just clarifying things that I think we already understood. we've known for a long time that most vehicles that are purchased are purchased used, and that new buyers tend to be wealthier. And whereas used vehicle purchasers tend to be more representative of the general public. And so, at the same time, we didn't have an incentive out there for used vehicles until recently with the Inflation Reduction Act. So, that's a policy that sort of came out at the same time as our survey. But it's great because the data that we have is, supportive and we think that, something like that can help be transformative for these communities where you're more likely to see drivers in vehicles that were purchased on the used vehicle market.

Colleen: Quinta, did you want to add to that?

Quinta: Yeah. One of the things that came through on the survey is that almost half of the people surveyed had not heard of incentives that are available to bring down the cost of electric vehicles. Almost half. That means that the federal government needs to do some work to create more awareness of these incentives that can release cost pressures. Now, there's room for manufacturers, so automakers and also dealers to play a part here because if I go down to the dealership to buy a gas car, they're going to tell me all the incentives are available to bring the cost down because they're trying to sell me a car. And if I go to an automaker's website, it's very clear what promotions they're running. The same has not been true for electric vehicles. People have to go out of their way to find this information.

Now, to Dave's point, the IRA, the Inflation Reduction Act is a great thing because yeah, it can be used for EVs where at least 70% of the country buys their vehicles. And then most people in communities of color buy their vehicles on the secondary car market. So, the IRA being able to be used for used cars is a huge deal. This is the first time that we have incentives that can go towards used EVs. And the other thing that's great about the IRA is that it can be used at the point of sale. So, previously, the incentives are available, but you can only really get them when you file your taxes. And that means that you don't exactly know how much you're going to get because you don't know ahead of time what your tax burden will be. But this time around, the IRA has been set up so that people can use it at the point of sale as they're buying their car. And even better, they can take advantage of the full incentive, not just limited to their tax burden. They can take advantage of the full incentive by transferring the tax credits to the dealership. And that means when buying a used car, I can use up to the $4,500 available. And if I'm buying a new car, a new EV, I can use up to the $7,500 available at the time that I'm buying the vehicle.

Colleen: That's a great incentive. I bought my EV in January, so I'm having to wait to figure out the tax incentive. But I didn't fully understand that when I purchased the car and realized it after the fact. So, that's an exciting incentive that's available now.

Quinta: Absolutely. I am super excited. These are the things that we were...before we knew the IRA was coming out, these are the things that we were putting into our report, the things that we're thinking through. If you really want to help people, if you want more people to adopt EVs and they're complaining about costs, then we need to bring the cost down and we need to do it in a way that actually helps people. Before this, the people who had the highest tax burden were the people who made the most money, right? Because if I don't make very much money and I can't claim the full $7,500 at tax time, then really things were set up to be more helpful for people who already didn't need the help. So, I'm glad that the lawmakers have been listening and , with the IRA, they've made quite a few improvements that we are pleased to see.

Colleen: If we look at the full lifecycle of owning and EV, not just the purchase price, are they cost effective for consumers?

Quinta: Absolutely. So, Consumer Reports has done a total cost of ownership analysis that shows that EV save money on fueling and maintenance costs compared to a comparable gas vehicle. So, overall, we save 50% on maintenance and then 60% on fueling costs. And when we ran the numbers, and this was back a couple of years ago, back then, I think most EVs cost more. So, we used a price of around $50,000. People were still saving between six and $10,000 over the life of the vehicle if they bought an EV versus a gas car. So, again, coming back to my point about the energy burden, communities of color are typically spending a greater percentage of their income on fuel costs. So, having an EV would save the money, would save the money that they typically cannot afford to spend on these high energy costs. And fuel costs have been high this year, haven't they? Gas prices have been high.

Dave: Yeah, and I think as we're thinking about more affordable EVs, it really is important to consider some of the things that we haven't really talked about, but that our data speaks to, you know, differences in historical things like how financial markets have discriminated against communities of color and...that's especially true in lending. And so, when we're thinking about new policies to address affordability, you also wanna think about...well it's one thing to lower the upfront price, but can a person of color get a loan at a fair rate? And, you know , that's something that you can look to things like loan guarantees or requiring the availability of low or no-interest loans that could help it open up low-interest car loans to low-income households, that might not otherwise be looking initially at these vehicles. Similarly, when we're talking about public charging if some of these communities multi-unit dwellings, if some of these communities are gonna be more using public charging. Public charging historically has been a lot more expensive than it is to just pop in a charger at your home. And so, these are communities that are often at that lower income threshold. And so, we might want to think about subsidizing public charging as one of the tools for helping folks who maybe are in multi-unit dwellings. And so there's a lot of small policy opportunities we can make sure that all communities are able to afford these as, you know, Quinta was saying delightful to drive, fun, and low-emission vehicles.

Colleen: Well, Quinta, Dave, this was a great conversation. There's a lot of really exciting things happening on the EV front. Thank you both so much for joining me.

Quinta: Thank you so much for having us.

Dave: Great to be here.

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