Despite the success that Tesla has seen, sales of electric cars for the rest of manufacturers haven’t been quite as high as experts had predicted they would be. Continued range anxiety and the need to own a second, gasoline-powered vehicle as well limit the number of potential buyers, but it’s not all bad news. The average electric car buyer, for example, is both wealthier and younger than the average gasoline car buyer.
The electric Ford Focus, for example, is purchased on average by a 43-year-old with a household income of $199,000 per year. The average buyer of the Ford Focus’s gasoline version is 46 and only has a household income of $77,000 per year. The difference in buyers for the Fiat 500e is no different. The average buyer is 45 years old and has a household income of $145,000. The average buyer of the regular Fiat 500, on the other hand, is 47 and makes closer to $70,000.
While there’s only a few years’ difference in average ages, the differences in average household income is a staggering. Those average ages may sound high, but keep in mind that the average age for a car buyer is 52 across the whole U.S. auto industry, and the average household income is $86,000.
There’s certainly a desire to be eco-conscious among some electric car buyers, but they’re not exclusively interested in saving the planet. For many buyers, the aggressive deals being offered by electric car manufacturers and large federal and state incentives make going electric irresistible. Especially for heavy commuters, monthly payments on an electric car can easily fall below their monthly cost of gas. At that point, an electric car can almost feel like it’s free.
Electric cars have traditionally been significantly more expensive than conventional gasoline cars, but that’s starting to change. There are eight electric cars, for example, that you can most likely buy in your state for less than $25,000. Plus, even though it has a small engine that works as a generator to extend its range, the next generation Chevrolet Volt will likely end up costing only $27,000.
While the idea of cool, youthful 20-somethings with money to burn whizzing around cities in their electric cars and influencing the buying decisions of the rest of the country may sound like a marketing team’s dream, it might not necessarily be the reality.
The Fiat 500e, for example, is only available in California and Oregon where both salaries and the cost of living are significantly higher than the rest of the country. People who buy electric cars also rarely buy them as primary transportation. Households with second or third cars typically have higher incomes than households with a single car.
Personally, my girlfriend and I have talked before about replacing her Chevrolet Aveo with a Spark EV, but we take weekend trips several times a month and wouldn’t be able to do so with only 80 miles of range. As much as having an electric car would be perfect for our driving styles most days, it would require us to change our lifestyle in order to make it work. A Tesla Model S would be perfect for us, but swinging a car payment of $800-$1,000 per month just isn’t in the budget.
Even allowing for California’s influence on the numbers and many households not being able to justify having an electric vehicle as their only form of transportation, it’s still encouraging to see that younger households that can afford an electric car are making that choice. The only way that battery and electric vehicle technology is going to become more affordable is if people actually buy some of the initial vehicles that are on sale now. Battery electric vehicles might not be the single answer to moving away from dependence on fossil fuels, but they’re at least a step in the right direction.