Everyone knows someone who is against (or skeptical about) electric vehicles, and there is a case to be made that the technology is not ready for prime time. According to a study by Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Smart, most EV doubters are operating on a lack of information. Among other interesting results from two years of research with its eMERGE program in Germany, Daimler found that the less people knew about electric cars, the more they disliked them.
The eMERGE trial include 146 Smart Fortwo vehicles — a tough sell for any consumer — and had private and business customers run over 600,000 miles (1 million kilometers) in the mini electric cars. In addition to people hating electric cars the less they knew about them, Daimler found reasonable concerns about EV prices from those who participated. (Smart EVs are among the most affordable on the market.)
Curiously, those who drove over 30 miles each way in work commutes saw the most benefits in operating EVs, as even a Smart car can run over 60 miles with a full charge. Daimler also found that long-distance commuters realized that the low operating costs (no gas, negligible maintenance) made zero-emissions vehicles attractive to participants.
Concerns about the environment took something of a back seat. When the final decision about an EV finally arrived, Daimler found most people pointing to image as opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, though image may incoude the cachet of driving a green car. Practical concerns about charging infrastructure factored heavily into purchase decisions as well.
The eMERGE trial revealed that access to public charging stations was a very positive influence in someone’s decision to buy an electric vehicle. Despite studies that have suggested home chargers were key, Daimler’s findings mirror those from an Argonne National Laboratory study saying public chargers are crucial to widespread EV adoption.
As we discovered in our test of a Ford Focus Electric in and around New York City, getting drivers to go zero-emissions in the city would require a much larger and more accessible public charging network. However, turning those parking spaces and pricey garage spots into places where EVs could recharge a battery would take a commitment from the government and private sector.
Until longer-range electric cars come onto the scene in a few years, the discussion will center around EVs capable of running 100 miles or fewer. It’s going to take big changes on the East Coast to turn toward greener transportation in cities like New York, but we’ll have to start somewhere if reducing emissions and slowing climate change are the goals. As Daimler found in its electric vehicle research, education and information will go a long way toward making it happen.