Electric Car Owners Switching to Gas Because Charging Is a Hassle: Study

Roughly 20% of electric vehicle owners in California replaced their cars with gas ones, a…

  • Roughly 20% of electric vehicle owners in California replaced their cars with gas ones, a new study shows.
  • The main reason drivers made the switch was the inconvenience of charging.
  • The findings suggest new challenges facing the growth of the nascent electric vehicle market.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In roughly three minutes, you can fill the gas tank of a Ford Mustang and have enough range to go about 300 miles with its V8 engine.

But for the electric Mustang Mach-E, an hour plugged into a household outlet gave Bloomberg automotive analyst Kevin Tynan just three miles of range.

“Overnight, we’re looking at 36 miles of range,” he told Insider. “Before I gave it back to Ford, because I wanted to give it back full, I drove it to the office and plugged in at the charger we have there.”

Standard home outlets generally put out about 120 volts of power at what electric vehicle aficionados call “Level 1” charging, while the high-powered specialty connections offer 240 volts of power and are known as “Level 2.” By comparison, Tesla’s “Superchargers,” which can fully charge its cars in a little over an hour, offer 480 volts of direct current. 

That difference is night and day, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy by University of California Davis researchers Scott Hardman and Gil Tal that surveyed Californians who purchased an electric vehicle between 2012 and 2018. 

Roughly one in five plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) owners switched back to owning gas-powered cars, in large part because charging the batteries was a pain in the… trunk, the researchers found. 

Of those who switched, over 70% lacked access to Level 2 charging at home, and slightly fewer than that lacked Level 2 connections at their workplace.

“If you don’t have a Level 2, it’s almost impossible,” said Tynan, who has tested a wide range of makes and models of PEVs over the years for his research.

Even with the faster charging, a Chevy Bolt he tested still needed nearly six hours to top its range back up to 300 miles from nearly empty — something that takes him just minutes at the pump with his family SUV.

Public charging stations may look like the electric version of the gas station, but nearly two-thirds of PEV drivers in the survey said they didn’t use them. Exactly why they didn’t use the public stalls was not specified.

EVs have come a long way in recent years in terms of range, safety, comfort, and tech features, but Hardman and Tal note that very little has changed in terms of how they are recharged.

The researchers warned that this trend could make it harder to achieve electric vehicle sales targets in California and other countries, and the growth of the market overall. 

“It should not be assumed that once a consumer purchases a PEV they will continue owning one,” Hardman and Tal wrote. “What is clear is that this could slow PEV market growth and make reaching 100% PEV sales more difficult.”

Fixing the charging issue will require more participation from automakers, who have yet to find a profitable way of producing electric cars. Even Tesla, easily the leader in the category, was only able to eke out a first-quarter profit by selling energy credits and bitcoin.

“For all those legacy automakers, that profit and loss piece does matter. And that’s why you’re getting this half effort on electrification,” Tynan said.