Why EVs aren’t more popular in the U.S.

leaf-contest-jay-bgeorge-parrottClearly none of the current set of new electric vehicles have met the original sales adoption expectations of their respective marketing units.

The Nissan LEAF was close to the first year delivery plans with almost 9,000 getting into the American market. However, so far in 2012 Nissan dealers are finding LEAF models actually sitting on the sales lots. The Chevy Volt was almost 20 percent under production expectations for 2011 and GM even had to suspend assembly line work briefly to align supply with actual demand. Like the LEAF, Chevrolet dealers now advertise “Volts in stock” on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the Mitsubishi iMiEV has seen such token sales levels that national deliveries in the U.S. hardly produce a blip on the monthly sales totals reported.

What explains this resistance in the American market to such environmentally friendly and new technology engineering?

EV adoption different
Flat screen television emerged at high initial price levels, and there was some initial reservation about that technology in the U.S. marketplace. Yet within 10 years of that technology’s mass market introduction, the bulky box TV ceased to exist.

Will the electric vehicle adoption process see a similar pattern?

Unfortunately electric vehicle market success may not see that same “Darwinian Epochal Change,” as there are major infrastructure challenges that are different in the transportation sector versus the media market.

Here is a possible quantification of the “value of a vehicle” (VV) based on a number of very fundamental elements in the U.S. transportation experience of buyers:

  • Subjective Cost (SC) = Psychology value of a specific car;
  • Cost (C) = Cost in dollars to acquire/buy;
  • Range (R) = How far the vehicle will go between adding power/fuel;
  • Infrastructure (I) = Convenience or availability of places to add power/fuel [Scaled 1 to 10; 1 = almost total lack of DC Quick Charge stations; 10 = highly convenient gas stations everywhere];
  • Power Cost (PC) = Cost in dollars to power the car for 30 miles of use

Ultimately, the equation one can build is: VV= ((C/R)/I) x PC.

The subjective cost of an EV
Given the above metric of consumer value for vehicles, a Honda Fit would produce this assessment: (($20,000/400 mile range)/10) x $4 = 20 Subjective Cost.

A Nissan LEAF represents: (($28,000/70 mile range)/1) x $ .50 = 200 Subjective Cost.

The new Tesla S Model clearly will have a limited market for subjective cost: (($50,000/130)/1) x $ .60 = 230 Subjective Cost.

A Chevrolet Volt represents better market potential, using this metric: (($32,000/400)/4) x $ 2.40* = 48 Subjective cost.

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In Japan, electric vehicles have access to significant government incentives making the initial acquisition cost attractive. Additionally, the electric power infrastructure for fast charging is quite well-developed, so that denominator in this equation for infrastructure there is more like “8” rather than the “1” for the U.S.

EVs’ subjective cost lower in Japan
If the U.S. had the same level of fast charging convenience as Japan, the Nissan LEAF would have a subjective cost of only 25, making it almost identical in value to the basic Honda Fit. Thus, in Japan, the LEAF and the even more inexpensive Mitsubishi iMiEV are seeing very successful market introduction.

This analysis of the major economic and psychological factors in new vehicle purchase value clearly suggests that, in the U.S., pure electric vehicle technology will have a very difficult time overcoming the weak infrastructure issues and the high acquisition cost barriers compared to internal combustion engine cars at the current cost of gasoline.

Gasoline needs to be at least twice as expensive and the infrastructure for adding electric power to vehicles needs to be many, many times more convenient for the subjective cost of this new technology to equal that of the traditional gasoline systems.

George Parrott is a solar-charged driver from Sacramento, Calif. where he solar-charges both a Chevy Volt and a Nissan LEAF.


*The Volt uses about $.80 of electricity to go 30 miles in full electric mode, but when the gas engine kicks in, then at 37 mpg, the car would cost about $4.00 for 30 miles. Averaging that 30 mile cost was used here, but over 400 miles in one trip the average cost per 30 miles would be much closer to the full $4.00 per gallon of actual fuel.


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