Teslas and other electric vehicles may be easily spotted on California freeways, but what about the rest of the country? 

Automakers are increasingly turning their attention to electric vehicles, as the price of batteries fall, new charging station infrastructure is developed, and tax rebates reduce ownership costs. 

Yet in 2019, while more than 40 different electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrids, like the Prius Prime) were available for sale in the U.S., they only accounted for 2% of total vehicles sold. Right now, the coronavirus’ impact on Chinese auto manufacturing isn’t exactly helping things out.

Will 2020 yield higher EV sales or will adoption continue to lag behind Europe and China? Measuring the pulse on electric vehicles, a survey from CivicScience found that 11% of U.S. adults surveyed say that their next car purchase will be electric. More people plan to buy hybrids – a practical choice if you plan to travel long distances in areas without charging stations. Ultimately, more than one quarter plan to buy a gas fuel alternative vehicle.

If they follow through, that could bring the U.S. closer to European sales numbers. What’s more, those who plan to buy electric are the most likely to say they will buy or lease a new car in the next 90 days.

However, consider that when CivicScience last surveyed intent to buy electric, nearly one quarter of adults said they were likely to purchase or lease an electric car as their next vehicle. That was in 2018. When it comes to electric cars, Americans might be a bit starry-eyed.

Who Is the New Car Buyer?

Consistent with the 2018 findings, the new CivicScience survey shows that those with intent to buy skew younger. In fact, Gen Z (ages 18-24) are the most likely to plan to buy electric as their next car. Not only are electric cars just sleek and cool, they’re the way of the future for an environmentally-conscious generation — but, also a generation with the least amount of spending power.

Speaking of sleek and cool, Tesla continues to be the biggest name in the game; nearly half of all electric vehicles sold in 2019 were the Tesla Model 3. New findings show that approximately 30% of Americans are favorable to Tesla cars.

Again, all-electric cars charm (particularly Tesla), but hybrids still have greater mass appeal when it comes to alternative vehicles. Toyota (makers of the Prius hybrid and Prius Prime hybrid plug-in) has double the favorability. Affordability likely plays a key role — people who plan to buy gas fuel cars are the most likely to be concerned about price, while people who plan to buy electric are the most likely to be concerned about fuel economy. 

However, the survey shows that roughly the same percentage of Americans planning to buy electric vehicles and hybrids, regardless of income level (high earners are slightly more likely to plan to buy electric).

The survey also revealed that electric vehicles appeal more to urban and suburban dwellers than rural; to men more than women (women are more likely to want to buy hybrid); and interestingly, have far wider appeal to Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and black Americans compared to white Americans. One quarter of Asian Americans say they plan to buy an electric as their next vehicle, compared to just 9% of white Americans. Hybrid buyers don’t vary as much.

What Buyers Want

When it comes to the types of cars that future buyers are looking for, the survey reveals a lot of variation. 

  • SUV’s are the most popular option for those who plan to buy gas fuel as their next purchase.
  • SUV’s are also the most popular option for those who plan to buy hybrids, but sedan’s are a close second. 
  • Interestingly, trucks ranked as the most popular option for those who plan to buy electric, apart from “other” unknown car types. (Good news for the Tesla Cybertruck?). Crossovers are also more popular among future electric buyers than among hybrid buyers, and significantly more than gas fuel buyers.

At the end of the day, those who plan to buy electric represent just a small segment of the population, while future hybrid buyers are a little larger. Future research from CivicScience will explore the reasons keeping Americans from purchasing more electric and hybrid vehicles.