One in five Californian EV drivers revert to piston power—but why?

woman's hand plugging in a charger in an electric car socket

Enlarge / Poor charging infrastructure is a big reason that some Californians decided not to get another electric vehicle. (credit: Cavan Images/Getty Images)

By now, we know a lot of ways to get people to buy electric vehicles. In Europe and China, it’s simple: mandate them. Policymakers aren’t nearly that brave here in the US, so instead we’ve been relying on subsidies for early adopters and the fact that a test drive is often enough to convince someone to switch to a plug-in.

Much less is known about why someone might buy an EV but then decide to go back to fossil fuel for their next vehicle. The very idea is probably enough to stimulate some outrage among the Ars audience, but according to a new study in Nature Energy, not only does such a thing happen, but it has happened at a rate of about 20 percent among early adopters in California, the largest market in the US for plug-in vehicles.

Scott Hardman and Gil Tal at University of California, Davis decided to examine the rate and reasons that Californians abandoned their electric cars, something the researchers say has not been examined until now. With the help of the Californian Air Resources Board, Hardman and Tal surveyed Californians who bought either plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) or battery EVs (BEVs) between 2012 and 2018, contacting more than 14,000 households. In total, 4,167 households completed the survey, but only 1,842 respondents had made a decision about whether or not to keep that plug-in.

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