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More people could be driving electric cars right now than you might expect

Posting in Transportation

Sales of plug-in electric vehicles in the United States are expected to double from last year's totals. The bad news is that EV sales are still just a tiny fraction of total car sales. One projection says that of the 15 million or so vehicles that are expected to be sold this year, only 90,000-100,000 of those will be for plug-in electric vehicles, less than one percent of the market.

But a new survey shows that there is plenty more room for the EV market to grow based on American driving habits. 

One of the key concerns for people who are considering purchasing an electric vehicle is running out of fuel. With a gas-powered car, gas-stations are everywhere. Electric charging stations, on the other hand, are harder to come by if you find your car running low on charge. The survey, from Consumers Union and the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that 42 percent of U.S. households could begin using a plug-in electric car (including plug-in hybrids) today. 

The researchers determined if a plug-in electric vehicle was suited for a household based on three requirements:

-The household must have access to parking and an outlet (56 percent of households have access to charging, it turns out).

-The household must only need to carry five or fewer occupants in their vehicle. (Most current EVs hold only 4-5 people.)

-The household can't need the vehicle for towing or hauling. (79 percent don't need those abilities.)

 When it comes to battery-electric vehicles (which are 100 percent electric) the percentage of households that could own one drops to 25 percent because, in addition to the requirements above, all-electric vehicle owners must also have an outlet (specifically one at home), drive a maximum of 60 miles per workday, and own more than one vehicle or take very few long trips. 

Still, a surprising amount of people -- 69 percent -- stay in that 60 mile range, enough for most current EVs to drive on a full charge in a day. 

So why aren't EV adoption rates higher when, as the survey points out, it costs more than $1,000 to fuel a gas-powered car each year than a battery-electric car? 

The study doesn't seek an answer, but my best guess is that even though many might not use their cars for more than 60 miles in a day, the idea of giving up that freedom of going above the 60 miles -- since most battery-electric vehicles have between 60-90 miles of range on a full charge -- on an especially busy day is difficult to part with. Especially when you can get a gas-powered car in a similar price range.

Of course, the Tesla Model S has a range of 265 miles and has been incredibly popular. But even that range can be limiting, unless you live in the right place.

[h/t Quartz]

Photo: Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory

Photo: Wieck

— By on December 13, 2013, 12:46 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure