Electric Cars Are Driven Less Than Gasoline-Powered Cars, Study Shows

A new study published in the academic journal Joule has found that electric vehicles (EVs) are driven significantly less than gasoline-powered cars, which could affect the estimates of emissions savings from EV adoption.

The study, conducted by researchers from George Washington University, used a commercially available database of used-car listings that showed the age and mileage of about 34 million used vehicles, including 12.5 million cars and 11.4 million SUVs. The data covered listings from 2016 to 2022 and model years up to 2019.

The researchers found that an average EV was driven 7,165 miles a year compared to 11,642 for gasoline-powered cars. That’s a difference of 4,477 miles. The gap was even larger for SUVs, with EVs driven 6,902 miles a year and gasoline-powered SUVs driven 13,525 miles a year.

Electric Cars Are Driven Less Than Gasoline-Powered Cars, Study Shows
Electric Cars Are Driven Less Than Gasoline-Powered Cars, Study Shows

The study also found that Tesla vehicles were driven more than other EVs, but still less than gasoline-powered cars. Tesla cars were driven 9,873 miles a year and Tesla SUVs were driven 10,551 miles a year, compared to 11,642 and 13,525 for gasoline-powered cars and SUVs, respectively.

Why Are EVs Driven Less?

The researchers suggested several possible reasons for why EVs are driven less than gasoline-powered cars, such as:

  • EVs may serve as second vehicles for wealthier households, while gasoline-powered cars are used for longer trips or daily commutes.
  • EVs may face range anxiety or charging inconvenience, especially in rural areas or regions with insufficient charging infrastructure.
  • EVs may have lower resale value or higher depreciation rates, which could discourage owners from driving them more.
  • EVs may have different usage patterns or preferences, such as being more suitable for urban driving or less appealing for recreational driving.

The researchers acknowledged that their study had some limitations, such as not being able to account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have reduced driving activity for both EVs and gasoline-powered cars. They also noted that their data did not include information on the driving behavior or characteristics of the owners, such as their income, education, or environmental awareness.

Implications for Emissions Reductions and Policy Making

The study’s findings have important implications for estimating the emissions reductions from EV adoption, as well as for designing policies to promote EVs and build up charging infrastructure. The researchers argued that if EVs are driven less than gasoline-powered cars, then the emissions savings from EVs may be lower than expected, unless the electricity grid is decarbonized or the efficiency of gasoline-powered cars is improved.

The researchers also suggested that policies to encourage EV adoption should take into account the driving patterns and preferences of potential buyers, and target the segments of the market where EVs can replace more gasoline-powered car mileage. For example, policies could focus on incentivizing EVs for high-mileage drivers, such as taxi or ride-hailing services, or on expanding the charging network in rural areas or along highways.

The researchers concluded that their study provided a novel and comprehensive analysis of the driving patterns of EVs and gasoline-powered cars, and that more research is needed to understand the factors that influence the driving behavior and choices of EV owners.

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