Nov 7, 2023 - Technology

EVs are driven less than gas-powered models: study

Illustration of a electric car and a gasoline car from above, with a less than sign between them

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Evidence is piling up that electric vehicles are driven much less than gas-powered models, which could sap the tech's power against climate change if the trend continues.

Driving the news: A new peer-reviewed paper analyzed odometer readings of used cars listed from 2016 to 2022.

  • Fully electric cars average nearly 4,500 fewer miles annually than conventional models.
  • Battery SUVs also saw a gap, although not as large.

The big picture: The data may signal comparatively fewer high-mileage drivers are making the switch, the authors say.

  • And EV owners may be using them as a second car alongside a gasoline model, researchers writing in Joule suspect.
  • "Range anxiety" due to "immature" charging infrastructure may be a factor.

Why it matters: "For maximum impact, we need the highest-mileage drivers behind the wheel of EVs rather than low-mileage drivers," co-author John Helveston, an engineering professor a George Washington University, said in a statement.

Catch up fast: Multiple studies using different methods have reached some version of this conclusion about EV miles.

  • For instance, in 2021 we covered a study of California driving habits based on home electricity data.

Yes, but: Only a surveillance state could create a perfect window into drivers' habits, so every study has limitations.

  • One here: this dataset only captures EVs that owners got rid of. That could tilt the data toward drivers who decided the tech was a "poor fit."
  • And relying on used car data means the analysis is weighted toward older models.

The bottom line: The big question is whether EV drivers today — and going forward — better mimic gas-powered car owners.

  • "I would echo the caveat from the authors that these analyses tell us mostly about older EVs. It will be interesting in future work to examine driving patterns for newer EVs," UC-Berkeley's Lucas Davis, who wrote a separate study, tells me via email.

Go deeper: Helveston explained the findings in a post on X.

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