Modern EV owners cover substantially fewer miles than those driving gasoline vehicles, indicating that the reduction in emissions from EVs might be smaller than anticipated.
Widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is a crucial component in the strategy to reduce carbon emissions within the United States’ energy framework. As the number of EVs on U.S. roads grows, gaining insight into the driving habits of EV owners becomes vital for a range of applications, from forecasting climate impacts and shaping energy models to informing national policy and guiding energy infrastructure development.
In a comprehensive analysis to date on EV usage, a team from George Washington University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory scrutinized odometer readings from nearly 12.9 million used cars and 11.9 million used SUVs over the period from 2016 to 2022. Their research uncovered that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were driven significantly less—around 4,500 miles less per year—than their gasoline counterparts. The study revealed a consistent disparity across vehicle types: electric cars were driven an average of 7,165 miles per year, in stark contrast to the 11,642 miles for gasoline cars, and electric SUVs clocked 10,587 miles annually, which was also less than the 12,945 miles logged by gasoline SUVs.
The researchers discovered that even Tesla vehicles were used less than traditional gasoline cars, though Teslas did see more use than other BEVs. Interestingly, the research indicated that plug-in hybrids and hybrid vehicles have a usage rate on par with gasoline vehicles. These findings are particularly consequential for those involved in shaping and enacting emissions regulations, as they confront prevalent assumptions, such as those by the EPA, which treats EVs as if they are driven the same distance as gasoline vehicles.
The pattern of vehicle ownership may also play a role; in households that own multiple cars, including EVs, mileage tends to be distributed across the vehicles, which might mean fewer miles driven on the electric one. This could lead to less electricity use than utility companies expect in response to the rise of EVs. Moreover, the researchers highlight the need to acknowledge that EV manufacturing incurs higher emissions than creating a gasoline vehicle. If EVs aren’t driven extensively, it could prolong the period needed to offset these initial emissions through everyday use.
Reference: Lujin Zhao et al, Quantifying electric vehicle mileage in the United States, Joule (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2023.09.015