1 in 5 electric vehicle owners in California switched back to gas because charging their cars is a hassle, research shows

Mustang Mach E GT Performance Edition 03
Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition. Ford
  • Roughly 20% of electric vehicle owners in California replaced their cars with gas ones, a study shows.
  • The main reason drivers said they made the switch was the inconvenience of charging.
  • The findings suggest new challenges facing the growth of the nascent electric vehicle market.
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In roughly three minutes, you can fill the gas tank of a Ford Mustang and have enough range to go about 300 miles (483km) with its V8 engine.

But on a recent 200-mile (322km) trip from Boston to New York in the Mustang’s electric Mach-E variant, Axios’ Dan Primack said he felt “panic” as his battery level dipped below 23% while searching for a compatible charger to complete his trip.

“I was assured that this might be one of the country’s easiest EV routes,” Primack wrote. “Those assurances were misplaced.”

For Bloomberg automotive analyst Kevin Tynan, an hour plugged into his household outlet gave the Mach-E just three miles of range.

“Overnight, we’re looking at 36 miles (58km) of range,” he told Insider. “Before I gave it back to Ford, because I wanted to give it back full, I drove it to the office and plugged in at the charger we have there.”

Standard home outlets generally deliver 120 volts, powering what electric vehicle aficionados call “Level 1” charging, while the higher-powered specialty connections at 240 volts are known as “Level 2.” By comparison, Tesla’s “Superchargers,” which can fully charge its cars in a little over an hour, run on 480 volts.

That difference is night and day, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy by University of California Davis researchers Scott Hardman and Gil Tal that surveyed Californians who purchased an electric vehicle between 2012 and 2018.

Roughly one in five plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) owners switched back to owning gas-powered cars, in large part because charging the batteries was a pain in the… trunk, the researchers found.

Of those who switched, over 70% lacked access to Level 2 charging at home, and slightly fewer than that lacked Level 2 connections at their workplace.

“If you don’t have a Level 2, it’s almost impossible,” said Tynan, who has tested a wide range of makes and models of PEVs over the years for his research.

Even with the faster charging, a Chevy Bolt he tested still needed nearly six hours to top its range back up to 300 miles (483km) from nearly empty – something that takes him just minutes at the pump with his family SUV.

EVs have come a long way in recent years in terms of range, safety, comfort, and tech features, but Hardman and Tal note that very little has changed in terms of how they are recharged.

The researchers warned that this trend could make it harder to achieve electric vehicle sales targets in California and other countries, and the growth of the market overall.

“It should not be assumed that once a consumer purchases a PEV they will continue owning one,” Hardman and Tal wrote. “What is clear is that this could slow PEV market growth and make reaching 100% PEV sales more difficult.”

GM has set a target of an all-electric fleet by 2030, while Ford recently unveiled its “game changing” Lightning F-150 electric pickup truck and is prioritizing production of its electric Mustangs over its traditional gas ones. But Tynan says that fixing the charging issue will require even more active engagement from automakers.

Meanwhile, change is on the horizon. Tesla recently filed paperwork to open a drive-in restaurant at one of its LA supercharger stations (which takes 15 minutes to deliver an 80% charge), and 7-Eleven announced it will be installing 500 fast-charging connections at select convenience stores across North America.

Meanwhile, those initiatives are dwarfed by President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which would set aside $US15 ($AU20) billion to build a national network of 500,000 stations.

But those are largely still plans, and it will be a while before EV ownership is just as convenient as gasoline currently is.