For longer distances, drivers use vehicles with internal combustion engines far more often than electric cars. This not only applies to privately owned cars but especially car-sharing ones, where the cost structure for both types of driving is the same for customers. Higher purchase prices and differences in running costs between electric cars and internal combustion engines are not the only reason for the reluctance towards electric vehicles, as behavioural and non-monetary factors are also likely to play a role. Everyday distances, though, are easily accessible with a standard e-car. This is the result of a recent study by ZEW Mannheim.

A ZEW study shows that especially the high costs of an e-car make it less attractive.
Differences in use between electric cars and internal combustion engines provide information about the role of non-monetary factors in driving behaviour.

“Many people prefer combustion engines, but that might just be due to the power of habit and range anxiety regarding electric cars,” says co-author of the study Professor Martin Kesternich, deputy head of the ZEW Research Department “Environmental and Resource Economics, Environmental Management”.

The study is in part based on the survey “Mobilität in Deutschland 2017” (“Mobility in Germany 2017”), conducted by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. Researchers also use booking data from the years 2014 to 2016 from Flinkster, the largest car-sharing provider in Germany. “A special feature of Flinkster car sharing is that the travel costs per driven time and distance are always the same for all offered engine types within a vehicle class, whether electric or combustion-powered,” explains Professor Kesternich. “So, because of this identical cost structure, observable differences in use between electric cars and internal combustion engines can’t be due to cost differences; rather, non-monetary factors in driving behaviour are at work here.”

Electric cars booked much less frequently in car sharing

Even when taking current state subsidy premiums into account, for private car owners, e-cars are usually more expensive to buy. Yet the variable costs per kilometre are significantly lower than those of conventional vehicles due to the low price (per energy unit) of electricity compared to petrol or diesel. The cost structure alone therefore offers incentives to use e-cars just as much as conventional vehicles. As the study shows, private households drive their e-cars an average of 13,052 kilometres per year, which is about eight per cent less than for private cars with internal combustion engines. The higher mileage of conventional cars is mainly due to the heavy use of diesel cars.

In car-sharing services, on the other hand, the difference between electric cars and cars with internal combustion engines is even more pronounced: electric cars that were available for use all year round achieved only 21 per cent of the annual mileage of conventional cars. In addition to lower mileage per booking, electric cars are also booked less frequently than conventional vehicles at rental stations offering vehicles with both combustion and electric drive technologies. Researchers interpret the significantly lower use of electric cars in car sharing as price differences not being the only reason for the much lower market share of electric cars. Against the background of these findings, it is questionable whether an increase in subsidy premiums can help e-mobility achieve a breakthrough via additional demand. 

“It’s important to dispel drivers’ concerns”

One possible explanation for the lower use despite the same costs is a status quo distortion, meaning that users much rather prefer the current state and are resistant to change. Another reason for the reluctance to invest in e-mobility could be the result of range anxiety, i.e. the fear of not being able to cover long distances in an electric car.

Range anxiety is unfounded, however, for the majority of the distances travelled, as the analysis of daily mileage of private vehicles and car-sharing data shows. “Even with very unfavourable assumptions regarding the range and charging possibilities of e-cars, between 82 and 92 per cent of the daily trips made with internal combustion engines could, in principle, also be managed by e-cars. And with moderate assumptions, the proportion is even close to 99 per cent,” says Professor Kesternich. “So it’s important that political decision-makers, car manufacturers, and car-sharing providers are able to dispel drivers’ concerns. Attractive loan offers for first-time e-car users could be helpful, for example. Another important task for policymakers is to expand the public charging infrastructure since the availability and rapid usability of charging stations would definitely help reduce range anxiety.”

Driving excursions with particularly high mobility requirements, such as holiday trips, can pose a challenge for winning over potential e-car users. Currently, electric cars can only cover such long distances when there is plenty of time and planning going into the trip. For people or households with only one vehicle, this would be reason enough to decide against a car with electric drive. Possible solutions could be to offer e-car buyers vouchers for long-distance rail travel, or to promote the temporary lending of vehicles with internal combustion engines under special conditions, which would make the first e-car purchase less daunting.



    Energy Transition and Climate Change

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