People of color are just as interested in buying electric cars as white consumers — the biggest barrier is access to charging

A nationally representative survey of 8,027 Americans shows that across all racial demographics, overall interest in purchasing electric vehicles is high. Among those surveyed, 33% of white respondents, 38% of black respondents, 43% of Hispanics and 52% of Asian Americans said they would “definitely” or “seriously consider” purchasing or leasing an electric vehicle as their next vehicle.

The survey was conducted by Consumer Reports with the participation of the nonprofit advocacy groups GreenLatinos, the Union of Concerned Scientists and EVNoire, and was conducted from January 27 to February 18, 2022 by NORC at the University of Chicago, an objective, nonpartisan research organization.

Electric vehicles are critical to reducing transportation emissions, but communities of color currently use this key technology less than white drivers. This survey, on which I was an advisor, helps shed light on some of the reasons for this difference.

Cleaner air for everyone

Air pollution in the US disproportionately affects communities of color. To take just one statistic, Hispanic children are about three times more likely to live in a county with air pollution levels that exceed federal air quality standards than non-Hispanic white children.

Transport is the main source of harmful air pollutants, especially nitrogen oxides. These compounds contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog, which can cause or worsen many types of respiratory diseases.

Motor vehicles also release soot and toxic compounds. Because of these pollutants, people who live near roadways are at increased risk of diseases including heart disease, impaired lung development in babies, premature babies and low birth weight babies, childhood leukemia and premature death.

Transportation is also the largest source of global warming emissions in the United States. Light cars and trucks account for 58% of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Weather-related events such as heat waves, air pollution, and flooding may be exacerbated by climate change and disproportionately harm U.S. communities of color.

Climate change disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities in the US

Where can we connect?

Our survey was the first consumer-focused analysis of barriers to EV adoption by race and demographic. The goal is to help policymakers and advocates better understand why blacks and Latinos buy fewer EVs than whites, and what explains the gap.

We found that charging EVs at home – the most affordable way to charge EVs today – is not an equally viable option for all communities, especially those with a higher proportion of renters or apartment buildings. It is much easier for homeowners to install EV charging equipment on their property and use it to safely and conveniently charge their vehicles overnight.

In our survey, nearly 75% of white respondents owned their homes, compared to less than 50% of black respondents and just over 50% of Hispanics. Multi-family residential buildings, such as apartment buildings, often do not offer electric vehicle charging for residents. We found that increasing accessible, affordable and reliable public EV charging infrastructure in safe locations would address all of these groups’ biggest EV charging concerns.

The survey results also show that improving access to financing and incentives for both new and used electric vehicles will help accelerate electric vehicle adoption.

Receiving a message

Our results show that increasing access to electric vehicles is a key way to educate the public about the benefits of driving them. But it is not yet clear how to create engaging educational initiatives that target blacks and Latinos and address their specific needs and concerns.

Finding better ways to engage black and Latino communities in the EV transition is important because it can help close gaps and mitigate systemic barriers to adoption and achieve environmental justice.

Providing assistance and incentives for apartments and condominiums to install electric vehicle chargers will help reduce barriers to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Our survey found that blacks and Latinos are more likely to use public or street parking, so incentives to support the creation of public charging infrastructure are also important.

Purchase incentives that are more affordable and targeted at higher income buyers will make electric vehicles available to more people. For example, the tax credit may be refundable, allowing people who do not have the appropriate tax liability to still enjoy the benefits of the credit, or the credit may be available at points of sale.

We are planning further research that can identify ways to overcome the barriers identified in this survey and help create a fair and clean transportation future for all.

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