Understanding the Distributional Impacts of Vehicle Policy: Who Buys New and Used Electric Vehicles?

Policy makers consider electric vehicles (EVs) an important policy lever to reduce urban air pollution, lower carbon emissions, and reduce overall petroleum consumption. The need to understand purchase patterns for EVs is especially important in light of the bold policy targets set for increasing EV penetration or phasing out internal combustion engines (ICEs) entirely in countries around the world and in California.

This policy brief summarizes findings from the project which analyzed data on every EV, including plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric vehicle (BEV), purchased in California from 2011 to 2015 and random samples of comparable conventional and hybrid vehicles. It examined the proliferation of EVs during a period in which the market has matured to include new technologies, a growing secondary market has evolved, and a suite of policies has been put in place to promote switching away from gasoline-powered cars. Researchers analyzed the data to answer two questions. First, is the conventional wisdom, which suggests that EV adoption is more common among high-income households and less common among minority groups, reflected in purchase data? Second, do two plausible barriers impede low-income and minority car buyers’ adoption of EVs: price discrimination against groups traditionally unlikely to purchase EVs and availability of EVs at dealerships near low-income or minority communities.