It’s a sobering headline: "EV and Hybrid Loyalty Falls to All-Time Low, Even as Overall Fuel Economy Thrives."
What Edmunds.com is saying here is that the people who've done the right thing for the planet (it's Earth Day, after all) aren't sticking with it. Only a pathetic 27.5 percent of all the hybrids and electrics being traded in are being replaced with a similar vehicle. That rate is down from a not-great 38.5 percent last year.
Even more hair-raising if we want automakers to meet their fleet-average 54.5 mpg targets by 2025 is that 33.8 percent of people trading in green cars — yes, a third — are buying … SUVs. Sport utilities are ultra hot right now, as consumers revel in $2.25 a gallon gas.
This flies in the face of most of the EV owners I personally know, who would never go back to a gas hog. My friend Scott Thompson, who's had a Nissan Leaf and now drives a VW Golf EV, says his electric car loyalty "is off the charts. I would never go back to internal-combustion — unless it's to zero emission hydrogen." Ron Blumenfeld, also a Golf EV driver, said, "I would absolutely buy another one. I love my car more than any car I've ever owned (except maybe the 1972 BMW 2002 my wife owned when I met her)." Of course, most of my friends (including those two guys) are card-carrying environmentalists who hate tailpipes. The fact is, a lot of EV and hybrid owners were propelled by curiosity and the pain at the pumps, not the fate of the Earth.
"Obviously," Jessica Caldwell, an analyst from Edmunds, told me, "people are trading in their hybrids and EVs for smaller compact and sub-compact SUVs like the Honda HR-V and the Toyota RAV4." Gas prices may be rising again, but Caldwell said, "People see that as in the distant future. For now, they're impressed with the mileage on the crossover SUVs that are within their price range."
It's a kitchen-table, head-vs-heart decision. Consumers want the SUV, and they aren't seeing the green payback numbers work with low gas prices. As Caldwell pointed out, there are plenty of non-hybrid cars and trucks on the market that get 30 mpg or better. That's good enough for many people, particularly if the purchase price is lower.
But what about the overall health of the EV market? It's not terrible. According to the stats compiled by Insideevs.com, the total number of plug-in cars sold in March was 13,725. That's better than any month in 2015. And we've got the insane interest in the 200-mile, $35,000 Tesla Model 3 — at nearly 400,000 reservations last time I looked. The Chevrolet Bolt has similar specs, and it should shake up EV sales, too.
Clearly, we need consumers to make the connection between what they drive and having stewardship of the Earth for future generations. The best idea I've seen along those lines is legislation in San Francisco that would require a first-of-its-kind "Climate Change Information Label" on all gas pumps in the city. Six supervisors are supporting the bill.
The label I've seen (pictured above) shows a cartoon car with a cloud of carbon dioxide emerging from its tailpipe, and a somber message about a gallon of gas producing 20 pounds of CO2, the principal global warming gas. Not surprisingly, Berkeley has its own version, but it's the same message: Gasoline-burning cars produce climate change.