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The younger adult generations are significantly on board with environmental causes that have car-centric responses, namely climate change, but ironically enough they are also the generations with the least financial capability of purchasing EVs.
A study recently published by Cox Automotive showed that only 10% of EV buyers are between the ages of 25 and 34, and the reason purported is price. The same study showed that some 70% of EV buyers have incomes of $100k and above, which might be a more common take home pay in Silicon Valley for young people, but not so much everywhere else.
Despite these observations, however, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the cost gap between ICE and electric cars finally starting to narrow. EV battery prices have reduced about 70% since 2010, and the overall price of vehicles like the Nissan LEAF have decreased by about 2.5% since 2012 while similar ICE vehicles such as the Nissan Maxima have increased by 7.5%. Another interesting point about this consumer demographic is the awareness about EV benefits. Cox Automotive found that 65% of young consumers know charging costs less than gasoline, and I’d toss in my own observation that Tesla has an enthusiastic fan base comprising a large number of young people as well.
But the old bogeyman is still as big a concern for this crowd as any other: Range anxiety. Sure, Tesla is doing a great job getting rid of this particular worry monster, but then we run into the issue of purchase price. And that’s not the only thing.
Another issue exists that deters young buyers: Urban living. If you’re a resident of, say, New York City, car buying is a ridiculous expense that makes cost of living even more impossible. What’s more, access to public transportation (itself another response to environmental concerns) is pretty decent. Throw in the cost of auto insurance, and yikes! When I worked in NYC as an early 20-something, my insurance alone was over twice what my car payment is today, and I only used the darn car to get myself to the train station in the morning. Yes, Tesla is also working on this, but Tesla’s cars are also more expensive than similar ICE vehicles, bringing us back to square one.
Then there’s another complication for most young people who do have the $100k+ income to buy a “standard” EV a la Tesla: Student debt. Even with today’s income-based repayment plans to ease the burdens, young single people with high incomes usually don’t get any relief at all, which then eats away at their expendable income, which means less money for a car payment. Well, you may say, they make a lot of money and therefore shouldn’t complain. But most of them make that much money while living in a place that’s very expensive to exist in.
You may make a “good” income in the city number wise, but the cost of living often leaves you with less expendable income than if you lived elsewhere making much less. While working at an NYC law firm, for example, I noticed that the common practice for young attorneys was to live with several roommates in small apartments for a year or two working at a big firm solely to pay off their student loans. Many of them wanted to be doing something else they were more passionate about – public law, criminal law, etc. Those jobs just didn’t pay enough for them to live while owing on their loans. Then after the loans were paid, they could finally afford their own place, but what would the point be of purchasing a pricey EV when walking (or a subway hop) was the most practical commute option? Parking garages can be another car payment in themselves in those areas, too. At that point, gasoline is the price of lunch and a beer in the city – not really the deciding factor for these buyers.
Altogether, EV ownership doesn’t make sense for the majority of young people it seems, at least on the surface. If they can afford one to begin with, it’s not really a practical use for their money. Yes, many cities in California have more ideal brews for these customers: high income professions, less access to reliable public transportation, slightly better parking (same terrible traffic though), and plenty of EV charging stations. That’s not really a big picture motivation for car companies to build and sell EVs, though.
So, what’s an EV manufacturer to do? Prices may (or will, rather) eventually come within reach for lower income buyers (a problem that’s widespread over many demographics), but the other issues still exist regarding practicality and the expenses surrounding car ownership in places where large populations of young people tend to live and work. There’s also the question of whether young buyers as a demographic will matter overall if everyone can afford EVs, right? At that point, the uphill climb is less a “Millennial” customer and more an overall “big city” customer. After those customers move into the suburbs and have a better reason to own an EV, they’re easier to attract… They also won’t really fit that young person demographic, anymore.
I think Tesla has a good strategy with the upcoming Tesla Network for reaching absolutely everyone. When a car is no longer an expense, but transportation solution that’s also an income generator, young city dwellers might have a better reason to buy. If their car can be summoned when needed, parked somewhere cheap, making money when not being used by them, it’s a big win-win. And hey, every bit counts when a cocktail at happy hour averages around $20.