Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid

6 Educating Consumers

The PEV is a transformative automobile -some call today's PEVs the most advanced vehicles on the road. The difference between PEVs and conventional vehicles covers a vast array of what defines a car today: the vehicle's drivetrain, the technology embedded in the vehicle, the driving experience, maintenance requirements, the refueling process, and total cost of ownership (TCO). Stakeholders must work together to educate consumers on the differences between PEVs and conventional vehicles for PEVs to reach mainstream consumers.

Flowchart: Alternate Process: “Helping consumers understand the value proposition of PEVs is necessary to bridge the market from early adopters to the mainstream consumer.” – PEV Dialogue Group

This chapter focuses on the main challenges to consumer education related to PEVs. The actions laid out in this chapter identify tools and stakeholder activities that will help consumers understand the PEV value proposition and bridge the PEV technology information gap.

One of the main challenges to PEV deployment is undoubtedly the high upfront cost of the vehicle, especially considering vehicles are already one of the most expensive purchases consumers make. In addition, the technologicallyadvanced PEVs (especially BEVs) introduced into the automotive market require consumers to learn about a number of new facets of the car-owning experience.

6.1 Consumer Education Issues

The PEV Dialogue Group identified actions that help accomplish the following objectives related to consumer education:

The Grouplooked at a specific set of consumer education challenges that are especially relevant in the early stages of the PEV. The Group believes that PEVs offer a strong value proposition today; one that will grow as technology develops. The Group also believes consumers will need to rethink what it means to own and operate a vehicle. Stakeholders must help to address these challenges for PEVs to gain mainstream market acceptance.

In developing solutions, the Group looked at online and offline solutions since consumers spend 60 percent of their time shopping for cars online and 40 percent visiting auto dealers and other offline activities.[69]

6.1.1 PEV Value Proposition

Unless the high cost of the battery is financed separately somehow, PEVs will cost more upfront than their conventional counterparts for the foreseeable future. But the value proposition PEVs offer goes far beyond the initial upfront cost. In fact, consumers will be more likely to purchase a PEV if they understand the benefits of electric driving, such as financial and environmental benefits.[70] The financial benefits include the PEV's TCO, which could be lower than a conventional vehicle through fuel and maintenance savings.[71] Benefits without a clear price tag include the driving and refueling experience, environmental and energy security impacts, the image driving a PEV projects, and the use of cutting-edge technology.

Automobile purchases are driven by many factors. Features like a sunroof, cup holders, and sound system are often important to consumers. Although the automobile is the second largest purchase many will ever make, the rationale behind the vehicle's purchase is often not around TCO. If consumers were only concerned with reliability and fuel efficiency, then the most fuel-efficient and reliable vehicle that accommodated the consumer's size requirement would be the most popular choice. This is often not the case.

There is a need to identify effective ways of presenting the value proposition provided by PEVs and identify the best message to educate consumers. Currently, automakers are working to identify the best practices to guide consumers in the purchase process. For example, some consumers may prefer to understand the vehicle operating cost on a monthly basis instead of TCO, and any tools created should accommodate this preference. Non-financial benefits will also require creative and concerted approaches, especially considering their importance to PEV market growth in the short term.

Understanding TCO

Some consumers purchase a vehicle using the vehicle's TCO as a guide. These consumers could purchase PEVs if TCO for a PEV is favorable to that of a conventional vehicle.

Almost all consumers know the price of gasoline, even if they do not actively drive. The visibility of gasoline's price along the road and high annual fuel costs can heavily influence consumer purchasing decisions. Meanwhile, many consumers do not know the price of electricity and are likely to be unaware of PEV-specific electricity rates.

There is evidence that consumers value fuel savings more when fuel costs spike and revert to old preferences when fuel costs return to familiar levels. Without sustained high fuel costs, the effects of fuel savings on consumer preferences are unclear, even thougha PEV driver could save over $1,000 a year depending on the price of gasoline and electricity, geographic location, and average annual mileage driven.[72] These savings can be even larger with special PEV electricity rates that capture the true cost of off-peak charging.

Automakers expect PEVs to have lower maintenance costs than conventional vehicles. Common maintenance activities like oil changes are required less often, or, in the case of BEVs, are unnecessary. Furthermore, electric drive vehicles like the extended-range Chevrolet Volt and BEVs do not have a drive shaft or a clutch. PEVs also use regenerative braking to extend the vehicle's all-electric range and lower the wear and tear on the brake system. Even vehicles with complex powertrains like the parallel PHEV Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid are expected to have lower maintenance costs than a conventional vehicle.[73]

Since consumers spend most of their time online when shopping for new cars, the most practical way to teach consumers about TCO for PEVs may be on the internet. Many websites offer tools and calculators that give consumers general ideas about cost-effectiveness or environmental impacts of some products. A sophisticated calculator that is tailored to an individual does not yet exist for PEVs, however.As for who is the best provider of such a service, consumers rely on third party websitesas much as on sites run by automakers.[74]

Today, consumers must collect data from multiple sources on fuel costs (gasoline or electricity), vehicle operating costs, and charging infrastructure costs to make a TCO comparison between a PEV and a conventional vehicle. Consumers must then calculate respective costs and benefits in the current and future years. Complicating this further are expected cost reductions in battery development in the coming years if manufacturers reach economies of scale.

Non-Financial Benefits

For many consumers, other factors will play a more important role in purchasing a PEV than TCO, especially in the short term. PEVs provide additional value by offering a potentially quieter and more responsive driving experience. Yet, they come with different costs as well. Many consumers may be drawn to the cutting-edge technology inside PEVs that aims to transform personal transportation. PEVs appeal to consumers who are concerned about air quality and climate change impacts of driving and to consumers who are concerned about energy security and the continued reliance on oil. Finally, some consumers will want to be the first in their communities to own and drive a PEV.

Conveying the value of non-financial benefits is challenging. Providing metrics like tons of carbon dioxide saved or barrels of oil saved likely means more to society than to individual consumers. Further, explaining the driving and refueling experience may require creative approaches such as hands-on or multimedia experiences.

6.1.2 Technology Information Gap

Technically speaking, PEVs are different from conventional vehicles. Consumers will need help in understanding the technical capabilities and limitations of BEVs, EREVs, and PHEVs. Consumers have to know the difference between these PEVs along with hybrid electric vehicles and, eventually, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (see Table 5).

PHEVs, EREVs, and BEVs are distinct vehicle models, and consumers face unique choices.The fact is that a BEV is a fundamentally different car than a conventional vehicle, an EREV is a combination of a BEV and some of the features of a conventional vehicle, while a PHEV is a conventional vehicle with some of the features of a BEV. The distance consumers can travel in a single trip is shorter with BEVs. At the same time, driving a BEV produces no direct tailpipe emissions and can accommodate most trips.

Table 5: Current state of PEV technologycompared to other vehicle types. No hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is in mass production today, but Toyota plans to introduce one in 2015.[75]Petroleum includes gasoline and diesel, except when referring to energy security; most biofuels are produced domesticallytoday.




Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Conventional Vehicle

Natural Gas Vehicle

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle


electric motor

electric motor,ICE


electric motor

Onboard Energy Source

battery, regenerative braking

battery, regenerative braking, petroleum or biofuels

petroleum or biofuels

natural gas

fuel cell, battery, regenerative braking

External Energy Source


electricity, petroleum or biofuels

petroleum or biofuels

natural gas


Electric Drive Range

75-300 miles**

10-40 miles

<1 mile

0 miles

>200 miles

Maximum Range

75-300 miles

>300 miles

>150 miles

>200 miles

Home Refueling Option

yes (AC Level 1/2)

yes (AC Level 1 or AC Level 2)




Refueling Time

depends on battery and charging level


Energy Security Impact

nearly 100% domestic source

depends on number of electric miles

nearly half of petroleum is imported; almost all biofuels are domestic

mostly domestic source***

Tailpipe Emissions


none for electric miles

greenhouse gases, ozone, etc.


Upstream Emissions

depends on electrical grid mix

depends on petroleum or biofuels lifecycle

depends on natural gas lifecycle

depends on hydrogen source

* When the ICE is running, a PHEV has similar characteristics to a hybrid electric vehicle. The table uses electric-only characteristics.

** The Tesla Model S available in 2012 will be able to travel from 160 to 300 miles on a charge depending on the battery system included.

*** Nearly all U.S. hydrogen comes from natural gas, a mostly domestic energy source ( and in the longer term could come from electrolysis or coal with carbon capture and sequestration.

The information gap that currently exists for PEV technology is substantial; a major education effort by public and private entities can create a bridge from conventional to these advanced alternative vehicles. Consumers have been slow to learn about alternative vehicle drivetrains. For instance, hybrid electric vehicles have been on the road for over a decade and many consumers are still unaware of how they differ from a conventional vehicle.

6.2 Actions to Educate Consumers

Automakers, PEV service providers, electric utilities, NGOs, and government should work together to increase consumer knowledge about PEVs' value proposition and PEV technology using an online and offline approach. - PEV Dialogue Group

The PEV Dialogue Group believes consumers will ultimately decide the success of PEVs in the United States. The Group also believes the only way for consumers to make a rational decision about purchasing and using a PEV is if they are able to recognize the PEV's value proposition and if they understand the technological differences between PEVs and other vehicles.

The actions laid out below rely on offline and online steps that require harnessing advanced technology and traditional sales and marketing activities. The Group strongly believes the internet will help inform consumers about the value and technology of a PEV, but that nothing can replace a test drive to demonstrate the satisfying, fun driving experience thatPEVs offer.

6.2.1 Create Tools to Help Consumers Understand PEV Value Proposition

The value proposition PEVs provide includes tangible operational cost savings such as lower fuel and maintenance costs throughout the vehicle's lifetime. In the short term, however, consumers may find non-financial benefits more valuable, like the driving experience or the statement driving a PEV conveys. Since consumers attain most of their information about vehicles online, stakeholders should cooperate on unbiased web tools that accurately communicate the PEV value proposition.

Unless businesses or the government offer financing schemes to lower the upfront cost of vehicles in the near term beyond tax credits already in place, consumers will need to estimate these cost savings over time (i.e., TCO) to determine if a PEV is practical for them, financiallyspeaking. Consumers will also need help in understanding PEVs' technical capabilities and limitations, the environmental and energy security benefits of electric driving, and the available public and private financial incentives.

Web-based tools could help consumers understand the value proposition of PEVs including PHEVs or EREVs versus BEVs. The tools could provide personalized results based on location, driving patterns, and local motor fuel and electricity prices, including special PEV electricity rates where applicable.A TCO tool could calculate fuel costs and estimate maintenance costs based on these inputs. The tools could also customize results based on consumers' interest in environmental protection and energy security. Results from these tools could include monetary, environmental, and energy security impacts of driving a PEV compared to a conventional or alternative vehicle.

Figure 6‑1: Consumer web tools developed by NGOs,automakers, electric utilities, PEV service providers, and other businesses to estimate a personalized TCO and other factors that make up the PEV value proposition.

Location, Driving Patterns, Local Motor Fuel & Electricity Prices, Qualitative Factors in a cluster group lead to PEV Valu Proposition (including TCO and other benefits)

Current Examples

The EPA's fuel economy label for PEVs provides generic information for consumers regarding fuel savings, smog rating, and greenhouse gas rating ( provides acost calculator that indicates what consumers could save by driving a PEV ( The TCO calculator portion of the web tool proposed in the Action Plan would build off this calculator by:

In sum, the Group proposes developing a toolthat would result in cost estimates with greater accuracy and provide consumers with a better sense of the total PEV value proposition than consumers can find now.

6.2.2 Close the PEV Technology Information Gap

The technological differences between PEVs and conventional vehicles warrant concerted actions by automakers, NGOs, electric utilities, PEV service providers, auto dealers, other businesses, and government to educate consumers. The information gap that currently exists is substantial; a major education effort by public and private entities can create a bridge from conventional vehicles to these advanced alternative vehicles.

The focus of an effort to close the technology information gap should be to increase PEV publicity, develop web tools on PEV technology, and improve stakeholder outreach. The tactics should involve work that is both online and offline. While consumers obtain most of their information about vehicles online, there is no replacing test drives and other valuable hands-on experiences.

Online Tools

Stakeholders should develop engaging and sophisticated web tools to educate consumers about the difference between PHEVs, EREVs, BEVs, other alternative vehicles, and conventional vehicles. Focus areas should include the vehicle drivetrain, refueling method, manufacturing process, maintenance process, driving experience, vehicle range, and a method to evaluate a PEV's ability to satisfy existing driving needs.Interactive tools that harness the latest web technology can more easily teach consumers about complex topics than reading materials or television commercials.

Offline Efforts

Figure 6‑2 provides an overview of the offline actions that will increase PEV publicity and enhance stakeholder collaboration. The actions below are already happening in areas where automakers are introducing PEVs. For example, General Motors and its auto dealers have collaborated with electric utilities and local government to ensure a smooth introduction of the Chevrolet Volt. For these vehicles to be successful nationwide, similar activities must be replicated appropriately.

Figure 6‑2: Steps byNGOs, automakers, auto dealers, electric utilities,PEV service providers, otherbusinesses, and local government to bridge the PEV technology information gap for consumers.

Increase PEV Publicity

  • Test drive events
  • Exhibits at auto shows, shopping malls, science museums, city centers
  • Publicize independent consumer guides for PEVs
  • Local advertising & media outreach

Enhance Stakeholder Collaboration

  • PEV service providers & utilities inform customers about rate packages, incentives, & infrastructure upgrades
  • PEV service providers, utilities, & local government inform consumers about home EVSE installation process.
  • Automakers & auto dealers provide accurate message about PEV capabilities

Current Examples

The Action Plan builds off the programs illustrated below relying on technology-neutral information and in-person events. The proposed actions will provide consumers with additional unbiased information and hands-on experience.

Updated: 10/20/2015
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000