Electric vehicles have always been pegged as A Woman Thing. Back in the early 1900s, early EV prototypes were a hit with women because they were easier to start than brute-force combustion engines. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, women flocked to hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or first-generation EVs like the Toyota RAV4 EV. So why have women stopped buying electrified vehicles now?
I ran across a startling tweet from Geraldine Herbert earlier today that claimed women are four times less likely to buy an EV or a hybrid than men and that this gap is continuing to grow. I’d never heard that stat before, and while it seemed almost unbelievable, I could also understand where there might be truth in it.
So, I fired up the Google machine and got to searching.
The Original Demographics
Much of the shock about the aforementioned statistic is the fact that women have consistently been pegged as being a great market for electric vehicles. Historical precedent marked some of the world’s first EVs as a great fit for women, but future demographical projections continued to drive home that same point. Why?
One study titled “Potential Early Adopters of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in Spain—Towards a Customer Profile” noted that women may be likely early adopters of EVs because of their “generally higher level of environmental awareness.” This study also argued, though, that both men and women are equally prone to EV adoption, since there’s no evidence of a gender gap. The bigger determining factor here is the fact that any EV adopters would be of a higher income bracket.
There’s a fascinating caveat here, though. This study notes that, while automakers should prioritize attracting female consumers right from the start, marketing would have to quickly pivot to attracting a male customer.
Another study titled “Understanding the role of emotions in consumer adoption of electric vehicles: the mediating effect of perceived value” analyzes just that: the emotional impact of buying an electric vehicle. While the study’s focus is on China and the cultural associations of pride and guilt, it still found that women took into consideration other emotional concerns.
Yet another study, “Are electric vehicles masculinized? Gender, identity, and environmental values in Nordic transport practices and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) preferences,” argues that women generally have a preference for safety and environmental friendliness while they don’t care quite as much about acceleration, power, or sound. So, even though Nordic men are more likely to buy a car in general, women are more likely to buy an electric car.
It’s a fascinating literature review, in large part because most of these articles begin with gendered assumptions. Women are more sensitive to environmental concerns than men; therefore, we can assume that they would be more interested in EVs. And when survey questions are framed in that light, they can lead to the answers researchers have expected.
There’s one study that defies those assumptions. Titled “Who will buy electric vehicles? Identifying early adopters in Germany,” this study reveals that the most likely demographic of EV buyers are “middle-aged men with technical professions living in rural or suburban multi-person households.”
They continue, “They own a large share of vehicles in general, are more likely to profit from the economical benefits of these vehicles due to their annual vehicle kilometres travelled and the share of inner-city driving. They state a higher willingness to buy electric vehicles than other potential adopter groups and their higher socio-economic status allows them to purchase EVs.”
Suddenly, that gendered dynamic has been flipped on its head.
The BuyACar Report
That brings us to Geraldine Herbert’s tweet and the BuyACar report that found women are four times less likely to buy an EV than men.
The way Herbert has reported that stat is a little misleading. The press release from BuyACar actually reads, “despite women forming a much higher proportion of customers on the site than in traditional dealerships, they are four times less likely to buy an electric vehicle (EV) or a hybrid car online than men - and the gap is widening.”
That phrasing is a little unclear, but to clarify: BuyACar, an online shopping site, admits that most women do their car shopping in person at dealerships, so it’s also already unlikely that women will be using its service to buy an EV. This doesn’t mean, however, that BuyACar is saying women are more likely to buy EVs, specifically, in person; rather, they just shop in person.
Here’s a little more from the survey:
Data from BuyaCar sister company, the specialist EV news and advice website DrivingElectric.com also confirms EVs as cars predominantly researched by men. Analysis of hundreds of thousands of site visitors reveals a readership that consists of 75% men.
Since mid-summer men have represented 80% of buyers for used EVs on BuyaCar and 78% of hybrid sales - despite women representing almost half of BuyaCar’s customers.
BuyaCar analysts say that this suggests that the balance in EV and hybrid adoption has tipped even further towards men compared with the first six months of the year.
But the gender split between sales of EVs and hybrids has widened this year. During the first six months of 2021 men bought 68.8% of EVs offered on BuyaCar.co.uk and 65.4% of hybrids.
BuyaCar editor Christofer Lloyd hypothesizes that men are often higher spenders, so this could account for the gender disparity. At the same time, he also notes that many EVs market their novelty tech (which appeals more to men) and miss out on everyday practicality (which appeals more to women). Whatever the case, Lloyd notes that it’s a bit of a disturbing trend.
Women Stop Using EVs At Higher Rates, Too
After reading the BuyaCar report, I went hunting to see if I could find any other studies that have reported on similar gendered EV trends and found a study called “Understanding discontinuance among California’s electric vehicle owners” which was published in the Nature Energy journal. The study found that 20 percent of plug-in hybrid owners and 18 percent of EV owners stopped using their cars for a variety of reasons — one of which is the fact that those drivers weren’t male.
Like the study about early EV adopters in Germany, this study found that middle-aged men with higher income and higher education were more likely to buy and drive an electric car than anyone else.
This study found that the biggest factor that turned people off EVs was convenience. If it was a pain in the ass to charge a car, they didn’t want to use it. So, the people who stopped using EVs usually didn’t have at-home chargers, and most people who stuck with EVs only used their at-home chargers.
It also found a few other bits of information:
- People were less likely to stop using an EV if they had more vehicles at home
- People who kept EVs had better access to chargers
- People whose other cars had great fuel economy were more likely to keep their EVs
- Men are 54.2 percent less likely to stop using EVs
- People with longer commutes are more likely to keep their EV, but if they took frequent 200 mile or greater road trips, those people were less likely to keep their EV
The study couldn’t, however, explain why women were less likely to buy an EV than their male counterparts or why, once they bought one, why they were more likely to get rid of it.
So, What’s The Deal?
Right now, there aren’t any scientifically-backed answers as to why women are less likely to buy and keep EVs than men.
But I think we can extrapolate on the Nature Energy journal’s data to try to find an explanation.
- Women may buy more cars than men, but men are more likely to own multiple cars — which could help build off the study’s finding that the more cars a person owns, the more likely they are to buy and keep an EV.
- There are more female drivers than male drivers on the road, but women drive less — which could help explain the statistic that found people who drive more, especially on their commutes, are more likely to buy and keep an EV.
- One study in Australia found that women drivers are less fuel-efficient than men due to the distance and type of driving they do — and the study in Nature Energy found that people who owned more fuel-efficient cars were more likely to opt for an EV. (This is an especially interesting fact since women are more likely to pay attention to fuel economy when shopping for a car than men.)
These concerns only paint part of the picture, though. It’s likely that there’s a whole host of other factors that come into play that are harder to quantify and largely have to do with the gendered experience of culture and society. It’s totally possible, for example, that women feel uncomfortable buying EVs because they feel uncomfortable dealing with long charge times at charging points that can be poorly lit or remote.
Men, too, are more likely to make “extreme” decisions than women, which could translate into men being more willing to adopt a new form of vehicle technology than women. Men are also more likely to buy luxury cars, and EVs remain more expensive than gas-powered cars. And women still play a smaller role in car design than men.
Interestingly, Tesla culture may also play a role in excluding women. Men are more likely to invest in and buy Teslas than women, possibly in part because Tesla perpetuates a very Silicon Valley tech-bro mindset that features a very hostile attitude toward women.
Right now, though, all of this is speculation. It’s up to researchers to determine exactly why EVs haven’t held much appeal for female consumers, and it’s up to car companies to start building electric cars that appeal to women.