a "gas" cap cover with an electric plug symbol
Credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

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A majority of Massachusetts voters say they are likely to buy an electric vehicle in the next five years, according to a new scientific poll conducted for two clean energy organizations. The results suggest a faster timeline is feasible for phasing out the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles in the state, advocates said.  

“Consumers have expectations that [electric vehicles] are going to be here very quickly for the mass market,” said Larry Chretien, executive director of Green Energy Consumers Alliance, a Boston-based nonprofit that partnered on the poll. “And they are supportive of policies that can get us there quicker.”

The poll, a joint endeavor of Chretien’s organization and Seattle-based clean energy activist group Coltura, was conducted as part of a broader effort to assess attitudes toward the adoption of electric vehicles nationwide as well as in 10 states: New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Hawaii. Climate Nexus Polling, in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, conducted the survey.

The Massachusetts results, based on responses from 347 registered voters in the state between Oct. 12-18, 2021, paint a picture of a population very willing to embrace the electrification of passenger cars. Perhaps the most telling number, Chretien said, is the 56% of respondents who said they are likely to buy an electric vehicle within five years. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 6%.

Electric vehicle adoption in the state has been somewhat sluggish so far. Currently, fewer than 40,000 of the more than 5 million vehicles registered in Massachusetts are electric. The state’s decarbonization roadmap says 1 million zero-emission vehicles will need to be on the road by 2030 to keep emissions reductions on track. It also has a goal of making all new cars sold in the state electric by 2035.

Chretien is optimistic that the state can not just meet but exceed those targets, eliminating gas car sales as soon as 2030. 

“The public is far ahead of those numbers that are determining how we’re going to get to our carbon reduction goals,” Chretien said. “I think the crowd will be moving towards finding an EV when they need a car.”

The survey questions regarding what consumers know about electric vehicle operations and maintenance offer another reason for optimism, he said. About half the respondents did not know it costs less to run an electric vehicle than it does to power a car with gas. And only 36% of those surveyed were aware that it costs significantly less to maintain and repair an electric vehicle than it does to keep a gas-powered car on the road. 

These results, coupled with generally positive attitudes toward electric vehicles, suggest more concerted efforts at public education could remove obstacles that have some potential buyers hesitating, Chretien noted. 

The state will need to remove even more barriers, however, before electric vehicle adoption can truly take off, advocates agree. 

The Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles incentive program, which provides a rebate of $2,500 on the purchase of new battery electric vehicles, will need to be extended for another three or four years to encourage more early adopters to make the move to electric, Chretien said. The program should also offer higher paybacks to low- and moderate-income buyers and make the rebate effective at the time of sale, helping more people manage the upfront cost, said Jordan Stutt, director of carbon programs at the Acadia Center. Allowing pre-owned electric vehicles to qualify for rebates would make it easier for even more drivers to leave gas behind, said Veena Dharmaraj, director of transportation for the Massachusetts Sierra Club. 

Battery life and vehicle range are among the most common concerns for car shoppers, said Robert O’Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association. Improvements in technology will help ease this worry, he said, but more charging stations are also essential. Dharmaraj agreed.

“Charging stations will need to be as common as gas stations,” she said. “We need to be identifying state routes, highways, and other high traffic areas that are a priority for public charging station installations.”

If these measures are implemented, Massachusetts is well-positioned for a surge in electric vehicle ownership, advocates said. And the combination of existing attitudes and positive policy changes could make it feasible to reach adoption targets even ahead of current schedules. 

“As we get closer to 2035, it will feel easier and easier to hit that target and make it more ambitious,” Stutt said.

Sarah Shemkus

Sarah is a longtime journalist who covers business, technology, sustainability, and the places they all meet. She has covered the workings of small-town government in New Hampshire, the doings of alleged swindlers and con men, and the minutiae of local food systems. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Boston Globe, TheAtlantic.com, Slate, and other publications. Sarah covers the state of Massachusetts.