US EV incentives should target gasoline 'superusers'

Thinktank argues that the biggest gains can be made by targeting the largest individual consumers

US EV incentives should target gasoline 'superusers'
'Superusers' consume over a third of gasoline used by private LDVs in the US

EV incentives could be laser focused on so-called gasoline "superusers", defined as the top 10pc of US gasoline consumers, according to a report from US non-profit Coltura.

These superusers consume 40bn of the 115bn gallons of gasoline used annually by all US private light-duty vehicles (LDVs), research by Coltura found.

A superuser switching to an EV would displaces on average 5.3 times as much gasoline as a non-superuser switching, with the result that many fewer total shifts to EVs would be required to achieve climate targets.

The Biden administration has set a target to cut emissions from all sources by 50-52pc from 2005 levels by 2030, meaning gasoline use must fall by 50pc by 2030 for the road transport sector to contribute to its share of the target.

Cutting US gasoline use in half would require 79mn drivers switching to EVs if the biggest gasoline users switched first, versus 191mn drivers if the biggest gasoline users switched last.

Bottom-up approach

Rather than using top-down methods to calculate gasoline consumption from refinery outputs as the government currently does, the Coltura report is based on bottom-up data based on consumer behaviour. Such an approach enables better targeting of policies, the thinktank argues.

“By finding census blocks with the highest concentrations of superusers policymakers could target outreach in those areas,” says Janelle London, co-executive director of Coltura. “When people go to apply for the incentive its then easy to verify if they are a superuser or not by their vehicle model and odometer readings.”

Another way to target the incentive would be through outreach to particular occupations which tend to have high concentrations of superusers, such as construction workers or rural healthcare workers. 

Policymakers would likely have to establish education programmes regarding the better economics of running an EV, and find ways to overcome the barrier of higher upfront costs when compared to gasoline vehicles.

“People are getting a steady stream of negative press about EVs and the message on the financial benefits has not landed yet," says Matthew Metz, founder and co-executive director of Coltura.

One way to help sell that message would be to offer loans for EV purchases with the monthly costs of loan payments offset by savings on gasoline. Policymakers should also consider targeting states with less anti-EV sentiment and less dense areas with better likelihood of home charging capabilities.

“Using the data, we could narrow it down to a subset of superusers that have the fewest issues with adopting EVs,” says London.

The Coltura research found that 86pc of superusers still drive on average fewer than 150 miles/day — a distance well within the range of modern EVs.  Nevertheless, charging infrastructure could also be better targeted to areas with higher concentrations of superusers to support deployment. 

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No governments around the world are yet using granular gasoline consumption data as a metric for policymaking, Coltura says, despite the clear environmental benefits.

Nor is the superuser concept unique to the US. For example, a report this month from UK NGO New Automotive reached similar conclusions to the Coltura report, finding that 5pc of UK drivers account for 18pc of total miles travelled in the UK.

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