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The people most interested in electric vehicles can't afford to buy them


Automakers are betting on the rise of electric vehicles, even though some of the people most interested in buying them cannot afford them yet - young people, those under 40. NPR's Camila Domonoske takes a look at this enthusiasm age gap.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Let's start with someone who is way under 40.

AVI AARON: Avi (ph).

ROG: And I'm Rog (ph).

DOMONOSKE: Meet Avi Aaron (ph) and his dad, Rog. A few years ago, Rog was driving when Avi, then in preschool, piped up from the back seat.

ROG: He said, is this a Tesla? And I said, no, it's a Camry.

DOMONOSKE: OK, Avi said, but it's electric, right?

ROG: I said, no, it's a Camry, and it uses gas.

DOMONOSKE: If you think that was the end of the conversation, you probably don't know any pre-schoolers.

ROG: Kept on asking, like, shouldn't we drive an electric car? Why don't we drive an electric car?

DOMONOSKE: OK. This is obviously an extreme example of the generational divide on electric vehicles. But the divide is real. It shows up in poll after poll. People under 40 are more likely to want to go electric, but people over 40 are more likely to actually buy a new car, especially a pricey one, like an electric vehicle. Is that a conundrum for the auto industry? Matt Jones with the auto pricing site TrueCar says maybe not.

MATT JONES: We're not living only in today. We have to think about what's coming up next.

DOMONOSKE: Think about what's coming up in, say, 2035 when California and New York will start requiring all new vehicles to be zero emission.

JONES: Because as we get to the time around 2035, these people who, you know, we're calling youngsters now are not necessarily going to be so young.

DOMONOSKE: In short, he argues, as automakers are ramping up production, these electric vehicle fans will be growing up into prime car buying age. Meanwhile, data show that interest in electric vehicles is rising and not just among young people.

SHELLEY FRANCIS: It's more so just kind of across the spectrum.

DOMONOSKE: Shelley Francis runs a consulting group called EVNoire and talks to both automakers and drivers. She says when gas prices went up this summer, she got a lot of questions like...

FRANCIS: You guys work in an electric vehicle space. Like, tell me more about how I can save money because these gas prices are killing me.

DOMONOSKE: And drivers young and old care about gas prices. There are big challenges as automakers try to take electric vehicles from a few percent of sales to most of the auto market. They need materials. Charging infrastructure is a hurdle. Prices need to come down. But this age gap, it's not a major concern to the industry, as young people get older and older people get more interested in electric vehicles. Consider the Aaron family. I asked Avi, who's now 7, what the family drives today.

AVI: A Poleystar (ph).

DOMONOSKE: Polestar - that's a Volvo spinoff, and...

AVI: It's an electric car.

DOMONOSKE: And his grandparents, they now drive a Kia Niro and a Nissan Leaf - both all-electric.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.