The Prius is an emblem of the environmentally aware upper middle class, and at this point, electric vehicle purchases are mostly limited to early adopters who have the cash to experiment with an entirely new kind of vehicle. And according to a report (PDF) from the Greenlining Institute, cost and lack of consumer education may shut low-income communities and communities of color (specifically in California) out of the electric vehicle revolution--even though these communities are in dire need of the cleaner air that comes along with having fewer gasoline-fueled cars on the road.
The report presents a number of obvious yet unsettling statistics: 70% of hybrid owners in California are white, even though Californians of color are more concerned about air pollution than whites; 20% of hybrid owners are Latino and even fewer are African-American--even though the overall state population is 60% non-white. An impressive 92% of residents who buy EVs in the state have an income of $75,000 or higher.
This is all largely because of a lack of consumer education, at least among minorities. "There’s the message and there’s the messenger," said C.C. Song, lead author of the report, in an interview with Capitol Weekly. "The marketing just doesn’t reach to these communities. People of color, growing up, the cool cars are the Mercedes, the Lexus." For many of these potential customers, it's not about a lack of income--Latinos, for example, increasingly represent California's middle class. Even though 39% of California residents are Latino, the group makes up just 19% of hybrid buyers.
A couple of relevant papers on this subject by Matt Kahn:
"Green Market Geography: The Spatial Clustering of Hybrid Vehicles and LEED Registered Buildings"The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Volume 9, Issue 2 (1999)
"Do greens drive Hummers or hybrids? Environmental ideology as a determinant of consumer choice"Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Volume 54, Issue 2 (2007)