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Individual Benefits of Rural Vehicle Electrification

EVs offer numerous benefits to individual vehicle owners and businesses, including lower operating and maintenance costs, the ability to charge vehicles in a variety of locations, increasing range of vehicle options available, and the ability to provide a backup power source during outages or natural disasters. 

Lower Vehicle Fuel and Maintenance Costs

Although EVs have a higher purchase price than similar gasoline- or diesel-fueled vehicles, their lower maintenance and fuel costs can yield significant savings for as long as an EV is owned. For most vehicle owners, these fuel and maintenance savings will more than make up for the higher purchase price and result in a lower total cost of ownership. Moreover, some automakers project the up-front costs of EVs will continue to decrease, reaching purchase price parity with conventional vehicles around 2025 to 2030

Concept image of a vehicle's battery being recharged by regenerative braking.
Electric vehicles utilize regenerative braking, which allows the vehicle to recapture energy that is otherwise lost in braking. (Agaten/stock.adobe.com image)

EVs take advantage of the inherent high -efficiency of electric motors, making the average EV 3.6 times more energy efficient than a similar conventional vehicle. EVs also utilize regenerative braking, which allows the vehicle to recapture energy that is otherwise lost in braking. Because EVs operate at much higher efficiency than conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles, they use far less energy and, considering the lower cost of electricity compared to gasoline, have substantially lower operating costs.

Fuel economy of EVs is typically measured in miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe), which represents the number of miles a vehicle can travel using a quantity of fuel with the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline (33 kilowatt-hours [kWh]). Most light-duty BEVs and PHEVs in electric mode can exceed 130 MPGe and can drive 100 miles consuming only 25–40 kWh. At the same time, EVs generally perform better than their conventional counterparts, with higher acceleration, better towing capacity, and smoother speed transitions, due to the fact that electric motors generate full torque at all revolutions per minute (RPMs) and EVs do not need a transmission.

While the cost of charging will depend on the cost of electricity in particular areas, the high fuel economy of EVs leads to lower fueling costs compared to gasoline or diesel vehicles. For example, the electricity required to drive an EV 15,000 miles in a year costs an average of $546, while the gasoline required to drive the same distance averages $1,255, representing a savings of over $700 per year.

Argonne National Laboratory’s EVolution tool allows users to compare the expected fuel usage and costs of specific EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles based on gas and electricity prices in a given area. Lower fuel costs are especially beneficial in rural areas, where residents drive on average 10 more miles per day than urban residents in vehicles that are, on average, larger and less fuel efficient. Largely due to these factors, rural drivers ultimately spend 44 percent more on gasoline and motor oil than urban drivers

Rural drivers who switch to an EV could potentially save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs over the vehicle’s lifetime. In addition to fuel savings, average maintenance and repair costs for an EV are up to 50 percent lower than a conventional vehicle, as EVs are free of many vehicle components that require regular maintenance (e.g., engine oil, spark plugs, air filter, transmission fluid). The use of regenerative braking also reduces brake maintenance costs. 

Altogether, these cost savings are particularly important for rural households for which transportation is a larger part of the household budget, as seen in the below table. Rural drivers who switch to an EV could potentially save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.

Average Annual Transportation Expenditures of Urban and Rural Households

The below table shows the average annual transportation expenditures of urban and rural households in 2020. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  Urban Rural
Mean annual household transportation expenditure $9,822 $9,866
Transportation share of all annual household expenditures 15.7% 20.0%

Readily Available Fueling Infrastructure 

An electric vehicle recharges at a curbside public charger situated near shops and restaurants.EVs can be charged at home, as well as at workplaces, public facilities, grocery stores, and other locations that offer parking with EV chargers.

While EV charging takes longer than refueling a vehicle with gasoline, convenient at-home and workplace charging is sufficient to support most rural travel and eliminates the need to drive to a gas station that may be far away, saving time and money.

In fact, more than 80 percent of EV drivers rely on home charging. Detached single-family residences with off-street parking and readily available standard power outlet access are common in rural areas and can easily accommodate EV charging.

For longer trips, the growing number of publicly available fast-charging stations can provide a near-full charge (80 percent) in under an hour. Additionally, owners of public or private vehicle fleets can establish EV charging infrastructure for business use at their own office locations or fleet depots. Charging stations will become even more accessible to drivers in all parts of the country as Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding becomes available.

Vehicle Options

The number of EV models for sale in the United States is growing at a rapid pace. In 2010, there was only one EV model on the market, while by 2019, that number had grown to 72 models (see the below figure).

Electric Vehicle Model Offerings, 2010 to 2019. There was 1 EV model available in 2010, 2 models available in 2011, 6 models in 2012, 15 models in 2013, 16 models in 2014, 27 models in 2015, 29 models in 2016, 51 models in 2017, 57 models in 2018, and 72 models in 2019.
Light-duty electric vehicle models by year. EVs include BEVs and PHEVs. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center)

The expanding EV marketplace includes a wide array of vehicle types and styles, including cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks, at price points ranging from entry level to luxury models. This is in addition to a steeply growing number of options for PHEVs and electric motorcycles.

Full-size pickup trucks are the top-selling vehicles in States with large rural populations, whereas smaller cars and compact SUVs are most popular in highly urban States. Increased availability of full-size BEV pickup trucks starting in 2022 will provide rural drivers EV technology in familiar and favored vehicle platforms.

For information on available EV models, see the DOE Alternative Fuel and Advanced Vehicle Search tool as well as the car finder page at Fueleconomy.gov.

Resilience and Power on the Go

While the amount of time that an EV could offer backup power depends on the battery size, at least one new forthcoming model could power a house for up to 3 days based on daily average usage of 30 kWh.Some EVs can themselves serve as a power source for electrical tools, equipment, and lighting for commercial and recreational purposes. When coupled with bidirectional chargers, EV batteries can even power homes during blackouts and extreme weather events in place of diesel generators.

While the amount of time that an EV could offer backup power depends on the size of the battery, at least one new forthcoming model could power a house for up to three days based on daily average usage of 30 kWh. Several automakers are planning to release EVs with bidirectional charging capability beginning in 2022.

EVs can be complementary to residential renewable energy generation like rooftop solar by providing battery storage capacity, acting as a backup power source for homes and potentially selling energy back to the grid at high-demand times.

E-Bikes: Electric Mobility for Short Trips in Small Towns and Adjoining Rural Areas

A senior couple riding electric bikes in a wooded area.“Electric micromobility” refers to small, low-speed personal vehicles such as electric bikes (e-bikes) and electric scooters, typically with an electric range of dozens rather than hundreds of miles.

Since many trips in small towns and adjoining rural areas are short trips, and since e-bikes can plug into any 120V outlet (Level 1 charging), rural communities can immediately benefit from e-bikes even before they significantly invest in EVSE for electric passenger cars and trucks. 

E-bikes can play a role in giving rural residents and visitors a new, fun, realistic choice for short trips, including trips on unpaved roads and, depending on local regulations, paths and trails. E-bikes or scooters can also provide first- and last-mile connections to transit or intermodal transportation facilities for longer trips.

Simple Level 1 chargers can be provided next to secure parking and bike repair tools at these facilities so that e-bikes are charged and ready for riders to use on their return trip. Depending on the community, bikeshare stations like those in rural Ohio, Kansas, or Alabama could also be rolled out to help residents, especially those unable to afford an e-bike, to make short trips between retail, school, medical, and other destinations. 

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Last updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2022