Rural Americans can save a significant amount of money and play a crucial role in reducing emissions by transitioning to electric vehicles. The transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Given the considerable distances that rural light vehicle drivers have to cover, they present an outsized opportunity for reducing emissions and addressing long-standing economic disparities in the countryside.

RCP grantees Coltura and Climate Nexus released new research this month that highlights how a rural transition to electric vehicles (EVs) can create significant climate and economic benefits. 

Coltura’s new Country Crossroads report highlights the big impacts of, and opportunities for, rural drivers. With limited public transit and longer driving distances, rural America currently relies heavily on gasoline. Top rural drivers, representing just 3.6% of the U.S. population, consume nearly as much or more gas than the entire gasoline use of Russia, India, Japan, or Canada. This means helping a relatively small number of rural drivers switch to EVs could have enormous climate benefits while also addressing economic inequities. 

A disproportionate number of these top drivers is based in rural areas. 

Coltura calls the top 10% of American drivers “Superusers” because they consume a whopping 35% of U.S. light-duty vehicle gasoline. A disproportionate number of these top drivers is based in rural areas. 36% of Superusers live in rural places, despite rural Americans only representing 18% of the U.S. population.

Rural Superusers can save an estimated $4,000 a year on fuel costs by switching to EVs. 

Switching to EVs can create substantial cost savings for rural drivers. Many families in our nation’s countryside have a heavy gasoline burden that consumes large portions of their monthly budgets. Rural Superusers who make below the U.S. median income spend 25% of their income on transportation costs alone. Coltura estimates that rural Superusers can save $4,000 a year on fuel costs by switching to EVs. These cost savings are all the more significant because rural drivers, on average, are lower-income than their non-rural counterparts. The switch to an EV can allow these rural drivers to put their hard-earned money towards other household expenses.

If all rural Superusers switched to EVs, rural drivers could help save an estimated 12.5 billion gallons of gasoline each year. 

Rural drivers switching to EVs can also have a substantial emissions reduction impact. If all rural Superusers switched to EVs, rural drivers could help save an estimated 12.5 billion gallons of gasoline and 76 million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions each year.

Complementing Coltura’s research, Climate Nexus has found that rural people have a significant appetite for EVs. Interest grows especially strong when rural drivers are presented with helpful information about EVs shared by trusted local messengers.  

EV outreach, education, and marketing to rural folks in the market for a new vehicle can help these drivers see the benefits of switching. In a survey conducted by Climate Nexus, when rural pickup truck drivers were provided information about the higher torque and lower lifetime costs of EV trucks, even skeptical rural drivers shifted their attitudes considerably in favor of the EV option.

When provided with information about the higher torque and lower lifetime costs of EV trucks, even skeptical rural drivers shifted their attitudes considerably in favor of the EV option.

It’s crucial to deliver relevant information on EVs using trusted local messengers who can cut through culture war and partisan divides on the topic. Climate Nexus found that EV messaging from other rural folks is much more effective than the same messaging from non-rural and non-local sources. 

The Rural Climate Partnership is excited to continue supporting efforts to help more rural drivers realize cost savings, performance enhancements, and emissions reductions from switching to EVs. 

To learn more about the research we supported with Coltura and Climate Nexus, see the recording from our recent webinar held on May 15, 2024: The Road Ahead: A Briefing on Transitioning Rural America to Electric Vehicles.

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