Young, affluent drivers buy these cars

Sales of battery-based vehicles have lagged well behind industry expectations, but there's a silver lining for manufacturers: Buyers of these vehicles are younger and more affluent than drivers who purchase comparable gas-powered models.

A Ford Focus electric concept car with a home charging unit on display at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 15, 2013.
Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images
A Ford Focus electric concept car with a home charging unit on display at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 15, 2013.

But for many drivers, going green wasn't the only reason to choose electric. According to research by auto data firm TrueCar.com, many electric vehicle buyers were attracted by the deals being offered by such manufacturers as Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda as they try to build momentum in the category.

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Federal and state subsidies, which can amount to as much as $10,000, also play a role.

"EV buyers are affluent deal-seekers," said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar.

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The Ford Focus offers a bit of insight into the divide between traditional and electric car owners. A typical buyer of the model's conventional, gasoline-powered vehicle is 46 years old and has a household income of $77,000. The Focus Electric, however, is typically purchased by a 43-year-old with a household income of $199,000.

That pattern repeats itself across the industry, according to TrueCar. Buyers of the electric Fiat 500e average 45 years of age and have a household income of $145,000. That's twice the money of a conventional Fiat 500 buyers—and two years younger, on average.

For the U.S. auto industry on the whole, the typical buyer is 52 years old with an $86,000 household income, Krafcik said.

Based on the manufacturer suggested retail price, battery-based vehicles typically cost more than comparable gas models. But that gap is closing as manufacturers drive down the cost of the green technology—and often swallow much of the premium in order to boost demand.

Not all battery-car buyers are looking for a bargain, however. Tesla has never run incentives on its Model S sedan, which can cost upwards of $100,000.