Alternative Car Fuels Still Confuse Drivers

We talked recently about how people feel regarding the choice of gas vehicles versus vehicles powered by alternative means, such as hybrids or  electric vehicles. For the most part, it seems, people are interested in and supportive of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), but when it comes down to making a purchase, they stick with gas. The Opinion Research Corporation, who conducted a recent survey of 1,006 people on the matter with funding from Johnson Controls, says that this ambivalence about making the switch is due largely in part to confusion.

For example, 45% of those surveyed felt they did not have enough options when it came to hybrid vehicles, while 39% were completely unaware of the differences between types of AFVs, such as the difference between a hybrid vehicle and a Start-Stop vehicle. This means that until more education about AFVs is implemented, we might not see a change in vehicle buying habits for a long time.

Chevrolet Volt, Chevy Volt, GM, Hybrids, Plug-In Hybrids, Batteries

image via General Motors

Another challenge is the issue of price, or rather, the perception of price. Even with gas prices at $4 per gallon in some places, the survey shows that while 75% of car owners would consider fuel-efficiency to be an important factor, only 20% of car owners would actually consider buying a hybrid or electric vehicle, despite the long-term financial benefits of such a purchase. Only when gas prices begin to climb upwards of $4 per gallon do the statistics begin to change in favor of AFVs, with the biggest increases seen in Start-Stop and hybrid vehicles.

For the purpose of this survey, the four main vehicle technology categories included, according to Johnson Controls, were:

  • Internal Combustion: Gasoline-powered internal combustion engines are expected to continue to become increasingly more fuel-efficient.
  • Start-Stop: With minimal change to the vehicle system and a modest price premium, Start-Stop technology allows the engine to be turned off during stops such as traffic lights (similar to a feature of full hybrid vehicles) and automatically restart again when the driver engages the clutch or steps on the gas, thereby reducing emissions and providing fuel saving of 5-12%.  Widely used across Europe, vehicles with Start-Stop technology are slated to come to the U.S. market in 2012.  Of the car owners surveyed, 28 percent would consider purchasing a Start-Stop vehicle when shopping for a new car.
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicle: By using two different sources of traction power (such as a gasoline engine paired with a high voltage battery), the technology maximizes the overall vehicle-efficiency.  There are different degrees of hybrid functionality ranging from mild to full to plug-in, each of with greater levels of fuel economy performance, ranging from 15-50 percent. Nearly 40 percent of the drivers surveyed would consider purchasing a hybrid vehicle when shopping for a new car.
  • Electric Vehicle (EV): All electric driving requires an advanced lithium-ion battery with more energy and power. The potential fuel economy improvement of EVs is infinite.  About 20 percent would consider purchasing an EV when shopping for a new car.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.

    • I agree, one of the reasons AFV’s aren’t more popular is because people aren’t informed and therefore aren’t comfortable in wanting to buy one. Is this reluctance or apathy? We need new fuel alternatives because until we WANT to change we will always be dependent on oil.