At the dawn of the automotive age, car makers faced a massive challenge. They had to convince consumers that their new contraptions were not, in fact, instruments of the devil. Early attitudes toward cars were often negative. Cars were seen as a menace on the streets. They mowed down innocent pedestrians. They scared horses. They blocked streetcars. Their drivers were careless maniacs out for thrills at the expense of law-abiding society.
Eventually, attitudes changed and America entered into a decades-long love affair with the automobile. Those feelings may have cooled a bit in the age of dwindling resources, expensive gas and environmental concerns, but Americans still love their cars. Now, as automakers and consumers begin the inevitable transition toward alternative and electric fuel vehicles the industry is facing another perception problem.
A recent survey by Consumer Reports finds that as electrics and plug-in hybrids continue to enter the market, 87 percent of consumers have some sort of concern about them. By far the biggest issue in the minds of potential customers is the range issue, with 77 percent of respondents saying it is a concern for them.
The remaining concerns in the survey centered around safety, led by fire risk during home charging (42 percent concerned). While there have been a couple of cases of home fires, such tragedies have been extremely rare.
Pedestrian safety due to silent operation (40 percent concerned) has been discussed for years, as some hybrid models can motor at low speeds in pure EV mode. Auto manufacturers can alleviate this risk, as the Nissan Leaf has done, by emitting external sounds broadcast via speakers or other means to alert pedestrians.