Poll: Americans Warm Up Slightly To Pure Electric Cars

Of about 440,000 battery driven vehicles sold in the United States last year, roughly 50,000 of those are considered pure electric vehicles, or that is to say, those that don’t meld an electric motor with a gas engine for a combined fuel economy. Though this number of electric cars sounds impressive, noted a major research firm recently, you have to put it in perspective  – roughly 14.5 new million cars and trucks were sold in the same period in total, which amounts to the electrics having about 0.3 percent. That’s not especially awe inspiring.

Still, said Harris Interactive, “with more and more manufacturers producing battery-propelled vehicles of one kind or another, and fuel prices showing no sign of falling, many anticipate continued growth for the sector.” To find out actually how consumers feel about pure electrics versus other vehicle types, it recently did its magic polling process and found that “consideration has been on the rise over recent years for traditional hybrids, while other electric car segments – though showing points of growth – have been more sporadic in their gains.”

2013 Nissan Leaf (image via Nissan)

2013 Nissan Leaf (image via Nissan)

In its polling, Harris identified that

when asked which of several improved-efficiency vehicle types they would consider the next time they are in the market for a new vehicles, nearly half of American car owners (or anticipated owners) indicated that they would consider a traditional hybrid (48%), while nearly four in ten (38%) would consider a smaller and/or less powerful gas-powered vehicle. Just over one-fourth (27%) would consider a plug-in hybrid, two in ten (19%) an electric vehicle and 16% would consider a diesel vehicle. Roughly four in ten (41%) indicate that they would only get a vehicle with lower operating costs if they could do so without changing their driving habits or expectations.

They also found some other very interesting factoids, including:

  • Echo Boomers (ages 18-35) are significantly more likely than either Baby Boomers (ages 48-66) or Matures (ages 67+) to consider a traditional hybrid or a smaller and/or less powerful conventionally propelled vehicle, and are more likely than any other age group to indicate that they would consider a plug-in hybrid or an electric.
  • Men are significantly more likely than women to indicate that they would consider a plug-in hybrid (34% men, 21% women) and an electric vehicle (25% men, 14% women) and three times as likely to indicate that they would consider a diesel (24% men, 8% women).
  • While interest in hybrid and electric cars does not change significantly when comparing those traveling 30 miles or less in an average day vs. those traveling 31 miles or more, interest in diesels, known for having long driving ranges, is roughly 70% higher among those traveling an average of 31 miles per day or more (13% 0-30 miles, 22% 31+ miles).

With regards to what are barriers for those considering buying electric vehicles, price and range anxiety, to no shock, continued to be the top concerns. A counter to this though is that a majority of Americans (56%) would be more likely to consider such a vehicle if it were incentivized with a free fast-charge station installed in their home.

“It’s important to note that hybrids were once a new, untested technology,” said Mike Chadsey, a Harris vice president, in a statement, “but have been slowly merging into the mainstream as more and more manufacturers put out their own versions of this vehicle type. It’s likely that this same progression could be seen within the plug-in hybrid and pure electric categories, though it’s important to note that traditional hybrids also gained an early boost from outside factors such as sharply rising gas prices and a strong environmental movement. Either could easily recur and, along with the steadily increasing number of companies offering their own takes on these newer categories, could help more and more of these vehicles find homes in mainstream garages.”

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.

    • phor11

      I personally don’t think battery/electric has any chance to displace ICE vehicles until some major battery breakthroughs become commercially viable.

      With current Li-ion tech, the range is just too short and the recharge time is just too long for the transportation sector. Even if charging stations were widely available, the amount of time it takes to “refuel” still limits freedom of movement.

      If charging becomes widely available at home/work, then a much larger number of people will definitely be willing to buy a battery/electric to supplement their ICE vehicle (if it makes financial sense for them to do so), but I just don’t see battery/electric as a viable replacement.

      I think CNG/Hydrogen ICE tech provides a better path forward in the transportation sector.

      That’s not to say we should stop working on new battery technology though. If we could charge in 1/10 the time and get 10 times the range, then battery/electric will be a serious contender.

      • A breakthrough would certainly help the cause. What I have observed so far has been incremental improvement. The adoption of electric will trend slowly as the tech improves little by little. Not sure where the tipping point is, but I suspect it would take a sharp increase in gas prices or several years more of range improvement.

        Charge times are much less important than most think they are, especially as range increases. Pure electric drivers charge less often away from home than say a Volt driver. Its a function of how soon the battery runs down. Overnight charging is fine for commuter and regular weekend jaunts. EV’s are not applicable for long trips anyway, just yet.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I think the “acceptance threshold” for EVs is ~180 mile range and a purchase price no more than ~ $3k more than an ICEV.

        180 mile range and 20 minute, 90% charging gives people a car they can drive all day (500 miles) with only two modest stops. Almost everyone driving an ICEV is going to stop a couple of times during a 500 mile trip (refueling and eating).

        Twenty minutes is short enough when one is likely to spend one of those stops grabbing a meal and the other peeing and checking messages, etc.

        With the amount of money they would be saving over driving with gas, a few extra minutes per day would dissuade few. We don’t need 10x the range, just something a bit more than 2x. And we certainly don’t need 10x faster charging.

        A $3k price premium would be recovered in about two years of driving for most people. The actual dollars would be spread over the life of the loan and not as much felt on a monthly base.

        When we cross the acceptance threshold I expect we’ll see a very rapid switch in new car buyer behavior. New tech adoption tends to start slow and then accelerates. For example…

        • phor11

          Sorry, I should have been more clear.

          I was working off the EV’s that started around the same price as a comparable ICE vehicle. So the 10x range I was referring to was going from ~30mi to around ~300mi. And they took around 6 hours to charge, so the 10x less charge time would be going from ~6 hours down to ~30 minutes.

          Though I guess most EV manufacturers have already upgraded even their base models to ~75 mi ranges, so I can see how the numbers I was suggesting looked steep.

          At any rate, I think we’re pretty much in agreement. Long enough range for a few hours of highway driving and short enough charge times for a stretch/restroom break or a bite to eat.

    • Surprising that the public would prefer an electric over a diesel. There’s an interesting statistic, the US car buying public really dislike Diesels apparently.

      • phor11

        Generally, diesel taxes are higher than gasoline in the US; whereas it is the opposite in Europe. And since it always costs slightly more to produce a diesel engine than a gasoline engine (requires sturdier parts because of the high compression ratios), even if the fuel efficiency is much better, it takes much longer to recoup that initial investment in the US than it does in Europe.

        Along with taxes, I believe the US has artificially strict NOx emissions standards that make it much more difficult to manufacture a fuel efficient diesel car for the US and maintain a low price-point because SCR/NOx traps are fairly expensive to add.