Indiana University study: consumers not enthusiastic about electric cars

Study questions Obama Administration's decision to invest in electric vehicles.

A study from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs casts doubt on the Obama administration's goal of putting a million plug-in electric vehicles on the roads by 2015. But the study does find that consumers are more receptive to buying electric cars in some cities, including San Jose/San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.

The researchers surveyed more than 2,300 adult drivers in 21 large U.S. cities in the fall of 2011. They found that the perceived drawbacks of electric vehicles outweigh the advantages for most consumers. The primary drawbacks are the limited driving range, the vehicles' high sales or lease price and the inconvenience of recharging batteries.

"Although many engineers, environmentalists and politicians are enthusiastic about electric vehicle technology, this survey reveals that new car buyers, based on early impressions, have little interest in purchasing plug-in vehicles," said John D. Graham, dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a co-author of the study.

The findings were published online by the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, in advance of its January 2013 issue. Sanya Carley, assistant professor in SPEA, is the lead author. Other co-authors are Rachel Krause and Bradley Lane of the University of Texas at El Paso.

While plug-in electric vehicles provide considerable fuel savings, those weren't enough to offset the perceived disadvantages, the study found. Graham said new-car buyers typically keep their vehicles only three to five years, not long enough for fuel savings to make up for the premium purchase price. Car buyers also typically do not consider the costs of operation and upkeep but tend to focus more heavily instead on the sticker price of the car.

The survey found the early adopters who are likely to buy plug-in electric vehicles are predominantly highly educated, male, concerned about the environment and worried about American dependence on foreign oil. They are also more likely to have previously owned a hybrid vehicle.

"Those interested in electric vehicles at this time are attracted to the environmental imaging associated with electric vehicles and are typically technology pioneers," Carley said. "It's helpful to know this information, because it can help manufacturers identify their early car-buying population, and it also reveals which consumer types are not being reached by current marketing campaigns."

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