Indiana University study: consumers not enthusiastic about electric cars

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


The challenge for manufacturers, the authors note, is to figure out how to market the vehicles to mainstream car buyers, not just the early adopters. This may require providing more information about fuel savings as well as addressing concerns about driving range, price and convenience.

Concerns about plug-in electric vehicles' limited driving range, so-called "range anxiety," helps explain another finding: Consumers are somewhat more interested in buying hybrid electric vehicles, with a gasoline-powered backup engine, than electric-only vehicles. This suggests there may be better market potential for hybrids like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Plug-In Prius and Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In.

Graham said vehicle manufacturers and suppliers are making progress in addressing the negatives associated with electric vehicles. Prices have come down for the Volt and the Nissan Leaf, and lease arrangements have been made more attractive. Second-generation plug-in vehicles are expected to have shorter charging times and the capacity to be driven farther without re-charging. Building more charging stations and concentrating them in areas where they can be easily seen could also help alleviate worries that an electric vehicle would leave drivers stuck with a run-down battery.

"Policy makers also need to develop more realistic expectations about the pace of market acceptance of plug-in technology," Graham said, "and they may need to retain policy incentives for plug-in vehicle purchases longer than they originally anticipated would be necessary." For example, President Barack Obama has proposed increasing the federal income tax credit for buying a plug-in vehicle and making it effective at the time of purchase rather than the end of the tax year.

The authors said one of the more interesting findings in the study was the city-by-city variation in intent to purchase an electric vehicle, suggesting car companies might target their sales and marketing efforts. The interest of survey respondents in buying a plug-in electric vehicle was rated on a 10-point scale; the average score was 2.67. Cities with the highest intent-to-purchase ratings were:

  • San Jose/San Francisco -- 3.72
  • Chicago -- 3.25
  • Boston -- 3.03
  • Seattle -- 3.02
  • Los Angeles -- 3.01

Cities with the lowest ratings were:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth -- 2.17
  • San Antonio -- 2.21
  • Indianapolis -- 2.21
  • Detroit -- 2.24
  • Nashville -- 2.36

To speak with Carley or Graham, contact Jim Hanchett at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 812-856-5490 or jimhanch@indiana.edu.

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