Purchase consideration among the 1,752 adult survey respondents is relatively high, especially in contrast to the slim market choices. (A notable 72 percent said they are unlikely to contemplate buying an electrified vehicle.) The models that offer the price, range, and performance customers expect may do well with this emerging market segment, but consumers are unwilling to compromise in terms of performance and convenience parameters.
Plugged in to consumer needs
Ideally, consumers would like an electric car to have a range of 89 miles (median) for daily driving. Men (106 miles) and respondents with household income under $50,000 (102 miles) reported the greatest range requirements. The upcoming Nissan Leaf comes close to satisfying most respondents with its 100-mile range claim.
However, 45 percent said they would be satisfied with a range of less than 75 miles, and just 29 percent would consider less than 49 miles to be ideal.
General Motors claims that the extended-range Chevrolet Volt (see Volt video) will provide about 40 miles on pure electric power--enough to address the daily driving needs for many consumers. (GM and other companies citing similar electric-only ranges claimed that it would address the daily needs for about 85-percent of motorists.) Because a plug-in car combines pure electric operation with a range-extending, gasoline-fueled engine, the Volt and similar vehicles coming down the road can provide significantly greater travel distances between charges than pure electric cars, thereby satisfying needs that go well beyond weekday commuting. From our respondents, nearly three in 10 (29 percent) require a daily range of at least 200 miles--well within the capabilities of a Volt.
The price for the green machines
Clearly plug-in cars have advantages, though consumers who would consider one have widely differing opinions about what an acceptable price premium would be compared to a conventional vehicle.
Among consumers that would consider an electric car, the median extra amount that they would pay was $2,068. But 20 percent would pay nothing additional, while an equal share would pay at least $5,000 extra. Across major demographic segments, only one difference was statistically significant: 46 percent of consumers earning $50,000 or more annually would pay at least $2,000 extra versus just 27 percent of those earning less.
A key motivating factor in purchasing an electric vehicle would be the ability to recharge at work. A notable 63 percent said they would be more likely to purchase an electric car if their place of employment had charging stations. This could extend the daily range for the vehicle, and possible defray energy costs, should the employer choose to pick up the electricity tab. With much discussion focused on how to improve the infrastructure to address the recharging needs for battery-electric vehicles, from upgrading voltage at homes to providing hook-ups in public parking lots, major employers could provide a real boost to electric car sales.
Today, pure electric cars are still theoretical for most consumers, though products like the Leaf, Volt, and Ford Focus EV will be reaching dealerships within the year. Should they hit the balance of range, price, and convenience consumers want, they could pioneer a new era in personal transportation--one that will help reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels and contribute to a cleaner, quieter environment.Jeff Bartlett with the Consumer Reports National Research Center