The electrification of the car is grabbing the attention of more consumers. Thirty-nine percent of car shoppers are considering a hybrid or electric vehicle for their next new-car purchase. Of that group, 60 percent are looking to a regular hybrid, 16 percent are drawn to a plug-in hybrid, and a similar 14 percent are contemplating a full-electric car. Still, 94 percent find green cars in general lacking in some way, citing a high purchase price, inadequate energy infrastructure, and limited driving range as chief concerns. Those are findings of a new survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Among the survey respondents, men strongly favor plug-in hybrids and electric cars while women see greater appeal in regular hybrids. Overall, 63 percent expect to get a significant increase in fuel economy, regardless of the type of vehicle they buy. Only 67 percent said they are considering a traditional gasoline engine in their next new-car purchase, which may reflect a growing optimism regarding the availability of competitive green cars.
These findings are from a recent random, nationwide telephone survey of 1,713 adult car owners in the United States that was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. (Also read: “Green car survey shows Americans support higher fuel efficiency – but won’t pay for it.”)
In addition to hybrids and electric cars, a significant number of consumers also said they would consider other alternative fuels:
- 35 percent said they would consider a flexible-fuel vehicle, one that can run on either gasoline or E85, which is a mixture of 85 percent renewable ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
- 19 percent said they would consider natural gas or propane—a fuel resource that is abundant in North America. Currently, there are very few vehicles equipped to run on natural gas and the infrastructure is limited.
- 16 percent would consider a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. This, despite that fact that only a tiny number of fuel-cell cars are being leased to customers in selected regions, and no automakers have announced imminent plans to mass produce such cars.
- Only 14 percent said they would consider a diesel-powered vehicle, despite the well-developed infrastructure and relatively broad model selection.
- Of those who would consider a diesel, more than half (57 percent) said they would use biodiesel fuel.
Grading the green machines
Consumers consider electrified vehicles to be the most environmentally friendly or “greenest” by a wide margin over petroleum-fueled automobiles. One quarter of consumers consider pure electric cars to be the greenest machines. Seventeen percent think hydrogen fuel-cell cars are the most environmentally friendly, with considerably more men (27 percent) expressing that belief than women (7 percent). Traditional and plug-in hybrids tied at 10 percent.
Why go green?
There are many potential motivations for choosing a so-called green car, but the one considered most important by the most respondents was reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil (26 percent). Other perceived benefits are lowering emissions/air pollution (21 percent), higher fuel efficiency (14 percent), combating global warming (8 percent), reducing national oil consumption (8 percent), and cutting the carbon footprint (8 percent). Men were more sensitive than women to dependence on foreign oil and to fuel efficiency, while women were more likely to say that lower emissions were a compelling benefit.
Going green can be both noble and economics-driven, but alternative fuels have limitations. Depending on the fuel, the cost, availability, and performance can all be real concerns. Survey respondents agree, with a high purchase price cited as the chief disadvantage, by men and women alike, in choosing an environmentally friendly or green vehicle. Other reasons listed include:
|Green car disadvantages||Percent|
|High purchase price||66%|
|Inadequate refueling or recharging infrastructure||60%|
|Limited driving range||58%|
|Few choices available||48%|
|Not enough room for passengers and cargo||48%|
|Battery disposal for hybrid and electric cars||48%|
Despite consumers’ concerns about limited range, 63 percent said they travel less than 40 miles a day, which is comfortably within the claimed 100-mile range of the electric cars coming to market in the next few months. And their commuting distance is even within the range of the current fuel-cell and natural-gas cars.
What drives consumers
This latest Auto Pulse survey shows that consumers are interested in green issues, though the most important factors when shopping for a new car are quality (88 percent), safety (86 percent), and price (86 percent). These leading factors are followed by value (82 percent), fuel economy (82 percent), and performance (79 percent). While a slim majority (51 percent) considered being “environmentally friendly or green” as important, it ranked 11th of the 12 specific factors we surveyed. When asked to rank just their top three considerations, environmental consciousness didn’t even make the cut. The top three factors were price, safety, and fuel economy.
In the end, the survey shows that consumers are willing to consider alternative power sources for their next vehicles, but they have real practical concerns.
—Eric Evarts and the Consumer Reports National Research Center