Indiana University Study Shows Low Consumer Interest in Plug-In Vehicles

By · December 28, 2012

Nissan LEAF

U.S. Consumers show little to no interest in pure electric vehicles, according to a study conducted by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

However, the study shows that there's more potential interest for plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid and Ford C-Max Energi.

Researchers claim the study "casts doubt on the Obama administration's goal of putting a million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015." According to the study, "The perceived drawbacks of electric vehicles outweigh the advantages for most consumers." These drawbacks, which include high price tags, limited range and long recharging times, have convinced most U.S. consumers that electric vehicles don't meet their needs.

As Brad Berman, contributor, said in his coverage of the survey for The New York Times, "Mainstream car shoppers are simultaneously ignorant and apathetic about plug-in electric vehicles."

“The results of the study raise this question: If respondents know so little about electric cars, what are they basing their answers on — except preconceived notions about EVs not necessarily based on facts?

“We found substantial factual misunderstandings of electric cars in our sample of 2,000," said John Graham [the designer of the study]. "In some cases, the misunderstandings would cause one to be more pessimistic about the vehicle than they should be. And in other cases, it would cause people to be more optimistic than they should be."”

From "Car Buyers Lack Interest in Electric Cars, Study Says"

The New York Times

The researchers surveyed more than 2,300 adult drivers in 21 US cities in fall 2011. The authors believe that little has changed in consumer awareness and interest since the time of the study.

"You can imagine a world where a third or half of two-thirds of people would be interested in buying an electric vehicle," said Dr. Graham. "But there has to be a substantial redefinition of perceptions among the urban population. That’s not easy to accomplish.”


· Callajero (not verified) · 5 years ago

Education and increasing awareness are the key needed actions. One useful area could be making people aware of the number of barrels of oil burned into the air in US (or the world) every single day. I believe the US figure is about 20 million barrels a day. That is equivalent to the flow of a pretty good size river evaporating and polluting our air at a flow of roughly about 10,000 gallons per second.
Other education can focus on the dollar savings of operating an electric vehicle, including making people aware that the cost of electricity is about 1/4 of gasoline (based on current figures in).
Another one could be energy independance and avoiding indirect costs of being addicted to oil (such as the huge cost oil wars, and maintaining military forces in the Middle East, etc.)

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago

Was the study published in the Journal of the Incredibly Obvious?

At this point, it is pretty hard to argue for EVs on a purely utilitarian basis. EV purchasers at this point need some other motivation such as ecological concern, reduce trade deficit, peak-oil worries, gadget freaks, not support nefarious oil exporting nations, low noise/vibration/smells, carbon footprint, local pollution, etc.

But as gas prices rise, BEVs and PHEVs will make more and more sense on a purely economic basis.

· · 5 years ago

@Callajero - I would argue for publishing it in The Journal of Not So Incredibly Obvious. And therein lies the rub. People need to take a hard look at how they use their cars. If 50 or 51 weeks out of the year, they never drive more than say 40 miles a day round-trip or 40 miles one way with a charger at the destination, then EVs are good enough - and cost effective - right now. The Volt may be cost-effective even without this condition. I think Nissan made a serious marketing mistake not emphasizing this and perhaps coupling it with a free or low-cost weekly rental program. They went to extreme efforts to pretend that the LEAF wasn't any different than a 'normal' ICE car. It - and any other BEV - IS different. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

That goes for all those publicly subsidized charging stations as well. until there are significant advances in battery technology, it borders on dishonesty for EV advocates and vendors to pretend that BEVs are 'normal' cars.

· · 5 years ago

Interestingly I've found my Volt to be quite an efficient vehicle overall. By juggling between mountain and standard modes, I can actually get quite good range out of my initial battery charge, and still keep warm. The efficiency operating this way of the ICE seems to be unbelievably high. I only use about 1/5 to 1/3 of a gallon traveling 30 miles in total comfort in very cold weather. I'd guess the biggest heat loss would be the little bit out the exhaust pipe. The battery heater and people heater which revert to hot water when the engine is running keep any hot water heat loss to zero, (I'm counting *NOT* having to run the 2 resistance heaters a Very Big Plus).

The Battery in the volt is the Minumum in my view necessary to make all of the above possible. The current trend for Phev's to use 'nano sized' batteries definitely kills their Utility in cold weather. Whether by Design or Accident, kudos to the VOLT.

· · 5 years ago

"You can imagine a world where a third or half of two-thirds of people would be interested in buying an electric vehicle," said Dr. Graham.

Huh? Isn't a third or half of two-thirds the same thing?

Anyway, why is an 18mos old study only now being published/discussed?

· · 5 years ago


"....... Isn't a third or half of two-thirds the same thing? ..."

Many people with Titles like saying things for emphasis, as if it makes what they're saying more important, such as "First and Foremost".

Depending on usage, I believe firstly would be more correct, secondly, usually in context they mean the same thing... But I bet most people use the phrase to make themselves seem more important.

I've heard a rumor Israel is going to attack Iran in March or April 2013. Not going to comment on that other than to say $7 / gallon gasoline Here We Come, and the fickle
American Public will be Clamoring for Electric Cars (those that still have jobs that is).

· Buzz Smith (not verified) · 5 years ago

There are several areas where a focus on education HAS to happen:
1) The sales personnel at the dealerships - When I was looking for a new car in August 2012, I was surprised how few salespeople at the dealerships could answer my many questions about EVs. Brand did not seem to matter. At a Nissan dealership, the salesman didn't seem to want to get out of his chair. When he did, he and several coworkers said I should wait for the next year's model because it would have much greater range. Salespeople are mercenaries not evangelists. Show them they can make money without too much extra effort, and they'll learn and perform.
2) The population needs to become aware that these vehicles are around them every day. Both Nissan and Chevy charge extra for bold graphics on the cars that state they're electric. This is a terrible idea. It's advertising! At the very least, GIVE any customer who wants to advertise your brand the ability to do so! Make the graphics standard and optional to have them removed (I know, bad idea...).
3) The people who are looking for ways to become less dependent on oil should have an obvious place to go to get answers. There should be public service announcements stating what the resources are. I know when I bought my first Volt, I had a difficult time getting the answers I needed to make a decision.
4) Manufacturers should pay for product placement in films and TV. It will help envision what an EV is like in your day-to-day life. Just like movies usually don't show people stopping to fill up on gas, they shouldn't focus on charging. They could show someone unplugging before leaving home, driving around silently (maybe a detective stalking a suspect), etc
5) When lies are spread, the manufacturers should get involved, LOUDLY denouncing them. Remember when, in the recent Presidential elections, the Republican candidates lied about GM moving manufacturing jobs to China? The industry & union made sure everyone with ears heard that this was a lie and explained specifically how it was a lie. Politicians & pundits have had a field day trying to stop EVs because they felt it was a product of the opposing party. THIS MUST STOP NOW. Flying a flag or tying a yellow ribbon should not be the sign of patriotism most often touted. The VAST majority of EV owners I have spoken with state one of the top reasons for their purchase of an EV was to lessen US dependence on foreign oil and to prevent war.
6) Manufacturers have to do more to raise public awareness through advertising. I see tons of "tough Chevy truck," "Ford F-150" and "Dodge Ram" commercials but hardly ever see a plug-in EV ad. These need to become a bigger portion of the advertising budget. Guess what, Ford, GM, and Dodge? Everyone knows you make pickups and SUVs! Dial back the advertising dollars there and start using advertising to educate consumers on the advantages of EVs!
7) The people who would most obviously consider an EV would be those that have not owned a gasoline-powered vehicle. Young urbanites are a great prospect because (for the most part) they are concerned about the environment and the cost of gasoline. Unfortunately, a large percentage of these potential customers live in apartments. There has to be a focused push to deploy charging stations in apartment complexes. It should not have to be paid for by the apartment complex owners or tenants. Surely a deal could be made between independent EV charge station owners, who would pay to install the units and maintain them (and collect the revenue) and the apartment developer who can state the complex has state-of-the-art refueling on site! To do this effectively, we would have to get the cost of charging at one of these sites far below current prices. One potential way to do this would be advertising shown on the charging station display (including resources to learn more). Local dealerships, and green businesses seem obvious targets for this. There has to be a focus on charging stations at facilities where people will stay for at least two hours: movie theaters, valet parking at airports, hotels/motels, hospitals, malls and parks.
8) This is a change we need as a society. It is untenable that our country has to import such a strategically important commodity at the levels we do. As with all change, this can be promoted by our government:
A) High occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes should allow EVs, even when there is only one driver.
B) Just like handicapped parking, EV charger parking should be in a preferred location with towing enforced if non-electrics park there. This will help #6 above.
C) Perhaps a break on registration fees (especially on models that do not require an emissions test) and tolls would help as well.
D) Create a plan to phase out oil industry subsidies. If the move to electrics is as important as I think it is, it is imperative we plan this. No sudden shock to the system should occur, but at least 5 years before they phase out, there should be major public announcements, allowing consumers to make an educated purchase decision for their next vehicle.
E) The current MPGe method of measuring mileage of EVs & hybrids seems poorly devised. What is important, is not how many miles you get per gallon, but miles per DOLLAR! With electricity rates and gasoline prices moving all the time, this is difficult to implement but if everyone understood how inexpensive these cars become, once total cost of ownership is considered, EVs would be flying off the dealer's lots.
9) Some things that were once common in our society, are no longer tolerated. If someone uses a racial epithet today, they are ridiculed. A woman's role in our society is no longer determined by men. Where is our outrage at the single occupant of a large SUV? For many, the large, tricked out SUV is a status symbol. WE determine what is valued. Through television, movies, music and more, we can start having a conversation about how unattractive large, gas-guzzling vehicles are. Imagine a scene, where a couple meet, have a nice time and when going to their cars (one an SUV the other more economical) they give each other a closer look. What if the person who owns the electric vehicle decides against dating the other person because it shows a lack of caring about the environment? It happens all the time in the other direction: guy pulls up in a hot car, girl jumps in.

· Callajero (not verified) · 5 years ago

@Buzz Smith Excellent points! I agree 100% with all your recommendations. One more thing that will help with sales is to provide the government incentives (e.g. the $7500 tax credit) at the time of purchase as an instant rebate rather than a tax credit.

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