60% of Americans Don’t Know Electric Vehicles Exist, Survey Finds

Go Ultra Low Nissan LEAF on charge on a London street. Ultra-low emission vehicles such as this can cost as little as 2p per mile to run and some electric cars and vans have a range of up to 700 miles.
According to a new electric vehicle study, 60% of Americans have no idea what this car is doing | Miles Willis/Getty Images

Do you know what an electric car is? If you answered yes, you may be in the minority among U.S. consumers. Three in five (60%) Americans asked said they were not aware of EVs, according to a survey conducted by Altman Vilandrie & Co. released in December 2016. Meanwhile, a whopping four in five (80%) said they had never ridden in or driven one.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of recognition, there were many positive notes for automakers now developing plug-in vehicles. For starters, most (60%) consumers who tried an electric vehicle said they enjoyed the experience, compared to the paltry few (8%) who did not. That’s an encouraging sign for the future, when consumers might actually find them in dealerships.

2016 Tesla Model S
Maybe it’s a Maserati crossed with a Porsche? | Tesla

Given the minimal awareness of the segment, it’s not hard to see why just 10% said they were planning to buy an EV. (Then again, considering the 1% plug-in market share, it would be an improvement.) The Altman Vilandrie survey found the usual consumer concerns about the electric car segment. Almost three in five (74%) said they were unsure how far an EV could take them.

Likewise, 85% of respondents said the lack of charging stations would steer them away from a plug-in model. But high prices turned off almost as many (83%) of consumers surveyed. The industry has solutions to address these problems in the near future.

Affordable EVs in the works

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Chevy Bolt EV begins the second major wave of electric vehicles in America | General Motors

GM began shipping Chevrolet Bolt, its 238-mile EV, to dealerships in December 2016. At a starting price of $37,495, consumers who take the full tax credit ($7,500) for the purchase will bring the base price to $29,995. That MSRP, combined with its significant range, delivers a far more convincing package for consumers. Currently, those familiar with EVs tend to associate the segment with Tesla, whose cars begin at $68,000 (before incentives) brand new from the factory.

Yet even Tesla has its sights on an affordable electric car for 2017. Model 3, which we expect to see in production form early next spring, will start at $35,000 before incentives. These new products should bring name recognition and greater awareness to a segment that has languished in obscurity. Of course, some of the first-generation EVs that flopped had something to do with it. Issues with range anxiety — especially the lack of charging stations — should be less important in the coming years, given the charging boom.

More places to plug in

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle (EV)
The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric Vehicle charging | Hyundai

According to data provided by ChargeHub for FleetCarma, there were 33% gains in the number of fast-charging stations (4,269 total) in the U.S. through the first nine months of 2016. Plans by the Obama administration to launch alternative-fuel corridors along U.S. highway routes are also taking flight. By 2020 or sooner, consumers across America will be able to charge an EV without hunting for a plug. As long as there are signs pointing them out and attractive cars consumers can afford, there is no reason to think plug-ins won’t command a larger chunk of market share by then.

Still, the industry has to get started somewhere. According to the Altman Vilandrie survey, consumers who skew younger and wealthier are the ones who will make it happen. Compared to the 10% overall who said they planned to buy an EV, 18% of 25-to-34-year-olds and 17% of consumers earning over $100,000 annually said they were planning to buy an EV next. Younger consumers preferred Tesla and Mercedes, while older folks thought of Ford and Volkswagen as potential EV makers. Every automaker can take advantage of the opportunity, if it so chooses.

Source: Altman Vilandrie & Company

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