Why Electric Vehicle Sales Are Still Lagging in America

nissan leaf
Source: Nissan

Electric vehicle sales may be booming in Europe, but in the U.S. it’s been a year marked by a lack of progress, and a new Harris Poll on the subject of EVs and hybrids suggests it’s the same old song. Americans remain unmoved by the products on the market, considering them either too expensive or not useful enough to break the cheap gasoline habit. Nonetheless, millennials should give electric car makers encouragement for the future of the segment.

The Harris Poll, conducted in May 2015 with 2,225 U.S. adults responding, found 48% of respondents were open to the idea of buying a hybrid, which was the same level of enthusiasm as the last time the poll was conducted two years ago. Likewise, interest in plug-in hybrids (29%) and electric vehicles (21%) barely budged since 2013.

The biggest obstacles to electric car adoption remained price (67%) and range (64%), with the reluctance to electrify most prominent among the oldest groups polled. On the other hand, 57% of millennials (aged 18-37) were open to every type of alternative fuel vehicle, the most of any group.

When it came to openness toward pure electric vehicles, millennials showed more than double the interest (34%) of Gen Xers (17%) and older groups responding, with men 50% more likely than women to consider an EV for their next car. The gap in interest in diesel cars was even more pronounced, with men considering them at a level of three to one when compared to women.

While this news could be disheartening for automakers (not to mention regulators trying to cap greenhouse gas emissions), the findings suggest it is only a matter of time before the EV segment takes off in America. These last few years have shown little growth in both the plug-in hybrid or EV segments as far as range and affordability are concerned.

focus electric
Source: Ford

While the Volkswagen e-Golf and Kia Soul EV have entered the market within the last few years, neither car offered a substantial upgrade in range over EVs already available in the U.S. The outgoing Chevy Volt and Ford Energi plug-in hybrids, the PHEVs with the longest range on the market, have not had any increases in battery power since hitting the market.

Automakers are clearly waiting for the next significant drop in battery prices to produce a more capable lineup of PHEVs and pure electric cars. Expected within two years are long-range EVs from Chevy and Tesla that, below $40,000, will be more useful and affordable for a bigger market.

Until then, the best electric cars for range come in at luxury vehicle prices. The ones that are affordable cannot crack 90 miles on a full charge. Much of plug-ins’ success in Europe has been fueled by PHEVs, and Americans will get several new options in 2015. Whether this shift moves the needle for plug-in adoption remains to be seen. For now, the old obstacles are standing in the way. As soon as the technology permits, millennials are ready to get on board.

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