Alternative fuel vehicles are undoubtedly gaining ground. Sales of hybrids have steadily climbed over the past decade, and major automakers like Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen all have plans to release plug-ins and EVs in the near future. But there’s still at least one big hurdle to overcome—46% of U.S. residents have no idea what the difference is between hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles, and 25% aren’t familiar with alternative fuel vehicles at all.
The news comes from Ford, which recently surveyed 2,576 U.S. drivers about their transportation choices. Some other telling statistics: 76% of drivers surveyed believe an all-electric vehicle would fit their family’s needs, but over half are not comfortable having a car with limited driving range as their primary vehicle; 44% of respondents say that fuel economy is the most important factor in purchasing a vehicle; 28% would consider buying or leasing a hybrid as their primary vehicle; but just 6% would consider an all-electric vehicle. There is clearly a disconnect between what drivers think they want and what might actually work best for them.
"At the end of the day, your average customer is just interested in how many times per day do they need to go to the gas pump. It’s confusing, because there’s so much new technology out there," says John Viera, Ford’s Director of Sustainable Business Strategies. There are so many choices that drivers may not even know where to begin—the more traditional hybrid, the plug-in hybrid with a better range, the more limited range (but gasoline-free) all-electric vehicle, and then, of course, the extended-range EV (i.e. the Chevrolet Volt). The U.S. Department of Energy offers a handy chart to figure out which vehicle type is right for you. But with so many choices, it might seem easiest to just stick with gasoline.
Range anxiety, or the fear of running out of battery power before reaching a charge spot, doesn’t help. "It’s not having all the info at your fingertips. There’s an unknown out there," says Viera. This shouldn’t be a problem for most drivers. The average American drives just 29 miles per day, which is well within the range of most EVs. For its part, Ford is offering the MyFordMobile app—a smartphone app that theoretically eases drivers’ minds by providing vehicle charging status information from anywhere. Nissan and Chevrolet offer apps with similar features for their EVs.
Viera believes that rising gas prices will eventually push more drivers towards hybrids, plug-ins, and EVs—and presumably towards being better educated. Where that gasoline tipping point lies is hotly contested.