Americans Think Electric Vehicles Are Great, Just Not Enough To Buy Them

A new survey of drivers found that most drivers think electric cars could solve all of their needs. So why aren’t they buying them?

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.


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  • Philippe Topdjian

    I think that fully electric cars are not at the point of being for everyone. While hybrids and plug-in hybrids do fulfill all the requirements of the average person (except for price), fully electric cars offer concerns as mentioned by the prior comment. It is for this reason that a fully electric car is not for your home that has only one car, but two or more. This way if the car is not fully charged but a trip is needed, there is another car to take. Moreover, if someone is planning to take a road trip or longer distance trip than the range of the electric car, there is another car to take. Switching to electric is more than just a budget shift, but more of a culture shift.

  • Johnny

    I don't know why mean daily drive distance should imply anything to a consumer wrt plug ins. If I take a trip a month that extends beyond battery range but maintain that 29 miles average, what would you tell me? I think the real reason the people are saying one thing but doing another is that "range" is a newly discovered variable for consumers. It's never something they had to even consider before. Now they have to wonder how often does the family take trips, which vehicle would they use, are there charging stations along the way, how long will a recharge take if we do stop, etc.

    Don't let the advantages of plug-ins woo you into facile discussions.

  • Steph06stang

    Electric vehicles are just not ready for prime time.  The fact that they cost substantially more than a similar sized car powered by an internal combustion engine and that the government has to subsidize the cost of them by a minimum of $7,500 says it all.  In addition, I can drive my internal combustion powered car on short trips or long trips without fear of being able to refuel because the infrastructure is in place to refuel them.  And it only takes about 5 minutes to refuel it, not 8 hours plugged in to a 240V outlet.  When an EV can match this, without subsidy, I will buy one, but not until.

  • Wize Adz

    (There are some "I"s in my response that should be "we"s.  My wife actually does most of the daily-driving, and I was talking about our household's daily driving.)

  • Wize Adz

    They might not be ready for you, but they are ready for me.

    I live in a town that's 5 miles on a side.  My daily driving never exceeds about 50 miles.  And when I go on a road-trip, it's either 200 miles, or 400 miles.  Furthermore, I'm married with a kid -- so we're a two car household.  So, an EV will work as our daily driver, just so long as we have a second car (a very used minivan, for instance) as a backup.

    We have two cars now (a Prius, an old beater truck), and it works reasonably well, and the capabilities of those two vehicles are complimentary -- the Prius is the daily driver, and the truck is for hauling heavy objects.  But an EV and a minivan would be a much better combination for my particular purposes, and there would be no advantage to the extra range on the daily-driver.  Also, my wife and I are geeks who like to tinker with new technology, so we'd probably pay the price difference just to play with new, different, and interesting technology.