The Road Ahead for Electric Cars


Even with the major developments in electric and plug-in vehicle technology, there is still a great chasm of ignorance and apathy for this vehicle market segment with the general motoring public. This was concluded after a study was conducted by the Indiana University of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The study was comprised of a survey of 2,300 adult drivers, in twenty one American cities conducted during the fall of 2011. As a whole, the survey provides a rare glimpse into current driver sentiment, albeit eighteen months ago. Despite major advertising splash was undertaken for the marketing of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, this resulted in a modest increase in awareness according to the study’s researchers.

According to John Graham, current Dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, “Based on sales data of electric vehicles and subsequent surveys, we would be very surprised if the result would be much different today than in August 2011.”

The study results raised the following question: If the respondents know so little about electric cars, what is the basis of the responses provided. The only possible explanation would be the presence of preconceived notions about electric vehicles, some of which may not necessarily be based on actual fact.

Dr. Graham adds, “We found substantial factual misunderstandings of electric cars in our sample of 2,000. 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 more people to be more optimistic than they should be.”

He further observed that many individuals underestimate the price premium that comes with plug-in electric vehicles. While the survey respondents know that the electric vehicles have a higher sticker price, averaging not just a few thousands compared to ordinary internal combustion engines. This result in the phenomenon called ‘sticker shock’, making potential buyers walk away from a bargain in the long run.

Another observation is the lack of understanding by mainstream car purchasers as to the ability of the vehicle to recoup initial upfront costs. These costs are recovered because of the ever increasing gas pump prices, which are turned into savings because of the switch from fossil to electric battery power. He added, “They don’t realize how cheap the electricity is. And it is very cheap, like 70 to 80 percent less expensive on a per mile basis than gasoline on average.”

The study believes that increased familiarity and more exposure to these kinds of vehicle platforms would result in an increased rate of acceptance for the technology, removing it from being alternative into becoming mainstream. He said, “That would definitely be the case. But it’s going to be a decade before we figure out of plug-in vehicles can become the norm, rather than an interesting curiosity of a niche buyer.”