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It’s tricky business trying to predict how big the market for hybrids, electric cars and other alternative auto technologies will become. That becomes abundantly clear when looking at Harris Interactive’s recent poll of 12,225 U.S. adults ages 18 and over. The market research firm says 4 percent of consumers are extremely likely or very like to buy a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, or a fuel cell car. Yet, only 2 percent are equally likely to buy a pure electric car.
The question about likelihood to purchase assumed a certain amount of additional cost for each of the technologies. For example, conventional hybrids were assumed to carry a $3,500 premium; plug-in hybrids and EVs at $4,000; and fuel cell cars at $5,000.
Cheaper is Better?
It’s not surprising that survey respondents are not keen on spending thousands of dollars more on abstract technology concepts—removed from the specific vehicle that use those technologies. And if you offer similarly abstract technology choices for $1,000 (clean diesel); $500 (start-stop system), or $250 (eco-drive assistant), consumers are likely to go for those cheaper hypothetical options. Hence, the top-level finding of the Harris survey: “Owners choose lower cost technological solutions over higher priced alternative fuels.”
But are we any closer to understanding how fast hybrids will climb from the current 2.5 percent of the market? Do we have a better handle on why Ford thinks that somewhere between 10 and 25 percent of the market will be hybrid or plug-in by 2020—with 75 percent of those vehicles as conventional hybrids? What about Nissan’s contention that 10 percent of its sales will be electric cars by 2020? Wouldn’t it be more useful to ask about specific vehicles with specific price tags—like Ford Fiesta vs. Toyota Prius vs. Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt?
Nonetheless, David Pulaski, Vice President of Harris Interactive Automotive and Transportation Research, does make critical points:
- As consumers become more familiar with alternative fuel approaches, and gasoline costs rise, demand will grow.
- To raise mass-market appeal, automakers and government agencies must educate consumers on the benefits they offer, while reducing infrastructure issues, and connecting to with consumers’ emotions.
- To meet industry requirements, such as CAFE, technologies that offer small incremental improvements in fuel economy are not going to be enough. We’re going to need bigger gains from technologies like hybrid, plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the survey: