Harris Green Car Tech Survey Is Questionable
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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:


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  • caffeinekid

    Look. We have a global liquidity crisis going on. Whether people know it or not, this country is insolvent, the average US non-mortgage household debt is >$13K, a large percentage of Americans are essentially insolvent or otherwise have a negative net worth and the current mortgage fiasco is showing no sign of slowing down as we are well into the territory of prime mortgage defaults by people who DID NOT speculate, but instead did everything they were supposed to. There are something like 30 dollars floating for every 1 in reserve. Our entire economy of the last 20yrs has been powered by the unicorn dust that is the sole domain of money changers- debt. And did I mention that Europe is in even worse shape? Even China is having issues….and forget about South America.

    And people are supposed to “afford” a $34K vehicle that gets 100 miles per charge? I don’t think so. This is what is REALLY at the heart of this issue. We have a HUGE problem that has nothing to do with oil or our choices of transportation. Irony would have it that prior to the collapse, the technologies of sustainability would be at our doorstep, taunting us. The part we fail to acknowledge is that our breakneck growth in these enabling technologies has been and is also fueled by the fractional reserve fairy tales of massive debt and other fiscal mismanagement. And this system has just about run its course. There is simply too much printing of paper and not anywhere near enough demand for profitable production. We have seen this scenario play out throughout history. What makes us think that the inevitable ends aren’t waiting for us this time?

  • mac

    Totally agree, caffeinekid – been unemployed for a year, wife got laid off 6 months ago so we need to drive our cars until they stop, which I suppose is the “greenest” thing to do – but you make a valid point – there is a price break point – when you add up the cool new technology factor, along with the gee-whiz, look at me attraction, then that makes me think we can get off this oil dependency thing – if I can ever afford it, I’ll be buying a Leaf/Volt.

  • Music man

    Great article! I live in Michigan. Ten miles north of Detroit. I finally have a good job again. I’ve never had credit card debt. Just a house that I couldn’t afford without a job. I think we were in a rcession long before the rest of the country.

    I know some crazy “car freaks” that think the automotive industry runs the world. I used to think that was crazy. Most people think the auto industry just runs our area, or Michigan, along with some other cities scattered about the U.S. The “car freaks” might be right. Between oil and manufacturing … it will at least play a large part in this country’s recovery.

    Hopefully, many in the Harris Poll lean towards American manufacturing.

  • KT

    I agree that the economy will hold many people back from being able to purchase new vehicles, and I do highly recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to drive a vehicle till it falls apart to do so, if they have any sort of debt. However, I think the BP oil spill will emotionally motivate a lot of people over the next few years to purchase hybrids and alternative vehicles. The media will see to it that the public is more familiar with alternative fuel approaches and the market will grow for these vehicles.