Survey: Americans Like Hybrids And EVs, But Most Don’t Buy Them

A nationwide survey exploring U.S. consumer attitudes toward 10 clean energy technologies has found a wide disconnect between those who “favor” alternative energy transportation and the percentage that buy it.

Based on a statistically significant cross-sampling of 1,084 consumers who answered an online questionnaire by Navigant Research in fall 2013, over 60 percent of respondents think well of hybrids and all-electric cars.

The survey sliced the findings a few ways, and found variances between attitudes held by Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, age groups, income and education levels, and gender.

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Presently, hybrid passenger vehicles comprise under 4 percent of the U.S. car market and plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars as a group comprise less than 1 percent.

According to Navigant Principal Research Analyst, Dave Hurst, the reasons why consumers overwhelmingly favor clean energy vehicles but do not purchase them to nearly the same degree is not explored by the survey.

However, in another recent Navigant survey examining consumer attitudes toward plug-in electrified cars, it was found that prices had something to do with it, as did degree of comprehension of EV and PHEV technologies by average Americans.

Navigant’s Electric Vehicle Consumer Survey, conducted this year as well, found many consumers wanted to pay less than $25,000 for EVs and expressed low awareness of specific vehicles and understanding of vehicle benefits.

In short there are a lot of people at least cognizant of electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and regular hybrids who say they think they are a good idea, but are on the fence about them for one reason or another.

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As an analyst who pores over such data regularly, Hurst said this finding did not surprise him, and used a somewhat dramatic example to illustrate the point.

“I happen to like exotic sports cars but don’t buy them,” said Hurst. “This survey says the people like them. The fact that they’re not buying them is not that they hate the vehicle, that’s not what’s going on here.”

Mixed Reviews

The survey, which you can access for no charge here, also examined clean solar, wind and nuclear energy, smart grids, smart meters, and LEED building certification.

Following solar and wind, hybrid vehicles received the highest percentage of favorable responses at 67 percent. Only 8 percent expressed somewhat unfavorable or strongly unfavorable opinions of hybrid vehicles.

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People over age 65, and those with high school degrees or less expressed a lower degree of favorability than those of higher education and income.

Similar results were found for electric cars, and also noted was that favorability among Hispanics trended higher, and Asians – while a minority sampling in the study – trended highest. Caucasians and African Americans followed with regard to favorability.

Again, what this means is not stated. This is just raw data, and Navigant does not conjecture as to why one demographic group or the other tended to answer in a certain way.

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The survey did not look at attitudes toward clean diesel vehicles, but did also examine those toward natural gas and biofuel vehicles.

Navigant said it was “interesting” that over 50 percent of respondents favored natural gas given these are primarily fleet vehicles.

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Essentially, half of all Americans say they like natural gas vehicles even though they typically would not find one on a showroom floor.

Hurst did conjecture on this point, saying this is likely due to the fact that the vehicles have lower emissions than their gasoline counterparts and use domestic fuel sources, so regardless whether respondents could buy them or not, they liked the fact that someone can.

Beyond that, 29 percent had no opinion on natural gas vehicles.

Also, men were 10 percent more likely than women to favorably view natural gas vehicles, and favorability increased steadily with age. Similar to the other alt-energy tech vehicles, favorability increased with leveles of education.

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Among all fuel types surveyed, biofuels received the lowest approval rating with 43 percent saying biofuels were very favorable or favorable, and 9 percent held negative views of biofuels

Also 55 percent expressing favorability for biofuels were men but only 32 percent were women.

Conclusions?

The data is there for anyone with insight to drill down and attempt to see what it might mean. Those wishing to promote alternative energy transportation could use the data to help formulate education or marketing strategies.

Navigant only goes so far as to say because hybrids like the Toyota Prius have been on the market the longest, exposure has created positive impressions.

Similarly, EVs like the Nissan Leaf and others are doing the same, though with less time on the market.

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“As more battery electric vehicles have become available and more consumers have become exposed to these cars, the favorable opinion of electric vehicles has rebounded after trending lower over the past couple years (61 percent favorability up from 49 percent in 2012 and 55 percent in 2011),” said Navigant’s survey notes.

A survey is but a snapshot in time. It shows which ways the winds are blowing, but trends – such as a direct corollary between older and more educated respondents as those who favor clean tech – have been consistently shown.

The results are overall positive indicating as automakers cut costs, develop new clean-tech vehicles, marketing improves and understanding increases, an audience is already prepped far outweighing the actual number of people who put their money where their mouth is today.