Many articles have been published about slower than expected plug-in electrified vehicles’ market acceptance this decade, but these tend to highlight only a few aspects of a very complicated picture.

Looked at from a broad overview, one could alternately say it’s a wonder plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles (PEVs) have done as well as they have – or despite the flak they faced, the fact that they have taken hold as well as they have lends credence to their viability.

Tesla’s limited-production 2008 Roadster deserves mention as a first of the new li-ion EVs, but the major manufacturer effort in the U.S. arguably began with the 2011 extended range Chevy Volt and 2011 all-electric Nissan Leaf launched in December 2010. The Mitsubishi i-MIEV had been launched in July 2009 in Japan, and came to the U.S. in December 2011. Since then a submarket has developed that’s working to gain greater traction.

Last year the U.S. bought 17.39 million passenger vehicles, and of these 0.66 percent, or 114,248 were PEVs. Presently, there are being sold 14 plug-in hybrids and 12 all-electric vehicles, with several being offered in limited markets and the lion’s share of sales are carried by a handful of models.

From the inception of this present age of battery powered cars, hopes and hype were uttered by those working toward a future they projected would begin a dam break in the bulwark held by petroleum power.

Plug-in cars are quiet, fun, have zero tailpipe emissions, and upstream emissions are better than most if not all conventional cars' tailpipe plus upstream emissions, depending on region. They also reduce need for foreign oil, and are an emerging technology with economic potential.

Plug-in cars are quiet, fun, have zero tailpipe emissions, and upstream emissions are better than most if not all conventional cars’ tailpipe plus upstream emissions, depending on region. They also reduce need for foreign oil, and are an emerging technology with economic potential.

In 2011 President Barack Obama set a goal of one-million PEVs on American roads by December 2015, but this came and went with the tally at around 400,000.

Following is a long list of issues plug-in cars have had to face in gaining acceptance. It is not comprehensive, but touches on variables – whether ill-founded, or valid – that affected the momentum.

SEE ALSO: Here’s Why Electric Cars Are Always Greener Than Gas

If this market is to break much beyond its 0.72 percent of U.S. sales through April, the goal will be to create positive synergies leading to mass market acceptance.

In order to cram all these points in, we had to keep each brief, so please forbear lack of detail. Each could be its own article, but it may help with perspective to put them all on one page.

Price

Not helping things in 2011 was a Chevy Volt that started at just below $40,000 with nice examples knocking on the back door of $50,000 with taxes and tags. The Leaf also started in the middle 30s and could run into the 40s. A $7,500 federal tax credit and potential state incentives offset this some, but the cars came in higher than earlier projections had estimated and were pricey for bread-and-butter brands.

In 2013 Nissan introduced a $6,000 cheaper S trim level, and in 2014 Chevy took $5,000 off but a stigma had already been set in some consumers’ minds. Other PEVs like the Ford Focus Electric also started at just below $40,000, until its maker chipped that down a couple times to $10,000 less.

Beyond this, essentially all plug-in vehicles come with a sizable cost premium over comparable internal combustion models, or even regular hybrids due largely to greater complexity and battery costs.

The goal from the start was that economies of scale and technological improvements would bring costs in line with conventional vehicles. However, prices have been perceptibly higher counteracting potential fuel-cost savings while potentially saving on scheduled maintenance, in an otherwise qualified decision.

Some Consumers Ineligible For Federal Credit

A federal consumer tax credit from $2,500 to $7,500 depending on battery size has been available, but not everyone has been able to collect it.

2011-chevy-volt-capitol-building-01

Because PEVs cost more, the government followed a precedent set with regular hybrids, but the program has its drawbacks. If a person’s tax liability the year the car is purchased is not enough, some or all of the tax credit is forfeited. And even if a person can claim it, the extra outlay must still be fronted. This is related to the price issue, but its own subtopic.

Does The $7,500 Plug-In Car Tax Credit Need Reform?

The idea of making the tax credit a point-of-sale rebate has been seen as more fair, but it has not had the political traction to be made law.

Spotty State Credits

Along with the federal program, a number of states have varying plans for their residents to claim a rebate or incentive of some kind. These have varied from the highest offering $6,000, to other states that offer zero.

It is a random outcome of states’ rights to set their own policies. The obvious positive outcome is some buyers get essentially free money. The flip side is others don’t and this can affect whether a consumer is willing to buy a PEV. One of the biggest programs in Georgia temporarily made the Atlanta region Nissan’s number one market in 2014 over the San Francisco Bay area, but when that was cut back, Georgia was no longer Nissan’s top market.

First-Generation Technology

Some people have to have the latest and newest, but these tend to be in the minority when talking about the “second largest purchase” an average consumer will make. The thinking of fence sitters includes, 1) Give them time to get any bugs out, 2) Wait for discounts or deals, 3) Wait until improvements come for better value for the money.

Battery Concerns

Consumers to this day are still uneasy about battery longevity. PEV batteries do tend to lose some range over time, which is not said of a fuel tank which does not shrink with time.

SEE ALSO: Erick Belmer’s Chevy Volt Traveled Its 100,000th All-Electric Mile Today

The earliest major-manufacturer PEVs are now six years old, and the Volt has had a better track record with its liquid cooling and conservative setup. The Leaf has had more issues.

Resale Value

Plug-in cars were a challenge to lease underwriters from the start as their residual values were not established as were those for mature-market internal combustion cars. Since then, auction prices for off-lease Leafs, and used Volts, and other PEVs have been relatively lower.

Leaf

Complicating things is the prospect of accepting a car which may have less life in the battery than when new, and also that new tech is expected to render used PEVs closer to outdated sooner.

SEE ALSO: Nissan Leaf Ranked Worst For Early On Resale Devaluation

The 2017 Chevy Bolt will be offered this year for about $2,500 less than a 107-mile 2016 Leaf but with around twice the range, while quicker, and new in its lifecycle.

Leasing has been a work-around to reduce back-end liability as the market develops.

Charge Time

Mainstream consumers accustomed to the internal combustion engine (ICE) may also take pause at the prospect of waiting for a car to recharge. On the other hand it is a convenience to be able to charge from home and if it’s done overnight, that is not like lost time as the car would have been sitting anyway. But if it’s intraday charging, the demand for quicker charging is highlighted by today’s buyers panning the Bolt for its lack of a DC fast-charging network as Tesla offers. Right or wrong, people have their viewpoints. Some make it work, for others it’s a deal breaker.

Range Anxiety

Not an issue for plug-in hybrids with their gas backup, earlier generation EVs with 80-some miles or less meant accepting vehicles with an effective traveling range much less than an ICE car. This is a topic that can get dedicated EV advocates fired up, and some have been known to say no one needs so much range. However, consumers do already have it, so doing without is a perceptive step backwards, and potentially for more money.

A sub-issue is plug-in hybrids that reduce trunk space in exchange for only OK EV range. The 19-mile Fusion Energi is a handsome car, but the 201 Volt had 35 miles, and the 2016 gets 53. There’s something to be said for a purpose-built PEV.

A sub-issue is plug-in hybrids that reduce trunk space in exchange for only OK EV range. The 19-mile Fusion Energi is a handsome car, but the 2011 Volt had 35 miles, and the 2016 gets 53. There’s something to be said for a purpose-built PEV.

The excitement over the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt, and other sub-$40,000 EVs with 200-plus mile range are indicators in part of pent-up demand for more of a range buffer.

Public Charging Infrastructure

Some areas have decent coverage of level 2 public chargers, but many do not. For people wanting intra-day charging, this makes access much less likely than gas pumps. Of course every home with its own parking space has access, but apartment dwellers may or may not have this privilege. As for fast chargers which can provide 80 percent charge in under 30 minutes, these are even more scarce. Again, there are counterpoints, and work-arounds, but this is speaking of perceptions among general consumers who don’t want to deal with it.

Public Perceptions/Understanding

The last several issues dovetail with the lack of general understanding of PEV technology. That PEVs can work great with someone’s lifestyle and traveling needs, while cost-effective and satisfying is unquestioned. A polite term is “more education is needed.”

Folks today may know very little about battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, and not know why they may work for them.

In 2012 a survey of consumers in the market for a new car showed many wrong answers, and subsequent surveys and anecdotes indicate more work is needed.

Assumption of Poor Performance

Along with the uniformed public’s need to learn are faulty assumptions some need to unlearn. These can include PEVs are boring, slow, wimpy. Actually even ordinary PEVs like the Leaf are quick to 45 mph, and instant torque plus lively road manners can make PEVs fun to drive, but some people have assumed otherwise.

This sensibility may also be perpetuated by traditional car enthusiasts who favor exhaust “music,” and internal combustion engines, and who speak with ambivalence toward electrified technology.

Dealer Sales Force Insufficiently Compensated

Tesla is exempt from this one, as it has its own motivated factory sales network, but otherwise anecdotes are legendary of major manufacturers’ third-party dealership sales force. Though some dealerships do an outstanding job, commissioned sales people are not typically compensated commensurately with what can be a more-involved sale. That aforementioned “education” would come from a salesperson if it was worth his or her time – but time is money, and it may be easier to sell a conventional car and move on to the next prospect.

2017 Chevy Bolt.

2017 Chevy Bolt.

This in turn can mean salespeople are not incentivized to themselves learn about the features, advantages and benefits of PEVs to sell them with enthusiasm.

Manufacturers’ Marketing

The most famous example is General Motors lack of enthusiasm for the generation-one Chevy Volt with ads that did not strike home with consumers, or ads that were not there at all. In 2014, HybridCars.com may have been the first publication to report Chevrolet’s official policy of advertising only in California and tech fairs, and its seeing the Volt as a “niche” product “just like Corvette.”

Not to pick on Chevrolet, other manufacturers have struggled to find their voice – if they placed product at all. Another known issue is the “compliance car” phenomenon in which PEVs are sold only in states that follow California zero emission vehicle rules.

Politics / Social Perceptions

Plug-in cars do not vote in elections. They are intended to improve the air, and reduce dependence on oil for everyone, but they have been politicized nonetheless. Because they are championed by the Obama administration, PEVs have received collateral damage, if not outright being the target of critics. In 2012 this hit a high note when it was a campaign issue for Mitt Romney.

Those who otherwise disbelieve in climate change, or question its severity, or have other objections on principle of policies favoring PEVs may also vote against PEVs.

SEE ALSO: Why An Electric Car Is Greener Cradle to Grave

Advocates have observed petroleum is subsidized far more heavily than PEVs, and the true cost of gasoline is most certainly more to our health and national pocketbook than what we see at the pump, but feelings are what feelings are.

Mixed Messages

Articles written by 1) the uninformed, or 2) those twisting the facts, have been numerous. As a result, the proverbial person on the street has not quite known what to think amidst contradicting viewpoints.

To be sure, there are pros and cons to any technology. It’s been said that “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” and even advocates have said first-gen PEVs were not a complete no-brainer.

SEE ALSO: Are Consumers Being Manipulated By Anti-Electric Car Propaganda?

They actually require thought, and are a qualified choice after research, comprehension of myriad factors, and not hurting things is if one does feel strongly about improving the environment, energy security, and enjoying new technology.

MS_HP_charger

The federal government officially endorses a multi-tech approach that does include conventional vehicles in the majority, and the buzz word is “all of the above.”

To the dismay of PEV advocates however can be articles that misrepresent the truth of vehicles that can work for people motivated enough to look without bias, and do their own thinking.

Cheap Gas

It is safe to say in 2010 when the PEV market was a gleam in U.S. policymakers’ eyes, few if any were predicting gas would drop to well below $2 per gallon.

Exactly how much this has hurt PEV sales is in question, as there are a few reasons why people buy PEVs, and fuel (or energy) costs is only one of them. Cheap fuel has more-clearly hurt the regular hybrid market – dropping it from 3.2 percent to 1.85 percent the past couple years – because hybrids are always gas dependent, but PEVs can do without.

Plug-in hybrid and all-electric car buyers motivated to little or no gas as the case may be aren’t as affected by gas prices, but it has been a factor.

Upper Socioeconomic Bias

Plug-in cars which cost more to make, and which take a more-informed decision to buy have been seen by automakers as the province of higher level demographics – either intellectually, economically, or as can frequently be the case, both.

The Volt in 2011 famously sold to households with median income of $175,000 annually, and note the proportion of upscale PEVs for sale today.

Mercedes-Benz S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID (W 222) 2013

Of 14 U.S. market plug-in hybrids, nine are upscale, namely the BMW X5, Audi A3, Porsche Cayenne and Panamera, Volvo XC90, Mercedes S550, BMW i8 and 3-Series, and now-cancelled Cadillac ELR. Cars priced from the 30s include the Volt, Ford Fusion and C-Max, leftover Toyota Prius PHV, and Hyundai Sonata.

Where are the plug-in hybrid crossover SUVs for mainstream buyers? There aren’t any, though a few are pending. Where are the pickup trucks? None. Chrysler is expected to be the first company with a plug-in hybrid minivan, but other carmakers are sitting it out for now.

As for the all-electric cars, aside from Tesla Model S and X, most are priced in the 30s or 40s, with a couple in the high 20s.

This phenomenon follows hybrids which may be relatively well-contented with amenities targeting them for upper income earners and helping the manufacturer also pad the cost for the more-complicated technology.

Petroleum Preference

Billions of dollars are invested in assembly lines, product platforms, and powertrain technology by the existing automotive industry, and undermining that could be perceived as detrimental to their financial health.

As Tesla head Elon Musk has observed in saying carmakers have an “inherent conflict of interest” in selling competitive EVs on the same showroom floor as conventional alternatives, this thinking goes to the manufacturing and broader product assortment picture.

Progress Happening

With the announcement now of six pending 200-plus-mile range EVs priced from the mid 30s, advocates are hoping something like a tipping point could be imminent.

The first half decade of major manufacturer cars saw resistance on all fronts – mainstream consumer, media, political, manufacturer – even as early successes like Tesla’s Model S, and other better sellers along with government policies pushed forward the state of affairs.

Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements can technically be met in 2025 with only 1-3 percent PEVs, but synergies are at work to make the reality better than that despite the escape hatch the feds built into the rules for automakers.

Tesla Model 3.

Tesla Model 3.

One is California, whose ZEV policies call for one-in-seven PEVs by 2025, and states that follow its rules make up as much as 25 percent of the U.S. market. Global policies, including tough rules in Europe and China are also forcing automakers.

At the same time battery costs have come down, and Tesla’s more than 370,000 Model 3 reservations has sent waves into the industry.

Aside from that, if there was any doubt about PEV viability, consider the world’s case example, Norway. That tiny nation of 5.1 million has subsidized PEVs, penalized internal combustion, and shows what is possible when a people are unified enough to make things happen.

Norway now buys one PEV out of every four vehicles sold, and shows also that first-generation PEVs can meet needs, even in a Nordic country where li-ion batteries are less happy than they are in temperate climates.

Of course the U.S. and other major markets do not have the same conditions to enable them to emulate Norway, so their progress is what it is. Wheels are turning slower, but they are turning.

In all, it is a nuanced market with many variables playing off of one another. This article of necessity did not give a lot of detail per point, and more could be added, but this is much of what PEVs have had to face.

It’s been said some wanted to kill PEVs in the cradle, and some still do hope they’ll die an early death. As it is, the opposite appears to be happening, and assuming no other unforeseen complications, it’s onward and upward from here.

A version of this article appears also at GM-Volt.com.