Confusion over the technology may be the prime barrier for plug-in electric vehicle sales taking off with Canadian consumers, according to survey results.

The Canadian Plug-In Electric Vehicle Study, carried out by a research team at Simon Fraser University, examined consumer perceptions and behavior. One of the key findings is that Canadian consumers don’t understand what plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) really are. “PEV understanding is low,” the study reported, “with a minority correctly identifying how to fuel the Toyota Prius (18 percent), the Chevrolet Volt (29 percent), and the Nissan Leaf (31 percent).”

None of the survey respondents had direct experience with a battery electric vehicle, and only a few had direct experience with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (as either a passenger or driver). Most mainstream respondents did not know plug-in hybrids existed as its own technology distinct from BEVs, and had trouble understanding its “dual fuel” concept.

For those in the study who have bought PEVs, they tend to me more affluent and better educated than buyers of non-plug-in models. Tesla Model S buyers had the highest income and education levels of all the buyer groups. Canadian PEV owners are concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.

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Consumers in the study who own PEVs were motivated to buy for several reasons. Some of them are environmental such as reducing air pollution and global warning. Some were driven by practical benefits such as saving money on gasoline. Others had more symbolic reasons like expressing identity and being a member of a social group defined by PEV ownership.

The study concludes that having a cohesive national strategy for incentivizing consumers would be a good idea. “Across Canada, PEV policy is fragmented with only a few provinces offering comprehensive PEV policy portfolios,” the study concludes. “British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec lead the country by offering mainly demand-focused policies, primarily a mix of financial incentives (including purchase subsidies ranging from $5000-8,500 [Canadian]) and non-financial incentives.”

The Globe and Mail