Plug and Shopper

Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn believes battery-powered cars will make up 10 percent of global new car sales by 2020. Most mainstream market analysts are projecting numbers closer to 1 or 2 percent at best. But across the board, executives and observers believe that early adopters will come from very specific markets rather than broadly across all of the United States and Europe.

California, by far the biggest hybrid state, is a no-brainer. But what about the landscape in Europe? To get a better understanding of electric car adoption across the pond, the automotive group at global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan interviewed nearly 2,000 consumers in the UK, France, Germany, and Italy—mostly in London, Berlin, Paris and Milan. The company presented its findings last week in a webinar about potential electric car usage, attitudes and buying interest.

“The Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2009 showed real evidence that the automotive industry has made firm commitments towards electric vehicles, however consumers see major barriers to adoption with factors such as infrastructure and range,” said Frost and Sullivan auto industry manager Catherine Butterworth. “By understanding the voice of the consumer, the automotive industry can ensure that they are in prime position to take full advantage of this exciting new market.”

Frost and Sullivan’s high-level findings provided few surprises:

  • The high price of the initial electric cars will be an inhibiting factor for adoption. Proving that an electric vehicle is far more economical than a small engine vehicle and educating consumers will be very important.
  • Consumers, on average, are willing to pay almost $29,000 for electric cars. Targeting households with incomes above $100,000 will maximize adoption.
  • Households will accept 4 hours or more to charge the vehicle and were less interested in speeding the process up if it was more expensive.
  • Women showed a greater dislike for the inconvenience of charging and monitoring charge of electric vehicles.
  • Electric cars with driving range above 100 miles will help to break the psychological barrier to adoption.

As usual, the devil is in the details. The survey results showed that more than 1 in 10 consumers in Europe are willing to consider electric vehicles for next vehicle purchase. In aggregate, adopters of electric cars are likely to be from France or the UK, aged 26-35 or older than 55, male, and have high disposable income.

Frost and Sullivan determined that the UK represents the largest potential market—but also indicated that UK drivers have the least access to electricity at home or work.

Respondents were twice as likely to buy a plug-in hybrid (or “extended range electric vehicle”) than a small electric car with a range of approximately 50 miles.