According to a research study at Indiana University, only 4% of 2,300 U.S. adult drivers said that purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle (EV) was under serious consideration. Of those, just 22% were interested in an all-electric vehicle such as the Tesla Model S from Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) or the Nissan Leaf, while 78% were interested in a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), such as the the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid (PHEV) from General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM). The Prius hybrid from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and the C-MAX from Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) are not plug-ins, instead using a regenerative braking system to recharge batteries.
The research was conducted in August 2011 and just published in the journal Transportation Research. But the time lag probably doesn’t affect the outcome:
Based on sales data of electric vehicles, and subsequent surveys, we would be very surprised if the result would be much different today than in August 2011.
The number of PHEVs sold in November 2012 totaled just 7,158 of about 1.14 million cars sold, less than 1%. Hybrids such as the Prius sold 35,002 vehicles in November, or about 3% of all cars sold.
The researchers cite either a lack of information or an abundance of misinformation for the poor sales of EVs. One common misperception is the price differential between an PHEV and gasoline-powered car. Sticker shock likely sends many buyers right back out the showroom door, without them ever making the calculations on how much they will save in the cost of gasoline.
With gasoline prices tumbling toward $3 a gallon currently, spending several thousand dollars more for a PHEV gets to be even a harder sale. But, the researchers noted, on a per-mile basis the PHEVs average about 70% to 80% less on fuel costs, due to the low cost of electricity. The researchers conclude:
[I]t’s going to be a decade before we figure out if plug-in vehicles can become the norm, rather than an interesting curiosity of a niche buyer.