Practicality may hinder electric-vehicle sales

Gartner survey shows U.S. consumers have no problem driving electric cars in concept, but find current choices too expensive.

Gartner

In a country whose iconic vehicles include the Shelby Cobra and the Hummer, one might assume that electric-vehicle adoption in the U.S. would be hindered by a cultural proclivity for owning very fast or powerful cars.

Well, it turns out that drivers are not as horsepower-obsessed as one might assume, but actually quite practical when it comes to assessing their vehicle needs.

However, electric vehicles still fall short in consumers' minds when measured by those practical standards of cost and usability, according to a study conducted in the first quarter by Gartner Research.

The study, released yesterday, found that 21 percent of those surveyed said they would "definitely consider" an electric vehicle for their next car purchase or lease, and 43 percent said they "might consider" one. It puts electric vehicles in fourth place overall when it comes to the types of cars consumers consider purchasing, following gas, hybrid, and natural gas respectively.

Of those consumers who would consider an electric vehicle, 33 percent said they would not pay a premium for an electric car over a gas or hybrid car, and only 5 percent said they would pay up to $10,000 more.

That requirement is a stark contrast to the reality of electric-vehicle pricing in 2011.

Many electric vehicles have a higher sticker price than their gas-powered equivalents, and customers must do their own cost-benefit analysis, allowing for things like tax rebates or fuel-cost savings depending on their driving habits. The U.S. government offers the MPGe label , a yearly guide, and online tools to help consumers evaluate not just electric vehicles but any alternative-fuel vehicles, with some even allowing for regional gas price differences.

"EVs must provide better cost-value ratios and convince consumers that no significant behavioral changes are needed before becoming a large-scale, consumer alternative for traditional internal-combustion engine (ICE) and hybrid powertrain technologies," Thilo Koslowski, vice president and analyst at Gartner, said in a statement.

But cost seems to be the most important factor, as consumers seem willing to change some of their habits to accommodate electric-vehicle use, according to the survey.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in the survey, for example, said that having to charge an electric vehicle for four to 12 hours is "acceptable."

That statistic matches up with results from another survey that was released in February. An Accenture report found that most electric-vehicle owners in current pilot projects around the world charge their cars at home , and are not making use of readily available public infrastructure charging options.

The government and electric-vehicle marketers may be concerned with implementing rapid-charging options , battery-swapping , and public infrastructure to support EV charging on the go. But U.S. consumers don't seem to mind if their car needs to be plugged in overnight to work the next day.

Electric-vehicle companies might spend their time better by developing partnerships with battery makers and other suppliers to bring the cost of EVs down for consumers, according to Gartner.

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About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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