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Is enthusiasm for electric cars losing its charge?

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Thomas Peter/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A staff member plugs a charger cable into Toyota's i-Road electric vehicle in Tokyo.

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Today you’re far more likely to see an all-electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S on your way to work or to the store, versus just a couple of years ago.

That much is almost certainly true. But that doesn’t mean that EVs are past a market tipping point just yet.

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Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and full battery-electric cars—combined—represent only about three percent of the market. And that percentage hasn’t changed significantly since 2012.

One surprising indicator—especially to those who love electric cars in their varied forms and configurations—is that the percentage of car shoppers who would consider these vehicle types hasn’t significantly changed in two years.

These results come from a Harris Poll released this week, conducted this May and repeating the questions and methodology of a poll from two years earlier.

From 2013 to 2015, an identical proportion—48 percent—of Americans who own cars (or anticipate buying a car) say that they would consider a hybrid, while plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles were up just two percent in two years, to 29 and 21 percent, respectively.

That’s right. On the optimistic side of this, more than one out of every five shoppers can now say that they would at least consider a pure electric vehicle. But with theses numbers, the pace feels glacial.

Cost remains the biggest barrier

One of the biggest barriers for electric vehicle consideration isn’t at all surprising: It’s cost. Electric vehicles, even considering tax credits and incentives, usually cost significantly more than otherwise comparable gasoline models.

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Here’s that full list of buyer concerns for EVs:

  • Price (67%)
  • Range (64%)
  • Repair/maintenance costs (58%)
  • Reliability (53%)
  • Performance/power (50%)
  • That it’s a new technology (42%)

From the 2013 poll to the 2015 one (conducted in May 2015, among 2,225 adults, with weighted adjustments for age, income, education, and other demographic factors), the percentage with each of those concerns either stayed the same or went up slighty—except for those who called it a new technology.

Men are more likely than women to be interested in electric cars or diesel models. And pure electric vehicles now rank slightly higher in shopper consideration than diesels.

Some generational and regional differences

Older shoppers in both polls were far more concerned about price and range than younger shoppers, and by region, those in the Midwest were considerably more likely to be concerned about the price and range components.

Those polled indicated that they traveled a mean 29.6 miles daily, which is less than the average daily commute distance but more than the average daily distance traveled for adult Americans.

With the arrival of a new set of nearly 200-mile pure-electric models expected in a couple of years—models like the Chevrolet Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and a second-generation Nissan Leaf, for instance—these results underscore a point: that even if range concerns are quelled, concerns about the price of electric vehicles, as well as some other unfounded concerns, may linger for a much longer time.


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