Consumer Reports shares preliminary "green-car" survey findings at GridWeek conference

Consumer Reports News: October 21, 2010 01:32 PM

As evidenced at GridWeek 2010, the electric-car industry is "amping" up to address legislated goals of improved fuel economy, reduced emissions, and lessening dependence on imported oil. The GridWeek 2010 conference underway in Washington, D.C., brings together key players from government and industry to share ideas on what that infrastructure might look like. Eric Evarts, Consumer Reports' Associate Editor, Autos, today will bring the consumer's perspective, announcing preliminary findings from a new green-car survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center during a panel discussion.

Focused on the development of a smart electric grid, GridWeek is attended by members of the automotive and energy industries, along with government and media representatives. This week, these groups are sharing their insights and experiences, moving toward the common goals of greener personal transportation.

What's driving the EV market?
Right now, state and federal governments are pushing harder than consumers are to start the electric-vehicle revolution.

Specifically, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is requiring the six largest car companies doing business in California to sell at least 12,500 zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the state by 2014. On the federal-government side, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act targets the rollout of one million EVs across the country by 2015 and provides more than $1 billion to make that happen.

Electric vehicles have captured the interest of some consumers. However, many may be wary of embracing a new technology if it demands lifestyle changes.

To learn more, our National Research Center recently conducted a random, nationwide interview-based survey of more than 1,700 adult vehicle owners. While we are still analyzing the findings, there are some early insights.

First, preliminary results show that 51 percent of the respondents say that being "green" is an important factor in choosing their next car. However, "green" ranks just 11th out of the 12 factors we asked about, behind more traditional considerations of quality, price, and value.

When we asked what motivated people to buy a "green" car, more than a quarter of them cited reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil as their primary motivation.

Many survey respondents' daily driving needs are well within the manufacturers' claimed range of upcoming electric vehicles, as 63 percent report traveling less than 40 miles a day.

Few consumers are open to electrified vehicles. Overall, 39 percent are considering a hybrid or electric power type for their next new car, and among them,  60 percent (just 23 percent of all motorists) have a conventional hybrid under consideration. Only 14 percent of those considering a hybrid or electric (6 percent of all motorists) will likely consider a battery electric vehicle.

Consistent with these figures, there are perceived disadvantages to electrified cars that have some drivers hesitant to purchase one, largely centered around limited driving range and recharging infrastructure. Concerns that dogged electric cars of the past, such as limited power, cargo space, and passenger capacity, remain for many consumers. However, these are not likely to be real issues with the upcoming, major-brand models.

In the end, the survey reveals consumers are willing to embrace electric vehicles, but they are held back by very practical concerns of cost, range, functionality, and safety.

See our guide to fuel economy for advice on saving gasoline. Learn about future technologies in our guide to alternative fuels.

Eric Evarts  and Jeff Bartlett

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