Speed Bumps Remain for Electric Cars; Incentives Could Recharge Interest

Interest in traditional hybrids on the rise; plug-in hybrids show mixed response

Jun 20, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

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NEW YORK, June 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Electric cars are beginning to post all sorts of impressive numbers. Recently the 100,000th plug-in vehicle was sold. And last year, roughly 440,000 cars deriving some degree of "go" from a battery – including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and cars running on electricity alone – were sold in this country, with approximately 50,000 of them being pure electrics.

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Those are big numbers, but it's important to look at them with an equally big dose of perspective. With roughly 14.5 new million cars and trucks sold in the U.S. last year, combined hybrid sales of roughly 390,000 vehicles represent 3% of total sales; those 50,000 pure electrics? About 0.3%. But with more and more manufacturers producing battery-propelled vehicles of one kind or another, and fuel prices showing no sign of falling, many anticipate continued growth for the sector. The Harris Poll set out to gauge Americans' interest in electric and other higher-mileage vehicle offerings.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,240 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 8 and 13, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full findings and data tables available here)

Harris Interactive has been tracking consumer consideration of both hybrid and pure electric cars for some time via its Harris Poll AutoTECHCASTsm study, with results echoing findings from this poll. "Consideration has been on the rise over recent years for traditional hybrids, while other electric car segments – though showing points of growth – have been more sporadic in their gains," explains Mike Chadsey, Vice President, Solutions Consultant at Harris Interactive.

When asked which of several improved-efficiency vehicle types they would consider the next time they are in the market for a new vehicles, nearly half of American car owners (or anticipated owners) indicated that they would consider a traditional hybrid (48%), while nearly four in ten (38%) would consider a smaller and/or less powerful gas-powered vehicle.  Just over one-fourth (27%) would consider a plug-in hybrid, two in ten (19%) an electric vehicle and 16% would consider a diesel vehicle.  Roughly four in ten (41%) indicate that they would only get a vehicle with lower operating costs if they could do so without changing their driving habits or expectations.

What's your number?

Numbers play some interesting roles in these vehicles' varied appeal.  Take, for example...

  • ...the number of candles on your last birthday cake. Echo Boomers (ages 18-35) are significantly more likely than either Baby Boomers (ages 48-66) or Matures (ages 67+) to consider a traditional hybrid or a smaller and/or less powerful conventionally propelled vehicle, and are more likely than any other age group to indicate that they would consider a plug-in hybrid or an electric.
  • ...your x chromosome count, with men significantly more likely than women to indicate that they would consider a plug-in hybrid (34% men, 21% women) and an electric vehicle (25% men, 14% women) and three times as likely to indicate that they would consider a diesel (24% men, 8% women).
  • ...the number of vehicles in your garage, with interest in electric cars more than 40% higher among those in households with 3 or more vehicles, when compared to those with one or two (26% among those with 3 or more, 18% among those with 1-2). Perhaps knowing you have a couple of backup vehicles in the bullpen for those longer trips eases the range anxiety many associate with electric cars.
  • ...the number of miles you drive in an average day; while interest in hybrid and electric cars does not change significantly when comparing those traveling 30 miles or less in an average day vs. those traveling 31 miles or more, interest in diesels, known for having long driving ranges, is roughly 70% higher among those traveling an average of 31 miles per day or more (13% 0-30 miles, 22% 31+ miles).

Plug-in's struggle to charge up

Current and prospective drivers were also asked how their likelihood to consider several types of vehicles has changed within the past two years.  Focusing specifically on those driven at least partly by their batteries... 

  • Over four in ten (43%) indicate being more likely to consider a traditional hybrid (43%) – roughly twice the percentage saying they're less likely to do so (21%).
  • Adding an electrical plug appears to put the brakes on consideration growth, with current or prospective drivers reporting being more (30%) and less (30%) likely to consider them in equal percentages.
  • Taking away the gas tank entirely seems to stall things out further still, with the 23% more likely to consider them overpowered by the 38% less likely to do so.

Challenges and opportunities for pure electrics

When asked to select their top concerns related to pure electric vehicles, price (65%) and range (63%) were the top issues, followed by repair/maintenance costs (55%), reliability (53%), performance/power (48%) and the fact that it is still new technology (44%).

But the electric vehicles industry still has some juice left; in addition to being in a state of constant advancement, the study indicates that several incentives – including some already being tried out by current manufacturers – show the potential to impact Americans' likelihood to consider such vehicles:

  • The majority of Americans (56%) would be more likely to consider such a vehicle if it were incentivized with a free fast-charge station installed in their home.
  • Nearly half (47%) would be more likely to consider one if it cost the same as a similar gas-powered vehicle.
  • Over four in ten (42%) indicated that having charging stations at or near their workplace would provide such an incentive.
  • Smaller, but still notable, percentages indicate that a free gas-powered loaner for a set number of days per year (20%), reduced costs on toll roads (17%), collision insurance provided with their lease (15%) and HOV or "carpool" lane access (14%) would make them more likely to consider an electric car.

"Furthermore," continues Chadsey, "it's important to note that hybrids were once a new, untested technology, but have been slowly merging into the mainstream as more and more manufacturers put out their own versions of this vehicle type. It's likely that this same progression could be seen within the plug-in hybrid and pure electric categories, though it's important to note that traditional hybrids also gained an early boost from outside factors such as sharply rising gas prices and a strong environmental movement. Either could easily recur and, along with the steadily increasing number of companies offering their own takes on these newer categories, could help more and more of these vehicles find homes in mainstream garages." Until then, The Harris Poll and Harris Poll AutoTECHCAST will both be keeping the engine running on this topic.

More insights on consumers' perceptions, interest, and attitudes towards electric cars, as well as a variety of other automotive technologies and engines, will be available from the Harris Poll AutoTECHCAST later this month.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.


This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 8 and 13, 2013 among 2,240 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #38, June 20, 2013
By: Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll® and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research. Harris possesses expertise in a wide range of industries including health care, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing our client's research investment. Serving clients in more than 196 countries and territories through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

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