|Money talks. And unless automakers can make a better economic case to consumers who are considering an all-electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, or a plug-in electric, like the Chevrolet Volt, these alternative-fuel vehicles will remain a very small part of the market in the United States.
That is one of the conclusions in the J.D. Power & Associates 2012 Electric Vehicle Ownership Experience Study. The study, the first on this topic by J.D. Power, looks at what consumers experience as they consider these vehicles, shop for them and own them, as well as the expectations and concerns of current and future owners.
For current owners, the early adopters, the decision to buy an alternative-fuel vehicle was more of an emotional one, said Neal Oddes, senior director of the green practice at J.D. Power, a market research firm. Of current owners, 44 percent said the top benefit of their vehicles was lower emissions. Those owners were more willing to pay a premium for their vehicles.
But future buyers are more pragmatists than idealists. Of future buyers, 11 percent said they would consider an electric vehicle for its environmental benefits, but 45 percent said they were interested in saving on fuel.
The people who shopped for an electric vehicle and ultimately decided not to buy one said their primary reason was the price, Mr. Oddes said in a telephone interview.
“The only way to address the price is by improving the technology to reduce the overall cost of the vehicle,” Mr. Oddes said. “The manufacturers have a huge task to be able to do that.” But once they do, electric vehicles will go mass market.
Electric vehicles account for less than 1 percent of new-vehicle sales in the United States, according to LMC Automotive, J.D. Power’s automotive forecasting partner.
The study, conducted in October, was based on online responses from more than 7,600 consumers who either own an electric vehicle, are considering buying one or shopped for one but decided not to buy.
Current owners said recharging their vehicles’ batteries increased their monthly electric bills by $18, much less than the estimated $147 they would have paid for gasoline during that same period.
However, the study found that consumers paid on average $10,000 more to buy all-electric models and $16,000 more on average for plug-in hybrids.
Based on the annual fuel savings, it would take an average of 6.5 years for an all-electric vehicle owner to break even and 11 years for a plug-in hybrid owner to break even.
That premium does not take into account the current federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.
All owners in the study got a rebate, Mr. Oddes said, “and if it wasn’t for those rebates I think the market would be a lot worse.”
The study found that one-third of owners used a standard 120-volt outlet to charge their vehicles at home rather than installing a special 240-volt charging station at an average cost of $1,500. However, of those who did install a charging station, 43 percent got it at no cost.
Among people who are considering an electric vehicle, the study found that driving range and the availability of charging stations were the top concerns.
Following price as a reason for not buying an E.V. is vehicle size. Most consumers who are considering electric vehicles are looking for midsize sedans and, currently at least, most of the vehicles are smaller. Third is a concern over the reliability of alternative-fuel vehicles.