Unplugged: Electric vehicle realities versus consumer expectations

Whether the car buying public buys electric cars depends on several factors (price, range, etc) as well as technological realities.

Are electric vehicles inevitable? What will tip the balance so consumers start buying electric vehicles in droves?

This study dates from early 2011, meaning “the world” had almost no experience with the modern crop of electric vehicles. In that time the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Mitsubishi i-MiEV were just barely out the starting gate. However, while the study is dated, the conclusions are still interested today.

Consumer in several countries are highly interested in electric vehicles, but will that ever turn into purchases on a large scale.

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Range While it’s well known average daily driving (in the U.S.) is about 40 miles per day, prospective EV drivers think the range has to be at least 300 miles. Okay, sure. Turns out that EV owners learn after 3+ weeks of ownership how to deal with the 80ish mile range of current EV’s, and it’s okay. But on the other hand it’s clear 150 miles range should be a good minimum.

As the paper notes, the primary determiner for range improvements in affordable cars is “energy density”. Battery scientists around the world are working hard at improving energy density. That will lead to range and cost improvements, but it is a slow process thanks to the slow rate of progress.

Charging Time In most countries, consumer expectations are that recharging must take less than a half hour. DC Fast Charge, therefore, is a big requirement.

Price Premium and Purchase Price In most countries, consumers are not willing to pay a premium over gasoline vehicle prices. This factor probably is a major limiting factor in EV adoption and will remain so until battery prices drop. The survey showed that consumers are not willing to pay a price premium, and therefore want electric car prices to match the price of equivalent gasoline cars. As it stands, there is a price premium, and that (alongside the range issue) is one of the larger hurdles a prospective EV owner has to jump.

Fact is that between government subsidies (tax credits) and the cost savings (electricity is a far cheaper fuel than gasoline) from owning an electric car, the price premium mostly evaporates. But the complexity of that discussion is hard to convey in short chunks. I ended up writing 1500+ words the other night on that very topic – after cleaning it up, I hope to get that out sometime soon.

Fuel Price The study shows that higher gasoline prices make people more interested in electric vehicles. I remember in 2007-8 during the high gasoline prices in that era, reading many news articles talking about the lengths people were taking to avoid gasoline. People in Texas were parking their F-150’s and buying hybrid cars to save money, supposedly. Others were buying motorcycles because they’re more fuel efficient.

Today gasoline prices have fallen considerably, and it’s too early to tell what effect that will have on electric vehicle adoption, but we should be worried.

Fuel Efficiency The study shows that as fuel efficiency goes up, interest in EV’s wanes. Governments are mandating higher fuel efficiency, and the automakers are responding by trying to get ahead of the mandates and write their own destiny. However, the fuel efficiency mandates can probably be best met with electrification of some sort – hybrid or plug-in vehicles of some sort.

The reality is that when consumers actual expectations for range, charge time, and purchase price (in every country around the world included in this study) are compared to the actual market offerings available today, no more than 2 to 4 percent of the population in any country would have their expectations met today based on a data analysis of all 13,000 individual responses to the survey.

Retrieved from: http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Global/Local%20Assets/Documents/Manufacturing/dttl_Unplugged_Global%20EV_09_21_11.pdf

Source: http://www.deloitte.com/us/electricvehicles

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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