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Dr. Sanya Carley, Indiana University – Consumer Attitude and Electric Cars

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Sanya Carley of Indiana University explains attitudes about electric cars that are keeping many of the vehicles off of the streets.

Sanya Carley is an assistant professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University where her teaching and research interests include energy policy, electricity technology innovation policy, and applied econometrics. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

About Dr. Carley

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Dr. Sanya Carley – Consumer Attitude and Electric Cars

President Obama established a goal of putting one million plug-in electric vehicles on the roads by 2015. Our study concludes that goal will be hard to reach. Our research team surveyed over 2,300 drivers in 21 large U.S. cities in the fall of 2011.  We found that the perceived drawbacks of electric vehicles outweigh the advantages, including the limited driving range, high sales or lease price and the inconvenience of recharging batteries.  In short, engineers, politicians and environmentalists may be enthusiastic about electric vehicle technology but consumers are not yet.

New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles only three to five years, not long enough for fuel savings to make up for the premium price. Car buyers also typically ignore upkeep and operation costs. Instead, we tend to focus more heavily on the sticker price. So-called “range anxiety” also helps explain early concerns about electric vehicles: Consumers are more interested in buying hybrids, with a gasoline-powered backup engine, than electric-only vehicles. This suggests there may be better market potential for hybrids like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Plug-In Prius and Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In.

Our survey found that early adopters of plug-in electric vehicles are predominantly highly educated, male, concerned about the environment, worried about American dependence on foreign oil, and, often, previous owners of hybrids. There are cities where consumers are more receptive to electric vehicles.  San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston are among the top three. Dallas is the city where dealers will have the toughest time making a sale.

The challenge for manufacturers is to figure out how to market the vehicles to mainstream car buyers, not just the early adopters. This may require providing more information about fuel savings as well as addressing concerns about driving range, price, and battery charging convenience.


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