Is the US Ready to Plug-In Their Car? ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: Is the US Ready to Plug-In Their Car?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is the US Ready to Plug-In Their Car?

Harris Interactive released the results of their latest survey on plug-in cars. When asked "How likely would you be to purchase this technology on your next new vehicle?", 27% of the respondents answered they were at least likely to do so. 23% (30% male, 16% female) felt they were at least familiar with the technology. Those are pretty good numbers considering there are no plug-in vehicles in production as of today.

Harris got 965 people to respond to their on-line poll (this is a subset of their entire pool). They were U.S. adults ages 18 and over and who own or lease a vehicle, have a valid driver’s license, have at least one household vehicle, own a listed North American model – 2003 or newer, and are at least 50 percent involved in the decision to buy their next household vehicle. But this isn't a random sample of people and all the results should be treated as suspect. But, there are some interesting tidbits in the numbers.

27% Would Likely Purchase a Plug-In Hybrid Next Time

In case it isn't clear everything in the following paragraphs up until the conclusion is in regards to those 27% (n=259) who would likely purchase a PHEV.

Although the 27% for those who would likely purchase a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) was evenly distributed across gender, it was not evenly distributed across the type of vehicle the respondent owned. The percentages ranged from 16% (Luxury Car or Light Pickup Owners) to 45% for those who owned Entry (small or compact) SUVs.

For those 259 respondents who were likely to purchases a plug-in, not surprisingly, 84% would prefer plugging in at night rather than purchasing gas. I think someone needs to tell them in a hybrid car you would have to do both, although you would need to gas up a lot less often depending on what type of plug-in hybrid it is. A series hybrid like the the Volt (concept plug-in hybrid from GM), for instance, may get you up to 40 miles without having to use any gas at all. Which means you may never have to stop and buy gas again, although on longer trips you could do so.

Also, 34% expected the recharge to take less than 4 hours. That may be unrealistic, but I'm not sure about that.

For those who felt they would purchase a PHEV, their expectations for performance and logistics seemed a little bit off to me. For instance, only 45% expect to have to recharge once a day, while 7% would expect to need to charge more than once a day. That means over half would expect to recharge less than once a week, which just isn't likely.

Then there's the expectation of how long you could go without recharging. Only 2% expected to get less than 40 miles between recharges. The most recent projection on the Volt is a maximum of 40 miles and current hybrids (albeit not plug-in hybrids) can only go a mile or two without engaging the gas engine. That's quite a disparity between reality and expectation. The good news is 65% of these respondents drove less than 40 miles a day.

A good point to keep in mind is 73% of those likely to purchase a PHEV either had a private driveway or parked in a garage connected to a house. In other words, they would not have any issues related to plugging in their car at night.

It seems there would be a market for plug-ins, and it may be even larger than I thought. But there are still a lot of issues dealing with expectations vs. reality in this soon to emerge technology.

Auto makers should, if they want to turn this projected market into a reality, start informing the public sooner rather than later about the strengths and weaknesses of PHEVs. Without addressing those issues, plug-ins will be relegated to a niche market with little profit to be made despite all the research money being thrown into it.

Follow the link to read more on my take on the issues car makers need to address on plug-in hybrids before they come to market.

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