The sales needle isn’t moving much on electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles even though they are fuel-efficient and often come with government financial incentives.
Trumping that seems to be buyer risk-adversity, according to a study. But some dealers say that may just be an initial reaction.
The overall hybrid market share in the U.S. is about 2%. For pure all-electric vehicles such as theLeaf and i, shares are fractionally “very, very small,” says Scott Miller, president of Vision Critical, a consumer-information and technology firm.
Why aren’t alternative-energy vehicles moving much beyond early adopters? That’s what Miller sought to find out in a study that asked 850 car owners ifthey would consider purchasing an EV or advanced hybrid next time they are in the market.
Half said they would consider such vehicles, but only 2% actually bought them last time they purchased a vehicle.
“People want that shiny new object, but when it gets down to purchasing, the value proposition and uncertainty about the future become big issues,” Miller tells WardsAuto.
Several auto makers sell hybrids. Sales for those this year total 243,867 units, according to WardsAuto data. But plug-in hybrid sales so far are only at 15,675, while EV sales are at 5,015
Sticker prices and ownership costs are big barriers. Ownership cost is multifaceted and includes factors such as maintenance cost, lease payments and resale value.
Other cited concerns impeding sales: availability of battery charging stations, range anxiety and possible lifestyle disruptions.
Many of those surveyed worried about service availability. Not all dealers are equipped to offer high-tech diagnostics, tools or personnel needed to work on the more sophisticated components and systems.
Other factors feeding consumer anxiety are too much information (TMI) or too many opinions (TMO) being introduced by manufacturers, government, analysts and others in the alternative-energy debate and discussion.
TMI and TMO drive uncertainty and perception among consumers, leading consumers not knowing what to think, Miller says.
But it is too early to dismiss EVs and the like because of less-than-stellar sales out of the gate, says Joe Lopez, general sales manager of Ancira Winston Chevrolet in San Antonio.
The dealership monthly sells about three Chevrolet Volt extended-range EVs, which he sees as a great compromise vehicle. “Volt sales keep rolling out steadily.”
Lopez tells of a customer who recently bought a Volt and thought it was perfect for her 36-mile (57-km) commute. She would charge the battery nightly and didn’t fret about limited range, knowing she could count on a gasoline engine to kick in and recharge the battery if she drove a lot.
Most customers have done their research before buying an EV, Lopez says. “They’re green people and like the flexibility of the Volt and its combination gas engine.”
Lopez knows all of his dealership’s Volt buyers. “Everything lands on my desk,” he says. “Initially, I thought it would be a lot of doctors, lawyers and professionals. But they’re just regular people.
“It’s a very good car for us, with leading-edge technology. Something more will evolve from this vehicle. But I applaudand Chevrolet for the Volt. They did their research.”
Jim Giddings, a dealer partner at Lustinein Woodbridge, VA, isn’t worried about Prius sales. Toyota introduced the hybrid in 2000 in the U.S.
The car dominates the hybrid market, he says. “It’s time-tested and consumers trust it. The new Prius lineup has four models. It’s really exciting. Every Prius we get in is moving, and doing as well as it can.”
Analyst Miller defends his conclusions. “When cost is incremental, people slow down on their purchase decisions. Their insecurity is too great. They hold on to what they’ve got.”
But insists “concern about the reliability of the new technologies is dissipating.” Part of that is because auto makers have dramatically improved their products and reputations.
“People are saying that if, , , Hyundai and others build it, it’s going to be pretty darn good,” Miller says.
If auto makers guaranteed resale value on EVs and plug-ins, that would help move the needle more, he contends.
The newFit Electric Vehicle is American Honda’s first entry into the EV market. The projected 118-mile (188-km) estimated driving range on a pure electric battery is deemed tops in its class. The problem is availability, not just acceptance.
Limited Fit EV production began this year.plans to lease about 1,000 vehicles in the first two years as it tests the U.S. market. Fit EV leases started in California and Oregon in mid-July. More states will follow.
And more Honda alternative-energy vehicles will be coming, says Bob Nelson, a Honda of America senior vice president.
The auto maker’s future portfolio will “encompass more fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicles, including the expanded deployment of affordable hybrids and the development of viable alternatives to petroleum, including natural gas, battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicles,” he says.