ConsumerReport.org helpfully added a few questions on electric vehicle perceptions in their latest 2012 Car Brand Perception Survey. In summary, they found that consumers generally appeared to be concerned about range anxiety and were likely to be overestimating the risks involved with regard to safety. This is a clear red flag for anyone looking for rapid consumer adoption of EVs.
One key issue highlighted by the survey was that a full 77% of respondents expressed concern about range anxiety. This adds to concern about the prospects for the type of pure battery electrics with limited ranges of 100 miles or less that many of the major auto companies are either planning or selling at present. It also tends to add support to the view that initial adoption of pure BEVs may continue to be slow. As we reported last week, the recent Deloitte's Gen Y Auto Survey also indicated that only 2% of respondents would consider buying a pure BEV despite the fact that 59% expressed a preference for some kind of alternative power train.
On the positive side, the latest survey from ConsumerReports.org found that 43% of respondents felt that electric and plug-in hybrids are as safe as gasoline-fueled cars and 20% felt that they are safer. In the 18-44 year old age range, a slightly higher proportion of 23% actually felt that vehicles with alternative powertrains were safer.
The table below summarizes the main findings with regard to specific concerns expressed by respondents to the survey:
Fire Risk During Charging
Perhaps most significantly, consumers remain concerned about fire risk both during charging (42%) and in a post crash situation (35%). This remains true despite the fact that the NHTSA has now completed its investigation of the related Volt fires and concluded that the battery packs are safe:
"Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally, all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash." The agency said it "remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle."
Clearly, despite the clean bill of health offered to the Volt battery pack, both GM and the industry as a whole still have a job to do to change perceptions amongst consumers.
Overall, these results tend to underline a degree of caution on the part of consumers. Our read would be:
- Range anxiety is likely to ensure that consumer adoption of low range pure battery EVs is likely to be slow.
- Plug-in electric hybrids such as the Volt and plug-in Prius may offer a steadier route forward for the battery electric powertrain, at least until consumer experience with EVs becomes more widespread.
- Nonetheless, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) remains a good bet. Although the coming Model S is a pure battery electric, it offers a range of up to 300 miles and looks set to generate a decent niche market in the luxury sector - as evidenced by the 8,000 pre-orders for the car which were already in place by the end of last year. We recommended buying more of the stock during its recent brief but sharp fall into the $22-$24 range in mid-January. With TSLA now trading above $30 again at time of writing, this looks to have been a good call and we continue to think that the coming Feb 9th unveiling of the Model X is likely to provide a further boost.
Finally, you can read our more detailed views on the future of the electric car and Tesla here.
Disclosure: I am long TSLA.