Plugging in

What Consumers Want: Sub-$25,000 Small Plug-in Sedan, With Cheap Public Charging

As many automakers will admit, while global sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars are most definitely on the rise, sales figures to date aren’t as high as they would like or initially predicted. Everything from poor dealer experiences to a lack of charging infrastructure, limited range and poor EV awareness have been blamed for lower than anticipated sales figures, but if a new study from Navigant Research is correct, switching car buyers on to electric cars will take three fairly simple things: price, size, and cheap running costs.

The Internet-based survey entitled ‘Consumer Attitudes, Opinions and Preferences for Electric Vehicles and EV Charging Stations‘ questioned a total of 1,084 consumers on their preferences and attitudes toward all-electric, plug-in hybrid and alternative-fuelled vehicles. The survey, which took place over the past three months, picked respondents from a variety of locations, social, and economic backgrounds.

Price is key, battery leasing less so

At $26,000 after incentives, many said they'd consider buying an EV, but only if it had 100 miles of range.

At $26,000 after incentives, many said they’d consider buying an EV, but only if it had 100 miles of range.

Of those questioned, while a majority chose traditional gasoline-only cars as their current preferred engine type, nearly 40 percent of respondents said they would be extremely interested or very interested in buying an electric car with a driving range of 100 miles per charge, an electricity equivalent of $0.75 per gallon, home-based nightly charging and a purchase price of less than $26,000 after incentives.  A quarter of those said they would not be interested in such a vehicle.

At the moment, the 2013 Nissan LEAF may come close in terms of pricing — the base model LEAF S after Federal tax incentives falls below the required $26,000 hypothetical price barrier, but its EPA-approved range of 75 miles per charge falls short of the magic 100 miles per charge or more respondents wanted.

Interestingly, a different scenario, one in which a similar car cost $15,000 to buy but in which owners would have to pay $75 a month for battery leasing, resulted in a similar number of consumers showing interest in such a vehicle. But unlike the previous scenario, the number of people who said they would not be interested in such a vehicle rose from 25 percent to 31 percent.

From this, we can assume that those who are already interested in buying an electric car are undeterred by battery leasing schemes, but those who are less convinced of the benefits of electric cars are less likely to purchase if they have to pay a monthly battery lease fee.

Size is important. 

One of the criticisms we often hear of electric cars is that they’re not big enough for family life. While that’s less of a problem in Europe, where smaller cars are more popular than they are in the U.S., many American’s we’ve spoken to say existing EVs are just too small for them to consider buying.

But of those questioned, 39 percent of those questioned said their first or second body style for a an electric vehicle would be a small sedan, with a midsize/large car coming a close second with 36 percent of the votes and a small SUV coming in third place with 32 percent of the votes. . Interestingly, despite the Ford F150 being America’s most popular passenger vehicle, only 24 percent of respondents said they’d prefer a pickup truck.

Most said public EV charging would have to be free or cheap for them to make use of it.

Most said public EV charging would have to be free or cheap for them to make use of it.

It’s also important to note that small hatchbacks were also far less popular with those questioned than a small sedan. Given there are no small plug-in sedans on sale in the U.S. at the moment, we think that highlights a massive hole in the current plug-in marketplace.

Operating costs and fuel efficiency a top priority

While a majority of consumers were able to identify the fact that electric cars have unique features that make them stand apart from gasoline vehicles — like pre-heating, smartphone connectivity, 60 percent somewhat agreed or completely agreed that electric cars are cheaper to own in the long run than gasoline cars and only 47 percent agreed that electric cars are exciting to drive and own.

But what’s perhaps most intriguing is the fact that only a minority of respondents said that gas prices were not high enough to justify buying an electric car, showing that consumers are already fed up with the high price of gasoline. It’s no surprise then that a massive 65 percent of those questioned said fuel economy was their top priority in choosing their next car. 

When it comes to fuelling, consumers seem happy with the idea that they can charge at home for most of their trips, but when it comes to refuelling in public, nearly a quarter of those questioned would want public charging to be free, 29 percent would want it to cost less than $1 for every 15 minutes of charging or 7 miles of range, while 29 percent said they would pay between $1 and $2 for the same service.

This highlights a major hurdle to EV adoption given current charging station business models: buyers would rather pay nothing or little for public charging and have it offered as part of the ownership package that comes with their car — much like Tesla does with the Model S — than they would pay for electric car

The Chevy Volt won in terms of value for money, respondents said.

The Chevy Volt won in terms of value for money, respondents said.

Chevy Volt wins, but Toyota wins on EV preference

But while most consumers — the majority of which plan to spend $25,00o or less on their next car — seem open to at least a possibility of buying a plug-in car, not a single all-electric car on the market was valued by respondents as being good value for money.

Both in terms of familiarity and value for price, the Chevrolet Volt won, with the majority of consumers valuing it above cars like the Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, Tesla Model S and Ford C-Max Energi.

Yet in terms of automakers respondents would prefer to buy an EV from, Toyota topped the list with 46 percent of the votes, closely followed with Ford at 45 percent.

Nissan ranked in fifth place with 30 percent of the votes, BMW placed 12th with 19 percent of the votes, and Tesla came in sixteenth place with just 13 percent of the votes.

What we can learn? 

This one is clear: buyers want Toyota to make and sell more EVs!

This one is clear: buyers want Toyota to make and sell more EVs!

If this study is representative of the views of the car buying public, it shows a clear disconnect between the cars that are currently available (mostly hatchbacks) and the types of cars people prefer to buy (mainly small sedans.) But it also shows a massive disconnect between the brands consumers feel most comfortable with buying versus the brands currently bringing EVs to market. In fact Toyota, which is known for its vocal mistrust of electric cars, tops the list of preferred EV brands.  We can only assume its prominent place as king of Hybrids — thanks to its Prius family of hybrid cars — is the reason behind this.

But unlike most reports, range doesn’t seem to be the deal-killer for most consumers. Instead, value-for money, and free access to charging come as must-haves. That, and making a car that fits the body style most buyers want: a small sedan.

You can read the report’s White Paper  at the Navigant Research website, but in the meantime, do you agree with the reports’ findings?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.



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