Maybe the problem with electric vehicles isn't with the cars themselves but with the shoppers. Or potential shoppers. Or the not-so-potential shoppers.

That's the message from a new survey from Indiana University and University of Kansas researchers, who found that US car shoppers "know little about the tax incentives and other financial benefits of owning plug-in electric vehicles." The numbers are kind of overwhelming: 95 percent of the survey respondents (more than 2,000 drivers in 21 US cities) said they did not know about state and local EV subsidies or other incentives (like HOV lane access). The press release doesn't say, but since the national $7,500 tax credit isn't mentioned in that list, we assume more than five percent of drivers knew about that.

On the more-complicated-to-understand front, the researchers found that three quarters of the drivers surveyed were "uninformed about the savings in fuel and maintenance costs that all PEVs are expected to generate compared to gasoline vehicles." As John Graham, one of the study's co-authors, said in a statement, "It is well established that current mainstream consumer interest in these vehicles is low. For [EV] sales to increase, consumers need to be better informed about the financial incentives and advantages of owning an alternatively fueled car." The study, "Perception and reality: Public knowledge of plug-in electric vehicles in 21 U.S. cities," was published in Energy Policy.

But here's the thing: the data was collected in October 2011, before the two main vanguard plug-in vehicles – the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt – even went on sale. If there was ever a study in need of an updated data set, this is the one. The last two years have been kind of busy on the EV front, after all.
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Survey: Most Americans unaware of financial advantages of owning an electric car

Nov. 13, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana -- A survey co-authored by two Indiana University researchers indicates U.S. consumers know little about the tax incentives and other financial benefits of owning plug-in electric vehicles.

The survey, administered to more than 2,000 drivers in 21 of the nation's largest cities, revealed that 95 percent of the respondents didn't know about state and local subsidies, rebates and other incentives. A large majority, 75 percent, was uninformed about the savings in fuel and maintenance costs that all PEVs are expected to generate compared to gasoline vehicles.

"It is well established that current mainstream consumer interest in these vehicles is low," said John D. Graham, one of the co-authors of the report. "What should be particularly troubling for PEV proponents and manufacturers is that the respondents to our survey live in major urban areas, the places where PEVs make the most sense due to daily travel patterns. For sales to increase, consumers need to be better informed about the financial incentives and advantages of owning an alternatively fueled car."

Graham is dean of the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs and authored the report along with Sanya Carley of SPEA and Rachel Krause and Bradley Lane from the University of Kansas. Their report, "Perception and reality: Public knowledge of plug-in electric vehicles in 21 U.S. cities," was published in the latest issue of the journal Energy Policy.

The survey questioned drivers about the two major types of plug-in electrics: battery electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and some models of the Toyota Prius.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roadways by 2015, but sales so far have added up to only a fraction of that. That's despite federal consumer tax credits of as much as $7,500, subsidized installation of recharging stations, and numerous state and local financial incentives, along with favored access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes and city parking.

"Only two out of 758 survey respondents living in areas where subsidies for home-charging equipment are offered were aware of their availability," the researchers note. "The low rate of awareness of state and local PEV incentives suggests the incentives have not yet been meaningfully communicated to members of the mainstream public."

In addition to being uninformed about financial benefits, a majority of consumers also can't answer basic factual questions about the cost of owning a PEV. "If consumers believe they have higher purchase prices, higher fuel and maintenance costs and lower driving ranges than they actually do, they're not going to shop for them when it comes time to buy a new car," Carley said.

If car buyers have false perceptions about the advantages of PEV ownership, they're also unlikely to pay attention to communications about the incentives, further complicating the challenge for governments and industry, the report concludes.

More information about the survey:

The online survey was conducted in October 2011, just before the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were made widely available, so the results should be seen as a baseline of general knowledge and opinions about PEVs. The survey was conducted in these cities: Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose/San Francisco and Seattle.

More information about related research by SPEA and the authors:

An analysis of government policies toward electric vehicles
A survey of consumer attitudes toward the purchase of electric vehicles that showed residents of some cities are more likely to buy
An expert panel reviews public policies toward PEVs

About the School of Public and Environmental Affairs:

SPEA was founded in 1972 and is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2012 "Best Graduate Schools" by U.S. News & World Report, SPEA ranks second and is the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings. SPEA's doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy are also ranked by the National Research Council as among the top two in the nation.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 38 Comments
      Grendal
      • 1 Year Ago
      Not yet. By the time that battery costs mathematically equal out to the advantages the general public will probably understand. For now it is a choice and a slightly costly, to quite a bit more costly choice. For me, it's about the freedom from gasoline and gas stations. I will not delude myself into thinking I am changing the world. It is a personal preference and statement. I also plan on buying solar panels to really create freedom from even electrical plants. I will be paying a lot of money up front to create that freedom.
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      STUDY: Autoblog needs to stop preaching to the choir with the relevant EV facts only being posted on Autoblog Green, and avoiding regular Autoblog.
        Actionable Mango
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        But whenever a green story gets crossposted to regular autoblog, all the commentary goes to hell.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          @ Actionable Mango & Grendal, Yes, some of the comments from AB readers can be pretty negative and ill-informed...., but aren't those readers exactly the people who need more information and enlightenment ? Some of the comments on ABG, display exactly the same rabid abusiveness and intolerance, but in reverse ! Like environmentalists, some of the more extreme EV enthusiasts, are their own worst enemies, inventing conspiracy theories, making wildly absurd claims, and attaching irrelevant political/ideological dogma to matters of technology. Many AB readers, find the idea of alternate fuels disruptive, and a threat to the auto-mobiles they love. I find that very understandable. But these are the people who will need to be convinced, (not forced) to accept the inevitability of the future with confidence and a positive attitude if EV's are to succeed in becoming mainstream.
          Actionable Mango
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          Grendal, your examples are invalid because the grammar and punctuation are correct.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Actionable Mango
          Yeah. I can sum up the twenty AB posts that would show up if they had cross posted this article: "See! Electric cars are stupid and you're a retard if you buy one!" "They're all going to burst into flame! And I'll laugh when it happens." "Those Obama-mobiles are only around because the government subsidizes them." "A total waste of money." "They are MORE polluting than gas cars!" Now think of minor variations to that statement for the other 15 posts. Just in case you were missing those AB posters.
      bluepongo1
      • 1 Year Ago
      I would imagine a Tesla customer already considered this among many other EV factors ( in reference to the Tesla display / education center photo above.). Unfortunately, I think future falling gas prices, fewer incentives and more EV production at the lower price-point might "back-burner" the Model E's time table, ( since those who are all about 0's & 1's would settle for a compliance car, hybrid, I.C.E, or diesel.) and the cost-benefit ratio will be lessened.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bluepongo1
        Gas prices are not going to fall significantly. They can't . . . if the price of oil dropped much further it would start making a lot of the drilling unprofitable so they'd stop drilling. The reduced supply would then cause the price of oil to shoot back up. It is possible that they'll go sideways for a while though.
          bluepongo1
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Refinery monopoly, seasonal adjustment, election year politics, new tech & well established transport ( but decaying infastructure ) is what I was referring to. I don't think there is much profit in drilling, I think it is subsidised by the refineries massive profit. Thanks for your reply though. :-) @ Spec
      Brian
      • 1 Year Ago
      It seems the survey researchers from Indiana University did a poor of selecting a balanced set of demographics of "U.S. consumers". Timing and location of the survey raises many questions regarding the quality and value of data obtained from this survey. 1. "Only two out of 758 survey respondents living in areas where subsidies for home-charging equipment are offered were aware of their availability," … so only 758 of the 2,000 drivers responded to the survey? (~36 per city). Note: a 30% EVSE home-charging federal tax credit was available to all 21 city locations. It sounds like the survey only question awareness of additional local subsidies. 2. "The online survey was conducted in October 2011, just before the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were made widely available," Why did the survey not just focus on cities in the 27 states that Nissan LEAF and GM Volt were available at the time of he survey? (Or wait til March 2012, when the EV were available in all states) Seems to have been poor survey design to lump results data from 27 states were EVs offered with data from 21 states EVs were not offered. http://green.autoblog.com/2012/02/29/nissan-leaf-available-nationwide-in-march/ 3. Why did it take over two years to publish data from a survey of just 758 respondents? 4. Not all states equally represented, Texas has 6 cities (29%) and California 4 cities (19%) of the 21 cities. Two states (CA & TX) made up almost half of the survey regions. TX (Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio), CA (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose/San Francisco), TN (Memphis, Nashville), MD (Baltimore) MA (Boston), NC (Charlotte), IL (Chicago), MI (Detroit), IN (Indianapolis), FL (Jacksonville), NY (New York), PA (Philadelphia), AZ (Phoenix), and WA (Seattle). The survey also seems to have missed many major metro regions. (Atlanta, Columbus, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, Orlando, Portland, Raleigh, Richmond, St. Louis, Tampa, Washington D.C., etc.) 5. Why no link to more detailed survey results, or at least were to obtain the survey results? eg: Would be interesting to see distribution of the 758 respondents by city. Or what methods were used to verify survey respondent was from a particular city given this was an online survey. Note to editors: the photo of Tesla Outlet at top of article would not have existed at the time this survey was open in 2011. Much has changed in last two years … The Indiana University survey from 2011 is about as relevant today as a survey of U.S. consumers of electric vehicles would be taken in 1911. Coverage of 1911 survey would actually be more interesting, given the high percentage of EVs at the time.
      MTN RANGER
      • 1 Year Ago
      Both Volt and Leaf sales started December 2010.
        paulwesterberg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @MTN RANGER
        In limited markets. Many people didn't have the opportunity to buy a plugin vehicle until 2012.
      EZEE
      • 1 Year Ago
      http://youtu.be/m17_gI7qweU
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      What's 80% fall off mean? No, I don't think car Li-Ions will fall to 20% of their current price over 10 years. The $10K already includes some amount of discounting from current replacement cost. And I don't think a 10 year cycle for pack replacement is realistic. You'd be very low on range if you kept the same pack 10 years with normal (almost daily) use.
      Jared
      • 1 Year Ago
      EV's suck.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jared
        As good as your mom? (Sorry I had to.)
          sirvixisvexed
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          It's ok, responding to a content-absent crap comment with another, is completely acceptable. One deserves another!
          EZEE
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          I saw this pie chart once that made me laugh. It was, 'people who have sex with my mom' A small, blue wedge, less than 10% was! 'my dad.' The entire rest of the pie chart was, 'people I play video games with on line.' I am reminded of that now. You have been in a dancer lately, haven't you? :-)
        bluepongo1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jared
        Do tell......
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      DIY kits don't count. There's no safety testing done. The price I gave for the Li-Ion packs includes some amount of price reduction already. Your point about the Prius is valid, but that actually presents more problems for an EV, because that means 50mpg hybrids, which are very cheap to run, are even cheaper now than before.
      Rotation
      • 1 Year Ago
      As an EV driver, I'd love to hear the cost benefit advantages. It's really hard to make a case for driving an EV as a cost proposition given the rate of depreciation of the battery packs. Say a LEAF pack is $10K and lasts 1,000 (full) discharges. That's $10K to drive 70,000 miles. That's $0.14/mile just in pack depreciation. Forget cost of electricity, higher cost of EVs, depreciation of the rest of the car. Forget the cost of an EVSE in your house (if applicable). I like driving an EV, but I don't know it actually makes sense from a cost perspective yet. Not even with rebates.
        Joey
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        As an EV owner myself, the choice was obvious. I needed a commuter car. My commute is 40 miles/day. With tax incentives my Focus Electric came out to $300/mo. to lease, zero driveoff. Plus I got a $2,500 check in the mail from California. The Focus EV is as well equipped as the Titanium ICE model. 2014 Focus EV after tax incentives: $25K 2014 Focus Titanium: $25K Cost to drive EV 12K miles/yr.: $360, or $0.03/mi. Cost of drive 30mpg ICE 12K miles/yr.: $1560, or $0.13/mi. That's $1,200 savings in fuel costs per year, enough to pay for a new pack if necessary in 7-10 years. And there is virtually no maintenance to do on a EV, saving another $200 or more per year. And as a bonus, many of the public EV charging stations offer free charging. The convenience of just plugging in every night vs. going to a gas station is great as long as you can live with the 80 mile range.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        Well no cost-benefit analysis can be fully accurate because we don't know the price of batteries, the price of gasoline in the future, and the interest rates in the future. Right now it is around break-even when using the tax-credit. But an EV gives you a big hedge against gasoline prices. If gasoline prices remain where they are, you'll be around break-even. But if they rise, you'll come out ahead with the EV. And it is likely that they will rise. And price of batteries that can replace your existing battery will fall.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Spec: I wasn't assuming someone would keep the car 120K miles. While that can be done, it's kind of a cheat, which you seem to acknowledge by saying 120K miles evens out all cars. I kept my last two cars 9 and 11 years respectively and never bought a new engine or exhaust for either. My one which was a stick didn't need a new clutch either. That electricity prices will not rise as fast as gas is not a fact. You saying it is so doesn't make it so either. Gas prices are expected to fall in the short term. Can you say the same about electricity? Note wind and solar are non-factors in pricing of electricity right now because they are not price-competitive with other sources.
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          Right now it's not close to break-even when using the tax credit. Not when you count battery depreciation. Future costs depend not just on the cost of gas, but the cost of electricity. Why do people keep forgetting electricity prices change too?
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          It is close to break even for cheap EVs. Look at the Spark EV. After tax-credit it is less than $20K. A comparable gas version is what $13K? You'll save much more than $7K in gasoline, smog checks, oil changes, maintenance, etc. over a 120K mile lifetime for the car. Does the battery degrade? Sure. But so does the clutch, engine, exhaust, and all sorts of other parts on the gas version. If you assume both cars are pretty much worthless at 120K miles they are about even . . . actually the EV is cheaper. Electricity prices will NOT rise as fast as gas prices. That is just a fact. Gasoline can ONLY be made from oil. Electricity can be made from wind, natural gas, coal, solar PV, geothermal, hydro, etc. Having a diversity of energy sources to choose from means that electricity will be very price stable. Go look at graph of electricity prices and gasoline prices over the last 30 years. One is wild but largely going up. One is a pretty steady slight incline. And you already know which is which.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Spec
          How much is that ICE Spark worth at 120K miles? Probably less than $2k. It is pretty much worthless at that point. The Spark EV driver could go buy an ICE one for $2K in gasoline savings at that point and continue along like the Spark driver then. So they are equal at that point. And yes, gas prices will rise faster than electricity prices. You didn't even try to rebut my argument that gasoline can only be made from oil whereas electricity can be made from lots of things or the past history of the two energy prices. And I can also mention that I've locked in my next 25 years of electricity prices already with my solar system. As long as the sun continues to rise, I know what I'll be paying for electricity. Oil, on the other hand, is a finite commodity that is increasing demand world-wide. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how those prices are going to change. Short term fluctuations are not predictable . . . but the long term average is.
        Actionable Mango
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        This was stated as a future problem for the original Prius (i.e. a $10k hit to replace the battery after 10 years of ownership), but now that the Prius is actually 12+ years old, we can see the price of the battery has fallen by a tremendous amount. The list price last year for a new 2001 battery pack was $2,299 (price includes a $1,350 credit for core trade-in of your old batteries for recycling). If you take into account inflation, it's really about $1,700 in 2001 dollars, which is no where near the $10,000 predicted. And DIY kits where you keep the battery pack but replace the cells yourself are about half that. There is no reason to think that lithium batteries will hold their current price years from now. All the evidence points to prices plummeting even faster than NiMH did.
        Darin Caggiano
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        In part it depends on how much less range a driver can tolerate. http://www.plugincars.com/after-2-years-78000-miles-high-mileage-2011-nissan-leaf-127387.html If someone needs to replace the pack at ~80%, they'll only get to ~100k miles, but if they can let it go to ~200k-250k miles, that's only three to four cents per mile.
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Darin Caggiano
          Indeed. You have to be able to deal with the range limits. But if you have an old ICE car, just keep it and use it for the long trips. Or do car-sharing. Or a PHEV.
        Vlad
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rotation
        I ran numbers on leasing Leaf vs leasing a top of the line Versa (to match Leaf's equipment), and Leaf came ahead. States with especially generous rebates may also tip the scales. Other than that - no $ advantage yet.
      • 1 Year Ago
      The problem is residual value on the used market and the cost to replace the used up lithium ion battery packs.
      Actionable Mango
      • 1 Year Ago
      Forget the DIY kits. My point is that you can't use today's price for a battery pack and apply it to a future 10 years down the road. It would be far more fair to apply the NiMH fall (80% off), or the even lower price you'd get from extrapolating the falling price of lithium packs. True, neither of these will be accurate. True, nobody knows what will happen. But I feel both of these are more fair than simply using $10,000.
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