U.S. plug-in vehicle interest driven down by high pricetags

Americans showing interest in buying an electric-drive vehicle has fallen about 17 percent during the past two years, as car buyers say the continued premium charged for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles doesn't offset the effect of lower refueling costs, according to green-technology research firm Pike Research.

Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed by Pike Research late last year, 40 percent said they were either "extremely" or "very" interested in purchasing a plug-in vehicle, down from 44 percent a year earlier and down from 48 percent in 2009. While respondents, on average, were willing to pay about 19 percent more for an electric-drive vehicle than for a conventional car with similar amenities, that difference is less than the premium automakers typically charge.

"Price is the most significant barrier to consumer interest in electric vehicles," said John Gartner, research director at Pike Research, in a statement. "About two-thirds of our survey respondents who stated they would not be interested in purchasing a PEV said that they felt such a vehicle would be too expensive. Others said that they would want to wait a few years until the technology is more proven, and almost half said that a PEV would not have sufficient driving range for their needs."

Last year, Pike Research predicted Americans will buy about 300,000 BEVs and PHEVs in 2015, while Michigan's Center for Automotive Research has projected that U.S. electric-drive vehicle sales will increase to about 140,000 units in 2014. Earlier this week, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu estimated that plug-in vehicle battery costs will have dropped 70 percent between 2008 and 2015 and will fall another 58 percent between 2015 and 2020, giving hope to electric-drive vehicle advocates that the price premium for plug-ins relative to conventional vehicles will narrow during the next few years.

Still, electric vehicles are largely falling short of expectations. Last year, about 80 percent of Americans surveyed by Deloitte's Australia-based Motor Industry Services group expected an electric car to have a single-charge range greater than the approximately 100-mile range currently offered by the Mitsubishi and Nissan. As for price, 78 percent of Americans polled expected an electric vehicle's purchase price after government incentives to be less than $30,000, with more than 90 percent expecting less than a $40,000 pricetag.

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